Thursday, September 20, 2012

cabaret review FAITH PRINCE & JASON GRAAE, 54 Below, August 23

Jason Graae and Faith Prince at 54 Below
We journeyed back to the hot new nightclub 54 Below to see Tony winner Faith Prince and Jason Graae in a show jokingly called "The Prince and the Show Boy."   With the high level of comedy these two musical clowns create, and Graae's overachieving humorous delivery and eagerness to please, it could have been just as easily titled "Prince and the Jester."

Both Prince and Graae have appeared in numerous Broadway and Off Broadway shows and while Prince is clearly the more established and well known "name" here, Graae has plenty of credits and recording contributions as well.  While they might seem like a somewhat strange combination for a cabaret concert, the fact that the two of them went to the same school together, CCM in Cincinnati, and have worked together a few times over their careers provides a nice amount of charm and authenticity to their "friendship" that you don't always get when two people come together in a duo show like this.

Starting off with a medley of showtunes that included various versions of the name "Prince" in their lyrics it clearly set the stage for what was about to come.  That medley included songs like "Someday My Prince Will Come" as well as "Put on a Happy Face" with "Face" jokingly changed to "Faith" and another song from Bye Bye, Birdie, "One Boy" changed to "One Showboy," to get the full name of the concert and the theme behind the show clearly out there.   The fact that the medley also included "Liza with a Z" elevated the medley to heights of comical zaniness since even though that song had absolutely nothing to do with the name of the show, it added the appropriate amount of insanity that Prince and Graae excel at.

Prince has recorded a live cd of a previous cabaret show that she's toured around the country, and a few selections as well as some of the patter from that show were carried over to this one.  One of the gems she sung in those earlier shows she repeated here, Mary Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim's "The Boy from ..." from The Mad Show which Prince manages to ring every nuance out of the insane lyrics. 

But the concert wasn't only humorous songs, in fact some of the best moments were the more serious ones.  Both Prince and Graae appeared in various versions of the William Finn show Falsettos, with Prince originating the role of Trina in the Off Broadway production of the one act Falsettoland and Graae a replacement for Mendel in the Broadway production of the later version of the two act show.   For their cabaret, Graae sang an emotionally rich version of "What More Can I Say?" immediately followed by Prince with a heartfelt version of "Holding to the Ground."  Graae also accompanied Prince by playing the oboe on "Smiles" that lead into Faith singing the Charlie Chaplin classic "Smile" with Graae continuing playing in counterpart.  It was a lovely duet in a classy and very different way.  Prince also sung the hell out of "The Ladies Who Lunch" from Sondheim's Company, and I personally didn't detect one comic tick on her face during it, which proves that Prince doesn't need to be funny to achieve greatness.

A Jerry Herman section included Prince talking about her son who is now in his late teens before she sang a touching and personal version of Mame's "If He Walked Into My Life."  The Herman section also included Graae's heartfelt story of his coming out to his mother before he delivered an emotional "I Am What I Am" from La Cage Aux Folles.  A rousing "Before the Parade Passes By" from Hello Dolly provided Prince a chance to show how she'd be as Dolly with Graae throwing out sung snippets from a multitude of other Herman songs in counterpoint to Prince.

While the majority of the songs for the evening were hits, a couple of Graae's selections were a little too forced, including his take on Wicked's "Popular" and the Kooman and Dimond song "To Excess" about a stalker.  Graae's drive to "sell" those songs just made them a little too over the top for my taste.

Musical director Alex Rybeck provided lovely accompaniment as well as contributed to the shenanigans on stage.

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