BWW Reviews: Ronnie Giles Gets REVENGE At Don't Tell Mama
Ronnie Giles recently reprised his successful summer act, REVENGE OF THE THIRD-RATE LOUNGE SINGER, once again at Don't Tell Mama, accompanied by Daryl Kojak on piano. The New Jersey-based performer may be best known by sight for his television work, including on LAW AND ORDER and 30 ROCK, but his more recent turn to cabaret performance has been equally noteworthy.
That Giles can sing is not really news; the military veteran has performed internationally in the past as a singer with, among others, Martha Raye, Chris Isaak, and Gary Sinese on military road shows. It's more newsworthy that he can run a full cabaret act, and do so with both music and humor. That point leads to the title of his very autobiographical show. As he explains to his audience, "Two years ago, when I'd done a lot of acting but not so much singing, I signed up for an open mic night at The Metropolitan Room. I sang, and, being the insecure guy I am, and one of five kids who craved attention, I told a couple of jokes. I got told while I was there that I had to do one or the other, or I'd be nothing but a third-rate lounge singer."
Giles is definitely a singer, not a stand-up comic - but he's got the comic chops to keep an act moving without relying only on personal stories of why particular songs are being performed, and he and Kojak have the sort of banter between them that used to be a standard in Vegas shows. Although the music and stylings are fresher, Giles' act is closer in some respects to the best of Vegas in the Sixties and Seventies, rather than traditional New York cabaret... and that's not a bad thing at all. It's a small act, a singer and piano, but those singer/piano duo acts have worked in both towns. Although their looks and musical styles are miles apart, there's much of Giles' act that reminds this writer of Steve Lawrence's act, especially in his humor. While the act may be autobiographical, Giles is certainly far from being third-rate.
Giles' bent for interjecting comic moments into non-comic songs, on the other hand, is reminiscent, without being as over-the-top, of Louis Prima; in this show, Giles and Kojak have a break in "The Tender Trap" to argue over how a pianist should express "tingling feelings" on the keys, much as Prima and tenor sax man Sam Butera used to bicker on stage in Prima's stage acts.
Opening with an up-tempo jazz version of "On the Street Where You Live," Giles covered Broadway show tunes, Keely Smith and Louis Prima staples such as "I Wish You Love," and the usual Great American Songbook with "I Only Have Eyes For You" and "Girl From Ipanema," among others, but he also has a feel for the Sixties and Seventies pop songs that work best for solo vocalists. "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" was not merely sung, but an exercise in his acting skills; "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" was not only heard, but felt, by the audience as a major tug at the heartstrings.
But the act would not have been complete without Daryl Kojak's work on the keys; he's noted as a jazz pianist, and with reason - he makes it look far too easy to do what most pianists can't hope to accomplish. Kojak is responsible for making such gritty fare as Giles' well-known "Town Without Pity" sound smooth on the surface, before the words compute, which is a fine counterpoint to the theme of the song.
REVENGE OF THE THIRD-RATE LOUNGE SINGER is a first-rate act; Giles, especially with Kojak's backing, is worthy of far more attention than he's received as a musical performer. It's a wonderful thing that Giles is now working with Vocal Ease, but one may surely hope to see more solo work from him.
For more information on Giles, he advises visiting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SyRZZPRWNA. Daryl Kojak can be found at http://www.darylkojak.com. The schedule for Don't Tell Mama is at www.donttellmamanyc.com.