by Matt Smith
“Are you ready to get fanked up?!”
Such is the question of the hour at “Ben’s Fanked Up Broadway,” the sensational solo debut from its namesake, Ben Fankhauser, which recently enjoyed a three-performance run at intimate nightclub Feinstein’s/54 Below.
Well, ready or not, here he comes, and he’ll instantly change the way you hear all the Broadway classics you know and love. With the help of Charlie Rosen and his troupe of fellow musicians, he turns them all on their head, infusing them with a classic brassy big band twinge, to create an unique evening unlike any you’ve seen before. Blending Broadway with Beyoncé, flipping titles upside down and inside out, and serving up a plethora of toe-tappin’ mash-ups and medleys, the standout Newsies and Beautiful star wholeheartedly succeeds in creating an evening that is indeed, unique and gloriously, “fanked up” in all the right ways.
Taking on a semi-autobiographical form, the concert journeys through Fankhauser’s life and career, with breaks in narration for him to display his unmatched talent. Passes at shows that he grew up on, shows that shaped him as a teen, his acclaimed stints both on the Main Stem and on tour, and even an original tune all comprise the eclectic set list, which serves as a canvas, if you will, for Fankhauser to play on and show what he can do.
And show his stuff he does! Seriously, there’s no question this man is an irrepressible force. Whether he’s crooning How to Succeed, rockin’ out to “Totally F*cked” or reliving his days as a summer stock performer at Ohio’s “premier theme park,” Cedar Point, he’s completely in the moment, connected to the music, living in the emotions of each lyric to fully communicate his appreciation for what he gets to do. Acknowledging, with the obvious change in venue, the evening presents nothing different than what goes on in his living room on the daily, he’s able to affect a mood that’s light and relaxed, while his deep infatuation with the set list allows him to be equally expressive and animated at the same time. He’s in his element, and he wears it on his face, ecstatic to be given the opportunity to share the songbook of his life with all of us. As a spectator, you can’t help but smile — he’s just so fankin’ compelling to watch.
The band only furthers that elation. The brassy blare of the horns, reminiscent of tunes like “Sir Duke” and “In the Mood,” evoke that nostalgic, classic Broadway feel with every fank-tacular note. The arrangements are spot-on, while the song combinations seem miraculously natural. Among other , three songs about sailing are effortlessly woven together as one, while the pairing of two Alan Menken tunes about finding your way further emphasize the feeling of hopelessness within each one. Coupled with Fankhauser’s natural charisma and aforementioned emotion in delivery, it’s a moving evening that — thanks to the band — screams ol’ Broadway in every sense of the word.
But beneath all the glitz and spectacle, it’s the underlying message Fankhauser puts forth that truly delivers the most powerful punch: There’s so much “fanked up” in the world today for the worse, why not indulge in fanking something up for the better? While not stating it outright, that’s exactly what he’s doing with his show, isn’t it? And in presenting this idea in the way he does, he’s encouraging us to do the same. So, dive in, break the rules, get messy, and create something spectacular. Seize the day. Turn life on its head. Fank things up. Now is the time. (After all, if not now, when?)
’Cause if Ben’s spectacular show serves as any example, we have no doubt you’ll take on the challenge… and be fankin’ glad you did.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
Ben’s Fanked Up Broadway played Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) on January 30th, February 22nd, and February 25th. Natalie Weiss, of the Wicked and Les Miserables national tours, served as guest artist. For more information please visit www.54below.com