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Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

The Broadway Leading Man has finally joined the ranks of NYC's cabaret and concert performers.

Something really special happened at 54 Below this week.

There are times when you know that you're going to a Special Event, maybe a benefit or an Award presentation or a reunion concert, and so you prepare yourself to be dazzled by it because, after all, it's a Special Event. And then there are times when you just go to see a club act. You just go to see a concert. You just go to see a cabaret. And it's special, so special that it dawns on you, somewhere in the middle of the performance, that you are seeing an event, no, more than that: a happening.

Hugh Panaro's concert at 54 Below was A Happening.

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

Billed on the 54 Below website as Mr. Panaro's solo show debut, the two-night performance that played Broadway's Living Room was a musical memoir in which the Broadway Leading Man talked the audience through his career, which has been an admirable one, albeit not one without bumps in the road. After all, Hugh Panaro was the titular role in the blisteringly derided LESTAT (which he jokes about), one of the male leads in the cult musical SIDE SHOW (which he does not joke about), and the star of MARTIN GUERRE (which he wonders about), not to mention having been in THE RED SHOES, one of the most troubled productions ever to land on Broadway, to the point of legendary status, and he was cast as Maxim de Winter in REBECCA, one of Broadway's biggest scandals. But even with those beleaguered plays on his CV, Hugh Panaro has managed to carve out a place as one of Broadway's beloved leading men, boasting credits like LES MISERABLES (with which he has had a tidal relationship), SWEENEY TODD (in which he has played two impressive roles, and one hopes that the show might circle back around at some point for a Panaro version of Judge Turpin) and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (which he played on Broadway, extensively). With a career like that, there was certainly a great deal of talking and singing to be done by Hugh Panaro this week, and every bit of it was magnificent because Hugh is, himself, magnificent: magnificent to watch act, magnificent to hear sing, and magnificent to look at. Indeed, when all of Hugh Panaro's career is gathered together in one room for ninety minutes and put in the spotlight, one can't help but wonder why he isn't in a new musical on Broadway every season. Because he should be.

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Now, in his show, Hugh Panaro takes some risks - basic rules from the Do's And Don'ts of Cabaret. He created a show lasting ninety minutes long, which (as a general rule) is too long for a cabaret room. It didn't matter. He also sang a program made up almost exclusively of ballads, which is a death knell to a cabaret program. It didn't matter. And he created a musical memoir show which can be tricky because not everyone has a life that is interesting enough to be made into a cabaret show. Well, there was never a question about that because Hugh Panaro has had a life filled with rich stories touched by beautiful people, people like Rebecca Luker, Norm Lewis, and Hal Prince, and though there are many occasions when a nightclub performer talking about their association with the famous renders their evening cringey and name-droppy, that could not possibly happen with Hugh Panaro because his reminiscences of these fabled Broadway artists aren't about the artists, it is about how they affected his life, and that's where our true stories lie. With immense humanity, Hugh stood silently on the stage, gazing at length at an on-screen photo of himself with the late Luker, his eyes filling with tears, and, later, he had to stop in order to get control of his breathing as, overcome with emotion, he extolled the magical change that the departed Prince affected in his life, repeatedly. These discussions about the love he has shared with the people who have been a part of his life were a major component in making this solo show into A Happening.

The other components were the music and the gratitude.

That verboten ninety minute program of ballads? Magnificent. If any other singer had opted in for a set list made up of "You Are Love," "Music of the Night," and "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" the audience would have been fidgeting in their seats. Any other singer working off of ballad mashups from PETER PAN and SWEENEY TODD would have had audiences looking at their watches and sighing. But not Hugh Panaro because these songs have been his life. When a musical theater actor looks like Hugh Panaro and sings like Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Hugh Panaro, chances are strong that he will spend his life on the musical theater stage playing the romantic leads, and those are the characters that sing the lush ballads of the show. Mr. Panaro's life of lush ballads has made him an expert in how to use that voice, that face, and that acting training to take audiences deeper into the story than just the audible experience. Hugh Panaro is one of the best singers we have, but he is also a very good actor. There was not a single song performed at his opening night that wasn't completely realized, not a single story in which he wasn't totally invested. Panaro commits to his stories to the fullest extent of a singing actor's ability, giving his audience little mini-versions of SHOW BOAT (a particularly breathtaking section of the show) and MARTIN GUERRE (why was this show a flop?) and LES MIS (an evening highlight). A person really doesn't know how hard it is to be a singing actor until they see someone do it right. Hugh Panaro does it right. And he is fortunate to have Director Richard Jay-Alexander and Musical Director Joseph Thalken to protect him with their guidance and backbone so that he can feel safe and comfortable to take his time and tell his tales so splendidly, one of which is Thalken's "You Have Never Failed Me" - another evening highlight.

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut As for the gratitude... Mr. Panaro has to talk a lot in his show about his career, his life, the hits and flops, the glorious wins and devastating losses. It's the kind of chat that, given the opportunity, almost any actor has at the ready, poised to share with any party willing to hear it. At no time does Hugh sound like he is complaining, at no time does whining enter the picture (not all artists can do this, trust me), at no time does Hugh Panaro come across as anything but grateful. It shows on his face, it sounds in his voice, it envelopes his very being - he is so excited that he has had the chances he has had, he is so happy that he has had the life he has had, he is so grateful for every bloom in the vase, and he is so humble that the universe gave them to him. That's what really puts it over the top - not the great acting, not the mind-blowing singing - the gratitude. Because when you have been given a gift, and it lasts your whole life, and you can remain grateful for it, that's when people can see the authentic you, the one that is really special.

Hugh Panaro is special. His solo show debut was special. And the people who were there to see it will remember it as one of the great nights in live entertainment.

The Hugh Panaro personnel are Joseph Thalken (Musical Director and piano), Brian Holz (Bass) and Richard Jay-Alexander (Director).

Find other great shows to see on the 54 Below website HERE.

Follow Hugh Panaro on Instagram HERE and Twitter HERE.

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut

Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Review: HUGH PANARO Blossoms Before 54 Below Audience With Solo Show Debut Photos by Stephen Mosher

Visit the Stephen Mosher website HERE.


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Stephen Mosher is the author of The Sweater Book (a collection of his photography featuring celebrated artists from the entertainment communities of New York, Los Angeles, and London), Lived In Cra... (read more about this author)


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