Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Natural

Last night I attended Clay Aiken's concert at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando. It was the second show of his tour supporting the Tried and True Album. I had a second row seat so I knew I would enjoy the show but I honestly didn't know how much because my preference is for his pop performances.

The Hard Rock is not raked and they jammed those seats so close together, I felt like a model on Tyra's show where they bend their shoulders forward in that weird pose . It was tight but oh so close to the stage, which was very high and did not afford a good look at his shoes until he sat on the stage.

The music began with the curtain down and he started to sing softly “Where do I begin”. He sang a few lines like that and then the curtain opened. It sounded like he stumbled just a bit, maybe he was mouthing “why is the curtain still down!”

I can’t describe that song. The original Andy Williams version is kind of overly lush. He started this one out softly, the way he did Home the other night. But it built up into a vocal tour de force that seemed to lift me out of my seat like I was weightless. It was an amazing way to open the show. It was almost as if he threw down the gauntlet to all the rest of the pop crap out there. If Ben Cohn did that arrangement, I salute him because it blew me away. I almost grabbed my phone to simply type Holy.Shit. to Nan. I tweeted that it was Steve Perry-esque. I'll add a youtube of it when the video is ready.

We went through training at work about how to hold a great meeting. One thing is “hook them from the start.” Well, damn you Clay, you hooked me from the start. I was so hooked I would have even welcomed It’s Impossible without complaint. (With that said, I was thrilled he tossed it and substituted some great stuff.)

The band was really far over to the sides-Ben and his mini Radio Shack with new guitar prodigy Adam Fallen on one side, and my favorite drummer man Felix Pollard and a new bassist, Del Atkins (?) on the other. There was a giant white screen as a backdrop, presumably used for videos and other special effects for other shows. I wish it had been another velvet curtain. That would have been perfect.

He did Kind of Hush and Can't Take My Eyes off of You with a little groove to his body. I don’t think he realizes that his body moves naturally like that, the man has dance in his limbs if he just lets go.

He talked to the audience quite a bit, talked to a woman who had her share of bloody Marys, they kept count as the concert went on. He talked about Aguilera's Super Bowl and how “sometimes it just happens”. He mentioned that he had a really hard time at the Miami concert with a bad echo and that tonight’s sound was good so he already felt like we were really together in this.

He was wearing a lighter gray sweater with white shirt and what looked like a white/gray tie. Jeans and shoes that sometimes looked gray to me and sometimes more of a mixture of tan/gray. Very stylish. The hair looked just fine in profile but had a ton of gel in the front and was straight up, almost at perfect attention. Profiles were all cheekbones but it's really atrocious straight on. Knowing Clay, I think he’s doing it to toy with us. Just comb it over to the side Clay. It will look better and will be less work.

He left off It’s Impossible which is my least favorite song so I was happy. I can’t remember if he did Moon River or Breaking Up is Hard to do then or later but he really does an exquisite job on Breaking Up. I loved it in Chicago and I loved it tonight.

You know how Clay often sings to a camera when someone is taking a picture. Well the people on either side of me were taking still pictures so it felt like he sang the entire first verse of Moon River to me.

The medley was clever, although some of it started to all sound the same to me. Invisible is really quite fun in that style, especially with our “secret handshake” aka the tug. Quiana Parler was in great voice as usual and I’m so glad she went back to the shorter hair that she has now versus that long weave she had over the summer. This haircut frames her beautiful face. I also have always wondered if she has perfect pitch. They remind me of a doubles tennis team; always knowing where and what the other one is doing or going to do.

I think the can’t remember the name of fan favorite album On My Way Here is part of the tour schtick. Tonight he called it A Thousand Different Ways, which was two albums ago! (Come to think of it, I think that’s when he talked about Aguilera).

He does a very interesting section of the show where he shows that you can autotune anything and make it sound like music and that's how some people get on the radio today. (Look for a more editorial blog on that topic later.) He said that every night, Ben will not tell him which lyrics they will give him. They did Lady Gaga's Bad Romance and it was very funny to hear Clay say Rah Rah, etc. Before they did that, he asked who people listen to and someone said Bieber. He said Quiana listens to him in her dressing room. Quiana, girl. I thought you had more taste than that. Another person said Kei$ha and he made her stand up. He said something about having a dollar sign in her name (I was impressed he knew). I have some comments on Kei$ha too but that's definitely for my editorial blog.

He talked to the audience a bit more and then came over by us and sat down on the stage. He sang Sammy's What Kind of Fool am I and Misty right there. An older couple in the second row about 6 seats down from me were filming and he asked the man about it. The man said Misty was their song. It was so nice that it worked out that way. A woman in the front row was filming him and he commented about it and assured her that she wouldn’t get thrown out. He then started talking again and said “I feel like I should talk to the camera” and proceeded to do it like a TV interview for a few seconds. He asked her what her screen name was and she wouldn’t tell him. He said “you guys don’t tell your screen names?” and my friend Cissy said “not to you”.

