Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

From television's Zoey to Broadway's Living Room, John Clarence Stewart is on a growth path as an artist.

By: Aug. 25, 2022
Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below
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54 Below may have a Tony Award but whoever is responsible for booking John Clarence Stewart into the club should be given an award, too, because it was a stroke of genius. Mr. Stewart had been known for his work as an actor, appearing in television dramas like Luke Cage and What/If, but when the TV program Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist premiered, he was the surprise breakout of the show because every other star on the series had exposure as a singer. Several cast members from the Zoey series have played Broadway, some have sung on film, and Mary Steenburgen even sings in a band, but when John Clarence Stewart started singing on Zoey's, the TV-watching public sat up and took notice. With the cancellation of the show and the release of last year's holiday movie-wrap-up, audiences who had become a fan of Stewart's passionate rock-and-soul performances on the series felt the void.

But for three days this week, the fans can rejoice.

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below John Clarence Stewart was very unassuming as he took the stage at 54 Below last night in his ochre-colored jumpsuit, all smiles and laid-back energy, no fanfare or big entrances - just him walking up onto the stage with his Musical Director, Daniel Rudin, standing by for the opening number, a number that came after Stewart spoke briefly to the audience about how "This is a first for me, as an artist." Imagine: no big opening number - that doesn't happen every day. Cabaret and concert format usually follows an artist through a big, splashy, introductory song, then a calmer, sweet, thoughtful tune, and then some opening patter. But this wasn't an ordinary cabaret or concert - indeed, a couple of times John Clarence Stewart referred to the show as "my set." That's about the size of it: this was a set. And, as a set, it didn't follow the formula most often found in cabaret rooms, and it shouldn't have because this night was unique. From the time that Mr. Stewart arrived on the scene to his final words, "If I know you, come and say hi, I'll give you love, and if I don't know you, now I do," he was the most authentic, the most genuine, the most sincere person an audience could ever hope to find on a stage. If he felt it, it showed. If he thought it, he shared it. And if it was difficult, he leaned into it. John Clarence Stewart did that thing that all live performers are told to do, that so many find it hard to do: John Clarence Stewart went up on the stage and opened a vein.

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below For his sixty-minute set, JCS chose to sing songs that, he explained, he likes to sing, told stories he likes to tell, and he was happy to have the audience along for the ride. He paid his audience and his craft the respect of knowing all his lyrics, he didn't have to read anything, which was a boon to the storytelling because the stories weren't only in his voice - they were all over his face. Whether John Clarence was using his acting training or living in the natural reactions that rose up inside of him in real-time, there was not one wasted second that played across his face. This was pure and complete commitment to and immersion in the moment - and not just during the musical monologues because Stewart had things to say about his experiences in life and his experience on the 54 Below stage. It didn't appear that he was working off of a script - there was every indication that everything he said was coming from his head and his heart in real-time and, by the good grace of the powers of the universe, Mr. Stewart has an economic tongue: each spoken section of his set communicated eloquently and succinctly his intention so that his storytelling could segue into the music he and Mr. Rudin had, seamlessly and oh-so-personally, chosen for the evening. Sometimes JCS had a word or two about why he liked a song, other times he had small informative passages about his life as a black man; there were reminiscences about his work on ZOEY'S, deeply felt recollections about his family, and many instances of spontaneous silliness. John Clarence felt the need to hide nothing from the audience, especially when it came to emotion, which the gentleman has in abundance, and quite proudly, too. Those feelings informed every aspect of the evening, whether he was feeling the urge to dance around the stage with gleeful exuberance (which, happily, happened a lot) or whether he needed to take a pause in a song, due to an overwhelming need to shed a tear or two, mid-performance. This was one of the most dutifully brave and human nights of storytelling this writer has ever seen.

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below As a musical-style storyteller, John Clarence Stewart is a natural. The commitment he has to bring to his audience all the facets of each of his anecdotes makes every moment a rewarding one, and his ability to remain open and honest draws this man to the heart. He has an affinity for unresolved endings, sometimes in the lyrics he has chosen to present, others in a performance style that may fade off into the music of the incredible Mr. Rudin (a newcomer to this writer's attention that will stay, permanently, on radar, henceforth). Stewart loves every minute, and he loves them hard, throwing himself into new ways of telling famous stories (a revelatory "The Blower's Daughter") or simply giving himself permission to act the fool and let loose with the most insanely infectious giggle ever to be heard on a nightclub stage, in a grocery store, or just walking up Eighth Avenue. There is not one false or insincere moment, and there is total and absolute dedication to craft and the audience.

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Particularly effective moments in last night's show ranged from a playfully sweet "Be Good (Lion's Song)" to a devastating "Iron Sky," but the clear highlights were occasions when John was able to sing directly to his Mama and his inamorata, seated front and center, at the foot of the stage. The tenderness and honesty with which this singing artist approaches both his material and his audience is the kind of intimacy that makes a good show into a great show, it is what audiences crave when they enter the room, and Stewart has a wealth Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below of it, providing big, powerful musical numbers like his Zoey's hit "Black Man in A White World" or soft, fluttery heartbeats like a late-in-the show medley of "The World Spins Madly" and "Both Sides Now." These two different styles of storytelling both work for Mr. Stewart, though he might reconsider some of his keys on the more emotional yet quiet numbers - it's hard enough to sing a tender, sentimental ballad, but when one has to do it through tears, higher notes that are easy to reach when belting can become a bit of a strain on the singer. It wasn't a strain on the audience because everyone in the room was with John Clarence last night, as evidenced by audience members calling out encouragement during especially visceral points for the actor. This is what storytelling and human connection look like, and thank goodness for John Clarence Stewart and 54 Below for making it available to fans of his and patrons of theirs. This may be a first for John Clarence Stewart as an artist but he appeared to be having such a good time at it that there is every evidence it will not be the last. It was very clear from the audience response last night that they don't want it to be the last, either. Hopefully, John Clarence Stewart has arrived in the club industry to stay. He is most welcome.

John Clarence Stewart plays again 8/25 and 8/26 at 7 pm and reservations can be made HERE.

Find great shows to see at 54 Below HERE.

John Clarence Stewart has Instagram HERE.

THIS is the Daniel Rudin Instagram account.

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Review: JOHN CLARENCE STEWART Makes Emotional Solo Show Debut at 54 Below

Photos by Stephen Mosher

Visit the Stephen Mosher website HERE.




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