BWW Reviews: Actor/Singer Jason Graae Premieres 49 1/2 Shades of Graae at Sterling's
As a teen in Tulsa, Oklahoma who aspired to be a dramatic actor, Chicago-born Jason Graae was advised to "Be a Clown" and to "Make 'em Laugh". Not everyone can fill the shoes of a clown; those shoes are pretty damn big. But for Graae, whose mind never stops clicking with its razor-sharp wit, fierce timing and shotgun-speed spontaneity, clowning seemed the natural choice, and thank heaven for us, he not only followed through but has turned into one of the most endearing comic performers the world has ever known. On Monday March 10, Graae premiered his brand new cabaret show 49 1/2 Shades of Graae at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal to an ecstatic packed house. Introducing his material, he said it was based on the porn novel 50 Shades of Grey, but..."This is gonna be dirtier." 'Dirty' in Graae terminology means... yes, indeed, some smut thrown in, but with a whole lot of charm, pizazz and miles and miles of genuine humor. There are a few serious scenarios included in the mostly autobiographical show, but every one with heart and banners waving high. And when I mean autobiographical, there are not only career stories but personal anecdotes as well. Expertly staged by Heather Lee and with fab musical direction from John Boswell, the evening was, to quote Graae, in an improv-takeoff of my supposed BWW review, "the best show I saw in NoHo all day..." and for those lucky enough to get reservations, it will repeat next Sunday March 16.
Graae opened his show with a medley of 'lift you to the rafters' snippets of tunes like "This Is My Moment", "If They Could See Me Now", "You're Gonna Hear From Me", "Nothing Can Stop Me Now", "I Am What I Am", "California Here I Come", "My Time", "I've Got To Be Me" and even "I Feel Pretty" and the last bars of "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy "For Me"- usually performed exclusively by women - all mashed into one giant ball of a number, and it seemed that he never stopped moving for a split second throughout. What energy! What insanity! It was a performance in itself. When finished, he jokingly said, "Well, goodnight! Thanks for coming!" This kind of instantaneous wit is what sets him apart from other entertainers. There were also a pair of songs which he classified as 'for dreamers', "If I Had a Stage" a beautiful one about a teacher who longs to be a stage star by Tommy Newman and a creepier, twisted one "Claire - Stalker Song" by the duo Kooman and Dimond. An uplifting moment turned suddenly into an unpredictably gross one. Only Graae with his sick sense of humor can get away with this! Like a little boy, he gloats as his audience just eat it up.
Other highlights included great renditions of "Just a Gigolo" replete with oboe playing, a sensational "Colored Lights" by Kander and Ebb from And the World Goes Round (which I hope he recorded on the new CD of the show) and Cy Coleman's terrific "The Colors of My Life". There were also two very serious segments, one with some lovely moments about his 15-year relationship with his partner Glen. He nicely combined Richard Rodgers' "I Do Not Know a Day I Did Not Love You" from Two by Two with John Bucchino's "Married" from A Catered Affair. Showing his slower, low-key, romantic side is something Graae does less frequently, but when it comes, it's very, very warm and nice...and you realize what a really fine singer he is to boot! His encore "The Moment Has Passed" was one hilarious turn with a repetitive and ferocious shtic of 'holding on to it', for which he is famous.
Although Graae complained of little rehearsal time due to busy schedules - "it was mainly put together via phone from coast to coast" - it appeared practically flawless. He possesses a polish and a flair that make him the ultimate pro... who can make anything look good... and walk away a winner. One more chance to see 49 1/2 Shades of Graae before New York: next Sunday March 16 at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal. Be there or be square!
This year's Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress for Nebraska Miss June Squibb