He said that they were going to put in Who's Sorry Now but realized that it was a lot of slow songs in a row and that was the slowest. He asked for song genres and the first one was Disco. Quiana sang most of it while Clay did the Travolta move. Someone said country but he said it was a country song already. When someone said rock and roll, he thought for a minute and whispered an idea to Quiana. They were both talking and nodding and then he grabbed that mic and did a Quiet Riot version of WSN. He rocked that mic back and forth, he was freaking awesome. The crowd went mental. He said later that it was tough on his voice.

He sang Mack the Knife and mentioned that he sang the same verse four times last night. He did pretty good tonight, only messing up one small place. It’s a hard song to sing because the words aren’t really “normal” in some cases. The end was great.

Quiana did her second solo and then he came out to do Crying. He looked at her with such tenderness and at the end, he said how great she was and he didn’t know what he would do without her. She had left the stage by then and came back carrying her (kick ass)shoes. He mentioned that she’d done 8 tours with him because she didn’t do one Christmas. Then he introduced the band again and he and Felix discussed how many tours they were together and Clay said he hoped that Felix would be back with them again. Each time he talked about one he mentioned that he hoped they would be back with them again. Couple that with mentioning that he had toured with Ruben Studdard about four times and it is things that make you go hmmmm.

He talked about Unchained Melody and he mentioned Dave Novik three times, twice just as Dave as if the audience was supposed to know who that was. He said when Ben sent the new arrangement of UM, he didn’t know what it would sound like since he can’t read music. So the first time he heard it was when he went to London to have the symphony record it. He said he called Ben from London because he almost cried at how good it was.

When he started UM, that first verse where he sings “are you, still mine? And he usually just sings it as a pretty ordinary semi long note. Well tonight, he started it soft and then got louder and louder with it. Not changing the note itself like in the airplane note, but in a way that showed just absolute amazing control.

He left the stage and we all stood and clapped until they raised the curtain again. He was sitting in an office type chair and sang IML without any mentions of teachers. Then he told a story about Rita in the M&G who had won last summer but couldn’t make it so they got her in today. She was with her granddaughter who wanted a picture of herself with Clay since Rita had replaced all the family pictures in the house. She asked him for Solitaire and he said he didn’t tell her that it was already planned anyway. He sang it and he played with the melody a little, singing lower in some cases, minor key all in all making it even more interesting.

The crowd jumped to its feet again and the lights came up. And I exhaled for the first time in almost two hours.

The venue was perfect for this type of show. The set list was great between the songs and the banter and I liked this set list 1000X more than Miami. I really wonder what kind of album he could have had if he took away some of the older songs and replaced them with Where Do I Begin, Both Sides Now, In My Life, Breaking Up and added some up tempo.

And I want him to write and have Ben do the arrangements.

Vocally, he surpassed himself. It’s funny, but no matter how much clack you watch in between tours, it simply doesn’t compare to seeing him perform live and even then, it’s still almost shocking at how well he can sing. He hit some low notes tonight that vibrated within me.

I’m a big baseball fan. Robert Redford made a baseball movie years ago called The Natural in which his character, Roy Hobbs is asked how he wants to be remembered. He said he would like to be walking by someone on the street years from now and hear “there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.”

Tonight, I saw Clay Aiken…The Best That Ever Was

, , , , , Felix Pollard, , , , Concert,

, , , , , Christina Aguilear, Kei$sha, Gaga, Bad Romance, Tyra Banks, Ruben Studdard

Thanks to dc4clay for the photo and Scarlett for the crystal clear video.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Broadway Backwards: Oh What A Night!

I wanted to put my thoughts together about last night's Broadway Backwards and Clay Aiken's participation. It's a little hard because they are more feelings than thoughts and also kind of jumbled.

I love the theater. As a child - ever since I was 6 years old, my parents would take me to see a musical. My first Broadway show was Mr. Wonderful with Sammy Davis Jr. I went to Performing Arts HS and lived in Manhattan since I was 14. I used to second-act shows, get student tickets, do standing room. Whatever I could. I think I saw Half a Sixpence with Tommy Steele 9 times and Roar of the Greasepaint, Smell of the Crowd with Anthony Newley at least a half dozen. I know, compared to Claymates and Spamalot - I was a slacker. But still. . . College and beyond - not just musicals. I loved dramas. Half-priced tickets were cheap back in the 60s and 70s. I saw Zero Mostel in Ulysses in Nightown, sitting in the balcony for $17. I remember the first time I ever saw John Malkovich and Joan Allen in Burn This - I was overwhelmed by their brilliance. Went four times and took everyone I could find. The original Equus with Anthony Hopkins and Peter Firth (first time I had ever witnessed Anthony Hopkins) took my breath away. Agnes of God with Elizabeth Allen, Amanda Plummer and Geraldine Page - spellbinding. Long way of saying that I am bewitched by the theater, find Broadway (and Off Broadway and regional and every form of theater) magical.

