By Andrew Poretz . . .
The last time a numbers guy made a name for himself as an entertainer, the world got Bob Newhart, a former accountant. Jeff Flaster has taken it a step further. He became an actuary! To go from a world of successfully gauging certainty with numbers, to performing numbers with no certainty of success, is the big gamble Flaster has taken. And that brings us to his cabaret debut tonight at Don’t Tell Mama. Here, Flaster wove stories of his admittedly nerdy life with music. He incorporated classical pieces, thanks to the fine piano work of Matthew Martin Ward, songs old and new, and his own music, all telling his story as a math whiz turned performer and songwriter, in a winning show directed by Tanya Moberly.
Flaster, spiffily attired in a dark, three-piece suit and a purple paisley tie, has a pleasant, light tenor voice. He told stories of his contentious relationship with his mother Edith. Great use of the lights and Ward’s triple- forte piano chords expressed Edith’s outbursts of anger.
Like most young people who grew up in New York in the 1960s, Flaster played an instrument and joined his junior high jazz band as a trombonist. It was when he struggled to find a note on his horn and sang it instead that he discovered he could sing. Flaster is an MIT graduate, no small achievement, and this made for good comedic fodder. The turning point of this show came in the form of several clever familiar melodies with his own alternative lyrics. Here, he masterfully reframed his math history into song parodies. Flaster turned the lyrics of “Beth” — “I hear you calling” — into “Math, I hear you calling,” and Lennon and McCartney’s “Her Majesty” into the very witty “Derivatives.”
Surprisingly, Flaster somewhat blithely mentioned a troubling time of suicidal ideation and therapy, before transforming the lullaby “Baby Mine” (Frank Churchill/Ned Washington) from Dumbo into a touching love song to his cat.
Flaster wanted to find a girlfriend at MIT, a feat made more difficult by the preponderance of men to women at the school. He joined a bridge group, where he met Helen. Helen was not a cat person, and when things got serious, she gave Flaster an ultimatum to choose her or the cat. “I’ll miss you,” he told her, which garnered much laughter. Ultimately, love prevailed, Helen stayed, and the couple have been together ever since. Flaster added lyrics to music by 19th century composer Gaetano Donizetti to create “My Partner” for Helen.
It takes a bold man to add lyrics and melody to a song by Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim, but Flaster did just that on “Take the Moment” from Do I Hear a Waltz? “Don’t fight the world; find a new one,” he emotionally stated. His closing number, “Pride,” is from Flaster’s musical Shell Shock. It was a good taste of what he can do. He’s a good songwriter, and a charming performer.
Fore more about Jeff Flaster’s musical Shell Shock, visit www.melodic.com/shellshock.
Additional performances of Take the Moment are scheduled for March 16 and April 3, 2022.
Jeff Flaster – March 11, 2022
Take the Moment
Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street, NYC
Photos: Andrew Poretz