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Review: Michael Garin Knocks You Out With His Sprawling Solo Tour de Force A PUNCH IN THE MOUTH at the Metropolitan Room

"If I get my sh*t right, you're gonna move," Michael Garin declared from the Metropolitan Room piano, energy crackling through every fiber of his compact form as he leaned into the microphone. On September 28, Garin opened his new show, A Punch In The Mouth, banging out a muscular, unexpected boogie-woogie "Habañera" arrangement of "Surf Carmen" (Bizet-Kern, arr. Garin). A 1992 Drama Desk winner (for the show Song of Singapore), Garin often performs with his "tattooed ex-ingenue" wife Mardie Millet, but tonight she sat in the audience, leaving Garin to fend for himself. For the next hour, Garin held court at the keyboard, reeling off his show biz stories, teaching music theory, and wandering into emotional family history.

The show's title comes from a Mike Tyson quote Garin recounted early on in the program. "Everyone's got a plan until they get punched in the mouth," once said the former heavyweight champion. Garin then proceeded to demonstrate the sonic-cum-emotional qualities of various types of music triads and chords: C-major, C-minor (sad), C7, C Major 7 (Like French films in the 1960s and '70s). This seemed like an ADD departure, until they returned later in the show, and when Garin pointed them out, you were like, "Yeah, I get it!" After the chords lesson, he moved into rhythm. Syncopation. Cue the "Arabic-Spanish Mash Up," where Garin displayed his ability to sing in multiple tongues--no, he can't sing in tongues, although I wouldn't put it past this uber-talented cat. But his religion skews in a different direction, which we would hear about later on. Back to the mash-up, Garin ended it with a snippet from "It's a Small World After All," to show that culture is sewn with musical thread.

Garin's director Michael Schiralli has called him "the love child of Groucho Marx and Noel Coward, and this keyboard raconteur used stories about his time working in the VIP penthouse piano bar at the former Limelight nightclub in Chelsea, not only to name-drop playing for Zappa (cool), but also to talk about how he learned from DJs how to conduct the energy of a room through music choices. He related meeting Elaine Stritch while working at the late night cabaret at the Williamstown Theater Festival, where he landed after a break up. He punctuated the anecdote with Gary B. White's tune "Greater Manhattan Love Song" and Smokey Robinson's "Tears of a Clown." He mentioned Spike Lee and Anita Baker--I was getting lost in the celebrity shout outs (and tending to my very-tipsy plus-one). Anyway, Garin admitted to being a "Lucky So & So" (Ellington-David), getting to work with all kinds of different creative artists throughout his peripatetic career.

Continuing the theme of synchronistic meetings, Garin went on to tell a family ghost story about a mystery grandfather. He became visibly moved and allowed it to be part of the storytelling, which was tender and endearing. While he spoke about his Jewish roots, he sang a haunting Israeli song called "Yatsanu At" and then "After You've Gone" (Layton-Creamer), bringing back the CMajor7 chord, offering an audience-wide AHA moment.

Garin closed the show with three original tunes, one about a frog, one hilarious dig at cabaret tradition ("The Encore Shuffle"), and finally a wry ditty about self-pleasuring called "My Hand." The affable performer's charmingly meandering (if sometimes indulgent) narrative is buoyed by crackling intelligence, charisma, passion, and most of all, chops, chops, chops. This is a show from a master's perspective, a sweet and salty look at living a working musician's life. He got it right . . . the audience moved and was moved . . . in that punched in the mouth sort of way.

Michael Garin brings A Punch In The Mouth back to the Metropolitan Room THIS MONDAY 10/12 and again on November 16, both at 9:30 pm. You can also find him at the Rainbow Room on Friday 10/16, and every Wednesday night at the stylish Hudson Malone pub on East 53rd Street, 8-11 pm.

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