BWW Review: Perry Ojeda Finally Arrives in JUST IN TIME - THE SONGS OF COMDEN AND GREEN at 54 Below
Where the HELL has Perry Ojeda been?
For years New Yorkers who were lucky enough to catch Ojeda in the 1998 revival of On The Town have been missing him. The life-threateningly handsome leading man made a big splash with the famed classic musical, showed up around town now and then during subsequent years, and then he disappeared from the stages of Manhattan, having departed for the warmer climes of California; and we have been pining for him ever since. More than just a handsome dude, Perry Ojeda had everything one could ask for in a musical theater leading man -- a fine actor with a sense of comedy and of earnestness, Ojeda was a highly skilled dancer and the purveyor of a gorgeous and bold singing voice. There was never any reason for the leading man not to be on a stage somewhere, sharing his gifts and talents with audiences possessing a sense of good taste.
Still, those warmer climes...
Well, Perry Ojeda was back on a New York stage last night when he debuted his one-man show JUST IN TIME: THE SONGS OF COMDEN AND GREEN to a grateful gang of devotees who would not have missed this show or the chance to see Ojeda in action, once more.
Unchanged by time (except for having grown more winsome, if that is possible) Mr. Ojeda is still devastatingly handsome, and still overwhelmingly talented, with that powerful singing voice ringing out into the night air of the nightclub 54 Below. Shortly into his Comden and Green tribute show, one wonders if it is possible he has been out of the city doing cabaret these last few years? Or is Perry Ojeda an actor with a natural gift for performing in clubs? He is refreshingly authentic, abundant of sincerity, unfailingly genuine - in short, a charmer, which is precisely what one would expect him to be. These are all qualities one suspects he possesses in his day to day life, but during his hour on stage, a great deal of his presence must have been informed by the love and affection he has for his subject matter, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
It is obvious Ojeda adored the legendary twosome responsible for some of the great show business works in the histories of both theater and cinema. No mere tribute show could be this rich with storytelling of a personal nature. Mr. Ojeda opens a door into his private world by sharing his experiences with Betty and Adolph, from their first meeting regarding ON THE TOWN to the last time he spoke to Betty before her death. The famed twosome championed him from the start and were there to encourage him, all the way, and sharing his personal stories of his relationship with them is an intimate way of allowing his audience to know them but, more specifically, to know him. The evening, one he attributes to the need for his niece and nephew (present last night) to know about Comden and Green, may have been to honor Betty and Adolph, but the show is about Perry Ojeda. This is a testament to the art of storytelling because the true story lies not in the person or people we discuss, but in the change that they affect in us. The man that is Perry Ojeda was changed by knowing Betty and Adolph, and the storyteller that is inside of Perry Ojeda is changing others by allowing them to see the humanity in that exchange of energy, and by keeping Comden and Green in their memories.
And Comden and Green deserve to be remembered.
The legacy left behind by their artistry is well represented in Ojeda's show, with songs from Subways Are For Sleeping, Bells Are Ringing, Do Re Me, On the Twentieth Century, Peter Pan, Fade Out-Fade In, and On The Town, naturally. There is no bad time to listen to Comden and Green, and Perry Ojeda seems born to sing their songs. It's a musical marriage that seems almost insultingly obvious. Of COURSE Perry Ojeda is singing Comden and Green, one might think, What ELSE would he be singing? What else, indeed. He gets them, he gets their work, he gets their stories, and he interprets them in ways that honor the artists but that honor his own particular style. No compromises are made in the creation of this show - it is that well constructed, that meticulously scripted, and that lovingly executed. Ojeda is fortunate in his collaborations with director Kristen Sanderson, who keeps Ojeda moving at a pace that neither lags nor speeds - people will neither look at their watches, nor will they ask their companion to recap what just happened. From start to finish, Ojeda and his colleagues provide an entertainment well worth their patrons' attention, particularly when the man out front is so in tune with his musical director, John Daniels, whose fingers make magic while showcasing Betty, Adolph, Perry, and his own unique brand of genius. And if this dream team isn't enough to make people sad that they missed this one-night-only performance, the list of guest artists will be...
In order to make the evening really complete, Perry Ojeda called upon some old friends to join him on the stage at 54 Below; because what rendition of "New York New York (a Wonderful Town)" is complete without an Ozzie and a Chip to sing with Gabey? Ojeda's On the Town cast mates, marvelous Robert Montano and spectacular Brad Aspel appeared more than happy to have the gang reunited one more time, and their happiness must have been catching, judging by audience reaction. Then, later in his show, Perry Ojeda invited breathtaking and brilliant Arielle Jacobs to duet with him on "Our Private World" and the result was incredible, with their two glorious voices melding in sweet, replete harmonies and thought-provoking emotions. The thrill of seeing Perry Ojeda more than enough for one night out, Misters Aspel & Montano and Ms. Jacobs merely made better an already great evening. It made for an almost perfect night of cabaret.
We've waited sixteen years to have Perry Ojeda back onstage in New York. 56 minutes of a one-night-only performance just isn't going to cut it. The show is too good and Perry Ojeda is too special for one night every sixteen years. 54 Below is just going to have to book Mr. Ojeda back in for a few more dates in the future. It's mandatory, essential. Maybe between now and those future dates Misters Ojeda and Daniels, and Ms. Sanderson can figure a way to stretch the show out to 70 minutes. One more song, one more story, and a longer run will make it right as rain. Yeah, ten minutes and another week. That's what would make JUST IN TIME: THE SONGS OF COMDEN AND GREEN a perfect show.
Don't worry, Perry Ojeda, we'll be waiting for you when you get back. In 2020, though, not 2035.
Sixteen years is just too long to stay away, Perry. We missed you.
Photos by Stephen Mosher