BWW Review: Signature's Tuneful PIANO MEN Cabaret

BWW Review: Signature's Tuneful PIANO MEN Cabaret

Music lovers and historians will want to make their way to Shirlington for Signature Theatre's enjoyable, yet uneven, The Piano Men Cabaret.

Conceived and directed by Matthew Gardiner, the cabaret was created as a tribute to the multitalented singer/songwriters - Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel and Reginald Kenneth Dwight aka Sir Elton John. With these artists serving as the evening's inspiration, you know the song list is going to be a hit fest that doesn't disappoint.

What's a pleasant surprise though is that the evening isn't just a collection of greatest hits. Yes "Bennie and the Jets", "New York State of Mind" and "Georgia On My Mind" are a few of the standards performed, but The Piano Men Cabaret also does some of the artists' lesser known songs as well. Tidbits of history and context are sprinkled throughout the show, allowing the audience to re-familiarize themselves with songs, and even albums, they may have overlooked a decade or two or three or four ago.

Shayna Blass, Nick Lehan and Mark G. Meadows get Signature's Shen space jumping. However, uneven is the best way to describe the trio because Meadow's is the evening's clear standout with Blass playing a supporting role and Lehan fading into the background when not performing. And even when all three are performing together, Meadows is so magnetic that you can't help but be drawn to him.

Now those who saw Meadows in the titular role of Jelly's Last Jam last summer at Signature are well aware of his talents. Meadows is magnetic whether he's channeling Stevie Wonder on his piano and keyboard or energizing the crowd with Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Love Her So." Additionally, he has terrific chemistry with the band, especially Max Murray whose bass gives the evening a soulful vibe.

Blass' energy and charisma are reminiscent of Elton John, allowing her to channel the Rocket Man with a fun version of "Honky Cat." She also gives voice to female singer/songwriters, a group that seems woefully underrepresented in this cabaret. While tributes to Aretha Franklin and Carole King, who started her career writing for Franklin, are sung, female singer/songwriters are featured in only two of the evening's 19 songs.

Lehan rounds out the trio, giving one of the evening's Great Performances with Billy Joel's "Summer, Highland Falls." However, he often seems overshadowed by Blass and Meadows. That's a shame because he does possess a great wit and one could easily see him succeeding in his own cabaret.

Even with the uneven balance of talent onstage and selection of songwriters, The Piano Men Cabaret is a great night out. Watching The Piano Men Cabaret, you're reminded that Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Elton John and Stevie Wonder were not just singer/songwriters, but great storytellers and there's never a bad time to listen to what they have to say.

Runtime is 75 minutes with no intermission

The Piano Men Cabaret runs thru Saturday at Signature Theatre - 4200 Campbell Ave, Arlington, VA 22206. For tickets please call (703) 820-9771 or click here.

Photo: Mark G. Meadows Credit: Signature Theatre

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