BWW Review: Nathan Lee Graham Enchants The Green Room 42 With A SONDHEIM SALON
Nathan Lee Graham took to the stage at The Green Room 42 on October 11 with the flourish you would expect from this dramatic performer. Wearing a black brocade jacket with a long, fringed, gold metallic scarf over one shoulder, Graham staged ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL: A SONDHEIM SALON, an evening devoted to Stephen Sondheim.
Occasionally stopping to eat a cube of pineapple, he apologized for doing something boring. Someone in the audience shouted that he turned pineapple-eating into art. It's true that there's nothing ordinary about this man.
What's so unique about Graham is that he speaks with a bit of an old world formality, unassuming and frank at the same time. He over-pronounces words and is almost over-the-top at times, but there wasn't a false moment in his performance at The Green Room 42. His theatricality is 100 percent organic to his personality, and his real emotion comes through, alternating between childlike vulnerability and jaded knowing.
His versatility was also on display, as he moved effortlessly from tender pieces to strong declarative songs to humor. He's capable of evoking laughter just with the flash of his eyes.
Highlights of the night included a moving interpretation of "Being Alive" (COMPANY), which is, of course, a difficult song to pull off that Graham handled beautifully. He followed that with the touching, lesser-known "I Remember" from the 1966 written-for-television musical EVENING PRIMROSE.
Graham's version of "Could I Leave You" from FOLLIES was particularly funny, as he is skilled at throwing shade with just a subtle change of expression. He toned down his theatrical nature a bit for "Send In the Clowns" (A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC). Graham knows when to keep it simple so that the poignancy of the piece comes through.
I also loved hearing him include a portion of "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" from SWEENEY TODD in a medley, singing it in his lower register, which is particularly velvety. Like most others, I'm so accustomed to hearing it sung by sopranos that it was a lovely change to hear it in a man's voice.
One of Graham's final songs of the evening was "Last Midnight," which was perfect for his personality. His voice has the heft and strength the song requires, and he knows how to command the stage as the witch from INTO THE WOODS must do. (I think someone needs to cast him in that role.)
Graham was accompanied throughout the night by musical director Tracy Stark on the piano and Peter Calo on the guitar. He also dedicated one section of songs to his friend and fellow Sondheim interpreter Marin Mazzie, who recently passed away at the age of 57. He said that she encouraged him to move to New York and try his career here.
Graham made excellent song choices that showed off his wide vocal range and gave him a chance to show off what he can do dramatically. While these songs have been performed by so many others, Graham's presence is unlike anyone else. As a result, his take on Sondheim's catalog provided more than just beautiful singing. His interpretations allowed us to see some of the songs in a new light.
Melanie Votaw is a full-time freelance writer who has written 28 books. She covers travel, as well as theater, dance, and cabaret for Broadway World. Follow her on Twitter @melanievotaw.