By Andrew Poretz . . .
Reeve Carney, currently starring as Orpheus in Hadestown on Broadway, is a singer, guitarist and songwriter with an extraordinary vocal range and breath control that could make Sinatra envious. In a love story out of a movie, Carney is in a relationship with his Hadestown costar, Eva Noblezada—they met in production for the show. The pair perform frequently at The Green Room 42, with Eva taking the early slot and Reeve doing the late show, each cheering the other on.
These shows are usually an opportunity for Mr. Carney to play his own material. For Singing the Divas, he performed songs associated with, or introduced by, the “Broadway divas” he loves.
The star’s voice is truly a wonder. Imagine a young Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin) if he had a double life as a musical theater kid. Reeve has a voice gloriously suited to both, shifting easily between a powerful, blues-rock sound and an upper register that is, at times, nearly angelic. (In Hadestown, Orpheus is said to have a voice so beautiful he “brings the world back into tune.”)
Mr. Carney’s stage presence has an interesting dichotomy. When he speaks to the audience, apparently unscripted, he comes off as humble, sweet and a bit shy, seemingly not quite sure of himself. Yet, when he performs, he is confident and masterful.
The star took the stage looking very hipster-ish, sporting a tobacco-colored jacket over a white t-shirt, wearing tan khakis, a bandana around his neck, and a Trilby hat. He accompanied himself entirely with his blond 1961 Gibson SG Les Paul, albeit with some help from foot pedals for sound effects, and tasteful drum and cymbals when needed. Interestingly, Mr. Carney is also an engineer. His “lockdown” project was to design and hand-build his own pedals, which are available through his Quarantine Effects company.
The first diva Reeve honored was Elaine Stritch, with Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” (Company). Singing a rubato introduction while gently “comping” on guitar, he took it to a rough, bluesy feel. He laughed when speaking the line, “Does anyone still wear a hat?”
To honor Julie Andrews, Mr. Carney performed a raucous “My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music) as a fast, punk-rock waltz with some challenging modulations. Then he performed “Beauty School Dropout” from Grease with a vary spare approach as a 50’s doo-wop, his guitar standing in for the doo-wops and ya-yas. Though he honored the late Olivia Newton-John here, it was Frankie Avalon who sang the song in the film.
The star’s rendition of another Sondheim song, “Losing My Mind” (Follies) was breathtaking. Here, Reeve flaunted his incredible range, finishing with a long high note while simultaneously playing an intricate ending.
Mr. Carney told a swell story of “sharing” a dressing room with Patti Lupone on a television show, and performed Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. He included the more obscure lyrics, while playing in a Scotty Moore style.
A marvelous highlight was the star’s take on “Goldfinger,” from the James Bond movie of the same name. Reeve’s playing evoked both the guitar riffs and brass parts of the famous theme, while his powerful voice was as exciting as Dame Shirley Bassey’s.
Reeve sang a stunning “Over the Rainbow,” which he first performed at Rockwood a decade ago. He utilized a looper to record an underlying slide guitar riff. He sang much of this standard in his middle register before taking it a full octave higher, lending a sense of soaring over the rainbow.
A guitar player since childhood, Reeve has clearly put in the work. He makes great use of augmented, ninths, and other jazz chords, and somehow plays complicated riffs and rhythms while singing, often without looking at his hands. The star studied at one time under the late Ted Greene. But at age 14, his family couldn’t afford lessons. His mother took him to local blues clubs to soak in the great masters. The results were apparent on a very bluesy “Summertime” (Porgy and Bess), where he displayed some serious blues chops.
For his sole original of the night, “Youth is Wasted,” Mr. Carney moved to the grand piano. The song has a surprisingly “Lennonesque” structure. He remained at the piano for Carole King’s “Natural Woman” (Beautiful). As for other songs with gender-specific lyrics, Reeve sang the lyrics verbatim, passionately singing “Sometimes I feel like a natural woman” without sounding gimmicky.
Reeve honored Angela Lansbury with a brilliant “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (Gypsy) for the “finale,” but returned to the piano for a spectacular encore of “Somewhere” (West Side Story), based on Marisha Wallace’s version.
Carney graciously greeted fans after the show, and it was clear his stage persona is no act. He is as real and authentic as it gets.
Reeve Carney: Singing the Divas took place on March 12 at The Green Room 42 at the YOTEL Hotel (570 10th Avenue, between 42nd and 41st Streets) www.thegreenroom42.venuetix.com
Photos: Andrew Poretz