BWW Review: DONNY MOST WITH SPECIAL GUEST LINDA PURL Gets The Beach Cafe Swingin'
"One more song! One more song!"
So rang out the chant at The Beach Cafe last night. Finally, Donny Most laughed and, sheepishly raising the microphone to his lips, said "We don't have one more!" and the house full of satisfied patrons laughed with him. It had been a wonderful party and, naturally, nobody wanted to have it end, least of all Donny Most.
Mr. Most has been a working actor since the age of 15 when he found himself playing The Catskills. Never has he stopped working, but 5 years ago he decided that, while the acting would continue, it was time for him to dive head-first into the music that he had loved even longer than his career, so he started the Donny Most Band, and he has been singing ever since. The music that he plays is the swing music so many have grown up listening to and, brother, it fits him like the glass slipper fit Cindy and like the glove fit Ali. Listening to his hourlong set last night, it is difficult to imagine him singing anything else (though there were audience members carrying his 70's pop albums, hoping for an autograph). Most and swing just go together.
The genre of swing centered around The Great American Songbook is one of the most popular types of music out there, performed by crooners of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, and enjoyed by audiences of all demographics. In 2019 this writer was given the chance to see and review two talented young men who specialize in this type of music, Nicolas King and Charlie Romo. Misters King and Romo are extremely gifted musicians who embody the era that informs their artwork, and who honor it with their skill and craftsmanship. Both men are in their twenties and both have done their due diligence when cultivating their sound and crafting their shows. There is a difference, though, between listening to a young man sing music he learned from his grandfather or godmother and seeing a man perform who is actually old enough to have seen Bobby Darrin live. There is a laid back mood that comes up onto the stage with Donny Most, one that is perfectly balanced with an excitement that is infectious. Watching Most on the stage is an experience that warms the heart and pleases the senses. His delirium at being given the gift, indeed, to him, the privilege of singing this music is on full display, and it never wanes. With every song in his set, Most chats with the audience about the origin of the tune, naming the songwriters and the movies/plays from whence cometh these opera that mean so much to him. These informal chats with the audience (some of whom were musical historians, helping him out with the background and trivia) are delightful pockets of joviality that make the audience feel like they are just hangin' with Don... until he begins to croon, and then you remember that you're in a saloon and there's a cool cat jivin' with his band up there in the spotlight, and the dude that you've just been shootin' the breeze with changes before your very eyes.
With a voice that has, clearly, been trained, Most keeps reverential to the songwriters' intent, allowing the lyrics and melody to tell the story; at no time does his own interpretation get in the way of the song. Smooth melodious music reaches his microphone on songs like "I've Got You Under My Skin" and bold, brassy, blaring notes soar into the air when he is in full swing with "What's the Matter with You?" Donny keeps the tones clean and in place, serving the song and, in the process, serving the audience. At last night's opening, at any minute could be heard the sighs of happiness when people recognized their favorite song, the rhythmic clapping of hands as they joined Most inside of the music, or even the voices of people so happy they didn't realize that they had begun singing along. It's a generous set of 15 tunes that anyone with an interest in this type of music will recognize, especially since Mr. Most throws in some appropriate Christmas songs made famous by Mel Torme and Nat "King" Cole. Especially generous of Donny Most is his decision to invite his longtime chum, the great Linda Purl, to join him on the stage at The Beach Cafe.
Ms. Purl is an actress of note who, like Most, has placed a greater focus on her love of music these last few years, and the music aficionados out there are all the luckier for it. While Donny's focus is strictly on swing music, Purl loves to jazz things up a bit and she brings a little less traditional feel to her solo of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" -- it's a fantastic juxtaposition to Most's performances, all beautiful swing arrangements reminiscent of Sinatra, Martin, Bennett, and Darrin. The yin to his yang, Purl joins Most on two wonderful duets that showcase not only two beautiful voices but a friendship that has lasted a lifetime, and that in itself is a thing of beauty. Purl's admiration and affection for her fellow artist change to love and pride that one can see on her face as she sits with the Beach Cafe crowd for the portion of the show in which she is not singing. To see the camaraderie between them is to reflect on one's own friendships that have stood the test of time.
Donny Most is a friendly, affable fellow, unable to hide who he is, or the love that he feels for this music into which he has thrown himself. He is having such a good time up on stage with a band of exceptional musicians with whom he has never sung before this week, making glorious music in the Upper East Side saloon, that it is impossible to not like him, to not have a good time at his show. There's nothing but love and good music, friendship, and good company when Donny Most is sharing this great love of his with any crowd of people who turn up to share that love with him.
And that's what this cabaret thing is all about, man.
Photos by Stephen Mosher