BWW Reviews: Cast Members from ABC's NASHVILLE Play DC's Lincoln Theatre, Display Stellar Musicianship
There may be your standard love triangles galore on Callie Khouri's primetime television hit Nashville - now in its second season on ABC - but there's one element that sets this show apart from the many other dramas on American television. The variety of good quality and well performed original music infuses the show that exposes the light and dark sides of the country music industry with an air of believability and authenticity. Fundamentally, the music is what draws me to watch it on a weekly basis. Given the wealth of talent involved and the fact that music is so central to its core, it seems appropriate then that show would spawn a four city ABC's Nashville Live in Concert tour featuring many of the multi-talented cast members.
As Charles Esten (Deacon Claybourne), Clare Bowen (Scarlett O'Connor), Jonathan Jackson (Avery Barkley), Sam Palladio (Gunnar Scott), and Chris Carmack (Will Lexington) played to an appreciative and very excited Washington, DC audience at the Lincoln Theatre, they underscored the point that no matter how you slice it - whether in character or not - they are true musicians whose talents shine through in any medium.
Whether taking on music they or others have performed on the show, music they've written and play around Nashville's numerous live venues, or selections from upcoming albums, each of the twenty or so songs had one thing in common. They were delivered with energy, charisma, conviction, and allowed all of them to display their unquestionable musicianship.
The numerous duets, in particular, made the concert one that shouldn't have been missed.
As Bowen and Palladio's haunting voices harmonized on Trevor Rosen, Shane McAnally and Matt Jenkins' popular "Fade Into You" or the song that started it all for them - "If I Didn't Know Better," written by John Paul White and Arum Rae - one couldn't help to be drawn in. Notable for the perfect blend despite their very different vocal qualities, Bowen and Palladio made an obvious connection with one another and the lyrics of each of the songs. This combination of all of these elements resulted in the two strongest and most special numbers of the night.
Likewise, Esten and Bowen's take on Jaida Dreyer's "This Town" - arguably one of the best written songs on the show to date - not only showcased their smooth and pleasant vocals, but appropriately drew attention to the meaningful lyrics that are sure to resonate with anyone (performer or otherwise) struggling to make it. Jacob Bryant, Jon Davidson, and Derrick Southerland's "Be My Girl" - featuring the engaging can't-take-your-eyes-off-him Jonathan Jackson and Sam Palladio - may not be the most inspiring of country songs from a storytelling perspective, but the energy the duo brought to it and the obvious fun they were having in performing it made it impossible for me not to smile.
When the performers stood in the spotlight on their own, they also made a lasting impression.
While I would have liked to have heard more solo selections from Clare Bowen, the songs she did perform highlighted her enviable versatility and the fact that she probably has the strongest - if not the most unique and unmistakable - voice of the cast. Whether having fun with "Crazy Tonight" (Chip Boyd, Jay Clementi, and Kacey Musgraves) or bringing the drama with the dark "Black Roses" (Lucy Schwartz), she commanded the stage like a pro, used her flexible voice in the best way possible, and left me wanting more music. The enormously talented band of musicians that regularly play on the television show complemented her nicely.
Singer/guitarist Chris Carmack from nearby Virginia Beach exuded confidence on Jesse Winchester's "A Showman's Life," which he's performed on the show. His polished stage presence and natural ability to engage with an audience puts him in good standing for the future. Jonathan Jackson shined best when performing his original music, in particular "Morning of the Raw." A talented guitarist, songwriter, and singer, he has the goods to make it far no matter the medium. Sam Palladio - also a talented instrumentalist (guitar/drums) - made a deep connection with his performance of an original tune, "Wake Me Up in Nashville," inspired by his grandfather's pre-war experience. The song showcased his folksy and ear pleasing vocals and his ability to tell a story through music quite well. Alexandria, VA native Esten also showed off his own songwriting chops with "Whiskey Lips." His easy laidback performing style left me engaged.
As the entire cast gathered to sing Ashley Monroe and Sarah Siskind's "A Life That's Good," I was reminded of the powerful way music can remind us what's good about humanity. This number - made magical due to the obvious friendship between all of the performers and their clear joy over having the chance to perform together for a live audience - ensured the concert ended on a strong note.
Nashville - apart from being a popular television show - exposes us to some of the best up-and-coming (and established) songwriting talent Nashville has to offer. Concert events like this one allow audiences to not only appreciate the cast's music skills more fully, but be exposed to some really great original music - some of which is better than what gets played in constant rotation on the radio. When talented musicians take on well written songs, one can't help to want more. I certainly did.
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
ABC's Nashville Live in Concert played at the Lincoln Theatre in downtown Washington, DC on May 4, 2014. It previously played Chicago, and will continue onto Philadelphia (Tower Theater) on May 5 and New York City (Best Buy Theater) on May 6. Broadway's Will Chase - a Nashville cast member - will be performing at the New York City tour stop.
Photo: Clare Bowen pictured - courtesy of Schmidt Relations/Grand Ole Opry.