BWW Review: Jason Danieley Has A HEART TO HEART With Adoring Audience at 54 Below
Jason Danieley is a gentleman. Jason Danieley is a gentle man. Many facets of Jason Danieley were on display last night at 54 Below, but leading the charge in the parade of admirable personality traits of this gentle gentleman was a loving heart, open and ready to share with an audience that came to show him he is adored, he is seen, he is heard. It is most important that Mr. Danieley be heard right now, because he has something to say, something important, and it is definitely something from the heart.
Few can be unaware that Jason Danieley lost his wife, Marin Mazzie, one year ago. Most people are aware of their beautiful love of one another, and of their musical partnership, and many have seen them perform together in concert over the years, oftentimes at Feinstein's/54 Below. In his new club act A Heart to Heart, Jason honors the memory of Ms. Mazzie by singing songs they intended to sing together, by sharing stories about her life and last days, and by urging all to join in the crusade to fight ovarian cancer. No, it doesn't sound like the usual cabaret fare, but this is not a usual circumstance, and Danieley knows that any platform and any opportunity to educate and illuminate must be utilized to the best of his ability and visibility, and although the audience listened to some uncomfortable rhetoric last night, they listened, and that's what is important.
The show A Heart To Heart is more than enlightening, it is entertaining. Mr. Danieley and his band have put together an enjoyable evening of music with fanciful and fun arrangements that are never quite what you would expect for the songs being sung. In an evening that focuses on the memory of a beloved artist and woman, as well as the cancer that took her life, a ballad-laden show would have made the evening maudlin, but Danieley and musical director Joseph Thalken, Bassist Pete Donovan, and Percussionist Rich Rosenzweig are delivering many upbeat arrangements with swing and Latin flavors about them, keeping the evening bright and joyful. Indeed, Danieley smiled throughout most of the evening, only succumbing to a bit of sadness once, then laughing and joking about it because he was sure he would cross the finish line without becoming emotional. The truth is, though, that the audience was already emotional and his display drew all even closer to him than they had been, moments before.
Chicly attired in black on black with a scarf of burnt orange around his neck, Danieley opens his show with an infectious attitude and an up tempo "There You Are", after which he adorns a nearby mic stand with the scarf, making you wonder if the garment was a gift to or from Mazzie, and is there to represent the place she once held when they were onstage together. The answer belongs to Danieley and the question is best left to be pondered in the minds of the audience, where it will do the most good. The swinging, sexy music filling the room, Jason gets his funk on, dancing about the stage, having fun, his dazzling smile filling the room as much as the music. When he sings, he often opens his arms wide, welcoming all to come to him and share in the joy of his music and the twenty one years he shared with Marin. His voice as beautiful as ever, it is difficult to believe that he hasn't sung in a year (Jason jokes about doing the musical Pretty Woman without ever singing more than 16 bars), as he bellows big and sings sweet, everything from James Taylor to Jule Styne, and when you look at his happy face you can see the source of his happiness: he is singing for us, but he is singing to her. Each musical moment is an intimate one between Mr. and Mrs. Danieley, and we are the privileged ones, being allowed to witness their love and devotion to one another.
Doing this show without discussion of ovarian cancer would have been impossible, and Jason is up front about the fact that it will come up, discussing important organizations with which he works to help cancer patients and their families (The Cancer Support Community), or to find a way for early detection (Tina's Wish), inviting people to the upcoming cancer benefit Marin Mazzie'S SUNFLOWER POWER HOUR, and sharing with the women of the audience what some of the physical symptoms are, not to mention urging the men in those women's lives to help them stay on top of their continued good health. It is the lord's work he is doing, and no mistake, putting this spotlight on prevention, detection and treatment of that which took the beloved Ms. Mazzie from us all. When he is not conversing about the disease, though, he shares with his many fans, his friends, his family, stories about his wife - funny, heartwarming, touching stories that he needs to share, but that we need to hear. We all loved Marin Mazzie. Not one person in the show business community, not one fan of musical theater was left untouched when she died, and everyone still mourns her. The sharing of these stories makes everyone laugh, and love, and feel a little better and a little closer. In a way, it's sort of group therapy in a cabaret, fitting because Marin always referred to her singing as Healing Therapy.
The Cancer Support Community Website
Tina's Wish Website
Photos by Stephen Mosher