by Linda Amiel Burns
Stephen Hanks’ cabaret show is a tribute to acclaimed songwriter Don McLean, composer of classic ‘American Pie,’ proving McLean is more than a one-hit wonder.
On a night (Feb. 5th) when the city had just been hit with its 3rd snowstorm, the Metropolitan Room was nearly filled for Stephen Hank’s Return Engagement of his solo debut cabaret show “Beyond American Pie: The Don McLean Songbook” – a Tribute to the composer who was inducted into The Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2004. Stephen gathered top-notch musicians for this gig and they rocked the room with music and back-up vocals: Sean Harkness on guitar and musical director, Ted Kooshian on piano, Skip Ward on bass guitar, and Rob Mitzner on drums.
Due to weather conditions and difficulty getting to the club, I missed the first few songs but could tell that Stephen had warmed up the crowd with his singing and enthusiasm for McLean’s music. He wrote special lyrics to the tune of McLean’s classic “American Pie” to explain how he became a lifelong fan, his connection to the songs and why he had chosen this particularly songwriter to pay tribute. According to Hanks, “Don McLean is one of the most underrated singer-songwriters—and guitarists—of the 1970s and ‘80s and I’m hoping my show will reveal the breath of his songbook, which is not only wonderfully melodic but incredibly poetic.”
“A long, long time ago, I can still remember walking ’round a record store, and right there on the album rack, I saw a singer looking back,
with a little American flag painted on his thumb (said quickly, staccato like) . . .
I bought that disk and I would shiver, with every song that he’d deliver,
His tunes just tore my heart out; I think I wore the grooves out . . .
I do remember that I cried, when he sang about Vincent, who died,
And something touched me deep inside, the day . . . I heard McLean.
So this show is about Don McLean, he wrote songs about passion,
he wrote songs about pain, when I heard his words, well I was never the same, that’s why this show is about Don McLean . . .”
By trade Stephen is a magazine publisher/writer and the past few years had added cabaret reviewer to his resume. Now, with this show, he finds himself on the other side of the stage and his love of performing is very evident. Some of the highlights of the evening was a tender “You Have Lived,” a tribute to Bick Goss, the co-creator of Musical Mondays Theater Lab, who passed away last year (Stephen has taken over the job) and “Crossroads” dedicated to his wife and daughter. A favorite was “Wonderful Baby” written in the style of great songs of a past era and recorded by Fred Astaire later in life. Stephen mentioned that he has been practicing that song for nearly twenty years as he sang it to his daughter when she was a year old and now is about to graduate from college. His voice particularly strong on this song and well suited to the material. No Don McLean show would be complete without “Vincent” and Stephen’s version was moving and well acted.
Stephen has done his research and is to be congratulated on putting together this enjoyable show – only the 5th time he has performed it. A cabaret act is like running a marathon and as he continues to train, learn and gain more experience, I know that he is destined to become the consummate entertainer as another one of his idols, Al Jolson!