So I was excited to be going to Broadway Backwards - whether Clay was a part of it or not. I've lost so many dear friends to AIDS and have heard so many stories from my gay and lesbian friends of their journey, I've been supporting organizations like God's Love We Deliver and Broadway Cares for years. So this was a special evening for us to be in the audience.  From the first number with Alan Cummings singing "Don't Tell Mama" from Cabaret - I was so happy to be a part of this incredible event.

Each number was strong and each performer was charismatic and exciting. When Hinton Battle came out to sing Will I ever Tell You? from Music Man . . . oh my goodness I was ecstatic. That man is amazing.

Debra Monk followed him to sing an emotionally captivating On The Street Where You Live and exited to thunderous applause.

At this point, I turned to MrNan and said "I'm nervous for Clay". It's not that I don't think Clay has a gorgeous voice and tons of charisma. It's just that the performers on that stage were so full of confidence and owned the stage. Their voices were incredibly strong. They moved with such assurance. And most of all, their ability to tell a story with their voice and body was intense.

Dan Butler and Kirsten Wyatt (also the hosts) performed I'll Never Be Jealous Again from Pajama Game - a song I used to sing (out of tune always) with my father -- and were sheer joy.

Then Lillias White (from Fela) tore it up with a Ray Charles arrangement of Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific and was followed by Brian Charles Rooney's impassioned version of One Halloween/But Alive from Applause to close the first act with a bravura performance.

By this point I was more than nervous. I was worried. These people were such pros. So much talent on that stage. Everything about this show was first-rate. The orchestra was wonderful. The staging of the numbers were great. The dance ensemble was perfect. It was everything I love about live performance. The audience knew these performers. They had seen them in shows. There was so much respect. Every time they brought a standing microphone out onto the stage - I grabbed MrNan's hand thinking . . . "this is Clay".

The second act started and I fell in love with Bobby Steggert who (along with Robin De Jesus) sang The Trolly Song from Meet Me In St. Louis. I just read he's going to star in the 2012 Broadway show of Disney's Dumbo. This young man is a-mazing.

So next they bring out the standing mic - hand grab - but it's Len Cariou. I have seen that man in countless shows - the first time in Applause with Lauren Bacall and most recently in last season's Damages on tv. He is the epitome of a professional to me. He blew me away with Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered from Pal Joey. What a story teller. Touching, funny, poignent.

The mic stayed there and I almost didn't want it to be Clay because I didn't want him to have to follow the applause Len Cariou got. Someone I was not familiar with at all walked out, Tituss Burgess and he sang a song I was not familiar with called Stars and the Moon from a show I'm not familiar with -- Songs For a New World. He originated the role of Sebastian in Little Mermaid and he's got a high tenor voice. He was mesmerizing. The song started and I wasn't sure where it was going and he had such amazing voice control and then there were punchlines and funny stuff and his timing was brilliant and the end hits you with an emotional pop. Wow.

They clear the mic away for Bebe Neuwirth to kill on All I Care About Is Love from Chicago - and at this point I'm thinking . . . "maybe Clay is sick and he can't perform".

Tony Yazbeck blows the audience away with The Music and the Mirror from Chorus Line and Brooks Ashmanskas and Denis O'Hare are totally adorable doing Marry The Man Today from Guys and Dolls and it's getting late.  But now they bring the mic out again and I grab MrNan's hand.

Previously, for every performer - Dan and Kirsten give a short introduction with what shows they did or are doing on Broadway and what Tonys they have been nominated for or won.  But now they start talking about a young gay woman who committed suicide and the plight of LGBT youth and said the next song is dedicated to her. Then simply, Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Clay Aiken. And BAM.   He sold it. His voice has such nuance. It's not a straight "Broadway" voice. There's a bit of "pop" to it. But he had power and range and beautiful texture to it. I remember thinking when they announced his name - there was nice applause but not the kind of name recognition and excitement you got when Len Cariou or Bebe Neuwirth were announced. Or Debra Monk or Karen Oliva (from West Side Story). This was a Broadway crowd. They weren't excited that it was Clay. They were waiting.

My fandom has changed over the last year or so. I adore Clay but I don't listen to him as often as I used to. I'm happy when his songs come up on my iPod but I don't usually seek them out. I don't download clack very much. But when I see him live and he delivers like he did last night - I remember how he touches my very soul. He reached that audience. He sang for that young woman and all all the youth who have been bullied or felt alone and wanted to know there was a safe place called Home. He made a believer of those people sitting in the audience and when he was done they showed him their love and appreciation - not just for his talent - but for his story as well. And I felt it all over again.

No video does justice to live performances.  Support the arts.

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Please support  Broadway Cares and thank for them for wonderful work they do.

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Thank you toni7babe for the photo and gingerscarlett for the video.