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Review: Adam Pascal 'So Far...' Charms Audience at Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center

Charming and self-effacing, the Tony Award-nominated Pascal wins over his audience

Review: Adam Pascal 'So Far...' Charms Audience at Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center As you might imagine, Adam Pascal - the Tony Award-nominated star of Rent, who went on to play Radames in Elton John's Aida on Broadway, William Shakespeare in Something Rotten, among an impressive list of roles (including Chicago's Billy Flynn, Memphis the Musical's Huey Calhoun and the emcee in Cabaret), both onstage and off - fairly radiates charm and confidence in his appropriately titled cabaret, So Far...An Acoustic Retrospective, which features the singer-actor-musician performing a program of songs from the shows for which he is justifiably renowned.

But what may come as a total surprise, if you aren't that familiar with him, is just how open, honest, direct and forthcoming he can be in the scant hour-and-a-half of his life which he shares in that brief time. In fact, Adam Pascal is so entertaining, so disarmingly frank and funny, that the show is over long before his audience seems ready to go home. So what does he do for an encore? He hangs out for a "talkback," responding to every question, every comment and every request ("I've loved you since I was 11 - could I have a hug?") made by the people so obviously enraptured by him.

Clearly, Adam Pascal has found the perfect formula to ensure audiences - made up of both longtime fans and relative neophytes - want to hear more from him. And while his appearance as the second headliner in TPAC and Studio Tenn's Cabaret On Stage: An Intimate Evening With... -- the five-part series kicked off last month with everyone's favorite "Belle" of Broadway Susan Egan and continues in July with Branden & James and in August with Shoshana Bean, before culminating with Norm Lewis on September 4 (presumably to celebrate my birthday) - it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to imagine that ticket-buyers will be clamoring for a return performance by Pascal when the series resumes (we pray to the theatrical gods, otherwise known as presenters Patrick Cassidy of Studio Tenn and Jennifer Turner of TPAC).

For now, we'll have our own recollections of what transpired during his Saturday night show on the stage at TPAC's James K. Polk Theatre, where he sang the songs and shared the backstage gossip that made it all so satisfying. Starting with a plaintive and heartfelt rendition of Rent's anthemic "Seasons of Love," Pascal offered the ideal song to bring audiences back from an extended intermission from the theater during the pandemic-enforced lockdown and led us on an eventful journey all the way to his most recent Broadway role in Pretty Woman the Musical, in which he played Edward Lewis (the role he will once again assay in the upcoming national tour).

In between, Pascal provided insights into the life of a musical theater star who came by his career quite by accident (thanks to the intervention of his childhood friend Idina Menzel who urged him to audition for the off-Broadway production of Rent), while sharing the self-effacing and self-deprecatingly funny stories we presume all actors have, but most are loath to share.

For example, "Elton John is an interesting guy..." is how one such story began, which included the memory of receiving an Aida opening night gift of a diamond-encrusted crucifix from Elton (who had already given him a swell and very expensive suit), which seemed an odd choice for Pascal, who is Jewish. In fact, his Aida memories provided some of the best dish served up by Pascal, who prefaced a performance of "Elaborate Lives" from the musical with the admission that co-star Heather Headley didn't speak to him for three weeks when the show's creative team chose to rejigger the song from one sung by Headley's Aida to one for Pascal's Radames.

Pascal also shared the story of how he pursued the role of the emcee in Cabaret, only to be given a rather firm and off-putting "no, thank you" from the show's producers, only to have them make an offer for him to join the revival for the final three months of its Broadway run. He described preparations to become the character as "the hardest work I've ever done for a role."

Review: Adam Pascal 'So Far...' Charms Audience at Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center It was the memory of Cabaret that provided the first highlight in an evening of powerhouse musical moments (including his audition song for Aida - "Vienna" by Billy Joel - and renditions of "Hard to Be the Bard" from Something Rotten and "Without You" from Disaster!): an unexpected and completely haunting version of "Maybe This Time" that was filled with such hope and longing that one couldn't help but be thoroughly moved by it.

Of that same ilk, Pascal remembered his days as Billy Flynn in Chicago with an achingly poignant performance of "Funny Honey" that made me wish producers of HBO's Perry Mason reboot could hear him and subsequently feature Pascal in that series. His voice, which is at once so beautifully clear it could pierce through any darkness, yet world-weary enough to evoke scenes of the great depression with authenticity and candor, seems perfectly suited for such a setting.

But for me, if I had my druthers, and I could listen to Adam Pascal on a continuous loop for the rest of my days, it would be to hear him sing "Memphis Lives in Me" from Memphis the Musical - a song that perfectly captures the essence of that city on the bluffs of the Mississippi River in West Tennessee where I spent some of my formative days. The song always reverberates in my heart and my memory every time I hear it, but Pascal's version somehow transcends what I have come to expect - and, as a result, I had to rally to retain my composure and not be left in a puddle on the stage of the Polk. I want to hear it again. And again.

Luckily, Pascal (who knows how to take an audience on an emotional journey - I don't want to say he knows how to manipulate people, but he definitely know how to make them feel what they need to feel at a particular moment), can just as easily make people laugh or even cringe (whichever the story demands). Whether it's with a tale about an ill-timed, late-night tweet about director Julie Taymor, inspired by news of yet another young actor being injured during previews of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark musical; or sharing what happened when he made the mistake of going on BroadwayWorld message boards to see what folks had to say after he went up on his lines during a performance of Chicago.

Suffice it to say, he may have learned his lessons, but only time will tell - and you can be certain Adam Pascal will regale future audiences with more of the same. We'll really want to be there.



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From This Author - Jeffrey Ellis

Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 35 years. In 1989, Ellis and his partner l... (read more about this author)


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