NY Cabaret Review by Marilyn Lester
When host and producer Scott Siegel announced “Elvis is in the building,” he wasn’t kidding. Special guest star Larry Gatlin entered carrying an Elvis lamp, a surprising gambit that set the tone for the evening – a tribute to Elvis Presley that was as much about good fun, light-hearted humor, and personal recollection, as it was about the many hits sung by a man who’s a cultural icon on steroids.
Larry Gatlin proved to be as much a standup act as a superstar country music singer and songwriter. Following amusing recollections of The King, accompanying himself on guitar, Gatlin sang his “Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall’ (recorded by Presley) with his drummer Shannon Ford on a snare. Equally as comedic, and vocally talented, was Ray McLeod, Gatlin’s cousin (serendipity at play here). McLeod has a deeply resonant voice, similar in timbre to Presley’s – but he’s no Presley imitator. With his own humorous stories to share, McLeod robustly rendered “You’re The Devil In Disguise,” and later in the show, sensitively sang Presley’s 1969 comeback hit, “In The Ghetto.”
Bespectacled singer-actor-writer, Steve Rosen, a self-styled “Jewish kid from Rochester,” provided standup and two Elvis hits. With “Suspicious Minds,” and “Viva Las Vegas,” Rosen’s delivery was on the very edge of an Elvis imitation, yet was still his own sly interpretation. Adding serious equilibrium to the evening was sweet-voiced Lenny Watts with a dramatic “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
Balancing out the mostly male cast, the versatile Lumiri Tubo launched into pop-soul diva mode early in the evening, belting “Jailhouse Rock,” and later, “Heartbreak Hotel.” Martin Vidnovic wore both the masks of comedy and tragedy. With humor he related his own Elvis stories, and with pathos told about his older sister Casey, a huge Elvis fan, now suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. Vidnovic sang “You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog,” and for Casey, a heartfelt “Love Me Tender.”
Larry Gatlin and Shannon Ford returned to close the show with the second of Gatlin’s tunes recorded by Elvis: “Help Me.” At the song’s conclusion, a front row audience member enthusiastically asked Gatlin to sing “How Great Thou Art,” which he obligingly did. For a finale (the evening wouldn’t have been complete without Presley’s breakthrough hit) “Blue Suede Shoes” was begun by Gatlin and McLeod, with the entire cast joining in – and noticing that Lenny Watts was actually wearing a pair!
Last but not least, it was absolutely breathtaking to watch and hear Music Director Ian Herman cut loose on piano with flying fingers. He’s proved himself versatile with standard Songbook fare, and now we know definitively he play a mean blues shuffle. The man has chops.
In going outside the cabaret/theater box, consummate impresario Siegel wrote, produced and smartly hosted an evening of superlative entertainment and fun. Bravo to Siegel et. al. for this new exploration of the musical canon.
54 Sings Elvis, March 7 at 7 PM 254 West 54th Street, 646-476-3551, www.54below.com