When The Music Director Takes the Stage

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By Marcina Zaccaria

 

Stepping away from the piano and to the microphone, Christopher Howatt takes the stage at Don’t Tell Mama for Hear My Song. A Music Director and Accompanist who has played for Tyne Daly, Rita Moreno, and David Hyde Pierce, Christopher Howatt is accustomed to being behind the piano.

 

With Hear My Song, we get to listen more to the man behind the keys. Howatt began this delightful afternoon at the cabaret with A Million Miles from Bridges of Madison County. The light tap of the keys sets the tone for an ambling journey. Howatt’s world is calmly in gear, and a bit funny. With accompaniment from Music Director and MAC Award Winner Steven Ray Watkins, smooth rapport has never been so practiced.

 

It’s an astonishingly clear narrative, smartly put together by Howatt and Director Lennie Watts. With I’m Just a Small Town Boy, Howatt recounts a travel from the suburbs to Big Apple. In this 65 minute evening, Howatt journeys back. His ability to enchant a group is present. Feeling every sense of wonder as he discovers nuance in song, Howatt is used to singing for the larger rooms.

 

With an accomplished range, he takes on Stephen Schwartz’s Crowded Island. It’s a great song about the complicated world of Manhattan. He doesn’t waft in the moment or gild the lily, and his interpretation resounds with piano by Steven Ray Watkins and Matt Scharfglass on bass.

 

Including musical theater songs that we’ve all heard, Howatt creates memorable moments of monologue and song. On Stephen Sondheim’s, Anyone Can Whistle, he pulls back a bit. It’s all so “easy,” it’s all so “simple,” the pauses between phrases are filled with reverie. Musical stylings are all his own. He sings through the upper tones in his range, with a softer sensibility.

 

Howatt doesn’t only love the music of the 1930s, he also loves the music of the 70s. A man with a clear stance, Howatt’s presence is self-assured. He jets into I’m Old Fashioned with Music by Jerome Kern and Lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Cleverly arranged with Billy Joel’s It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me, the arrangement is stellar. Watkins singing back up is a light surprise. With piano and bass, it is soothing and complete, with intricate arrangements and difficult passages yet to come.

 

Though vocal matching and performing in the Metropolitan Opera’s Associate Chorus are in his repertoire, Howatt seems to enjoy the spotlight at Don’t Tell Mama. He takes on none of the lithe posturing of some of the people he has accompanied, including Alison Fraser and Marlo Thomas.

 

Going from musical theater songs to pop, Howatt appears more of a showman, who’s glad to have his beginnings and his continuation. The last third of the evening includes dueling pianos, and a reiteration of his theme with Standing on My Own Two Feet and The Lives of Me. When he launches into Hear My Song at the end, the message is resolute. That’s his microphone, that’s his stance. Behind the mic and at center stage, he’s destined to stay.

 

Christopher Howatt will be performing again in Hear My Song on Sunday, November 13 at 3PM, and Friday, November 11 at 9:30PM at Don’t Tell Mama, located at 343 West 46th Street in NYC.

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