BWW Review: GAVIN CREEL at The Kennedy Center
I think I just went on a date with Gavin Creel. The lights were low. We reminisced. He even serenaded me with a brand-new original song. Sure, the entire theater was swooning, but I could tell he was flirting with me in the fourteenth row.
When I told my friends that I was going to see Creel's show, guys and girls alike had the same response: "He is my ultimate Broadway boyfriend." If you have the same affinity for the Tony Award winner, his solo concert is the night you've been dreaming of.
If you frequently fall down the same musical theater heartthrob YouTube rabbit hole that I do, you know that Creel is a mainstay of the genre. You can spend hours watching him perform numbers from She Loves Me, Waitress, and The Book of Mormon. The Kennedy Center's intimate Terrace Theater felt like hitting "full screen" on those YouTube sessions. He felt so close and so very, very personal. The only drawback was that I couldn't hit "play next video" at the end of the night.
For his 90-minute concert, an installment of the Kennedy Center's Renee Fleming VOICES series, Creel did more than just flip through pages of the Great American Songbook. He told his own story. Creel playfully changed the lyrics on standards like I'm Old Fashioned to both reveal himself and draw us in. He smoothly glided through a pop set that included The Nearness of You, Come Rain or Come Shine, and All the Things You Are. And, of course, he revisited his breakout role in Thoroughly Modern Millie and shared insider details of being cast in Sondheim's Bounce (later retitled Road Show).
Although the particulars of Creel's path to Broadway are entirely his own, each note struck a familiar chord. Like so many who feel called to the limelight, Creel started by listening to Hal Prince, Hammerstein, and Sondheim, and mowing lawns in the Midwest to save money for that first NYC trip. No matter where you were raised, all of us with performer's hearts fantasized about far off stages that were out of reach via that magical portal of music. Through Creel's performance, that portal took us back in time to simpler, earnest living and the beginning of a Broadway dream.
The highlight of Creel's special brand of storytelling was an interpretive performance of Another Hundred People. To those of us who grew up in places where New York only existed on stages and screens, our first real experience in the city was an overwhelming clash of senses and expectations. Creel sang each of the three verses of the Company classic as distinct characters from his own life, giving it new and personal meaning.
Of course, our lives diverged at some point that led Creel to share a stage with Bette Midler in his Tony-winning performance in Hello Dolly! Despite how masterful Creel is at being relatable, there is no denying his talent is divine. His whisper and shout hold the same power and he never misses a note.
Bounding with energy and talent, seemingly only one music director could match Creel at every turn. We were lucky to have musical giant Mary-Mitchell Campbell at the piano. Creel appropriately noted that Campbell "plays the piano like an entire orchestra." I have been a fan of many of Campbell's productions, but I owe my earliest Broadway obsession to her. The very first Broadway musical I ever saw was the 2006 revival of Company in which the characters all played their own instruments on stage. That show won Campbell a Drama Desk for Best Orchestrations. I was so enraptured I even bought a digital copy on iTunes and watch it at least a handful of times each year.
Campbell only had one small break when Creel took to the piano to debut a new single in the encore. In addition to his musical theater reign, Creel pens and performs original songs that he will release ever so often on a solo album when we're lucky. For this performance, he had something very special in store. The Kennedy Center audience was the first to hear a public performance of a song Creel wrote only a week ago. The pop ballad is sweet and soothing. It's an honest love song about how you're never really sure in any relationship but hope the person you're with turns out to be someone significant. Though slightly somber sounding, Creel sang it with the optimism that only an old-fashioned Midwesterner can. I can't wait until it's available for download.
While he and I may not share a true green glass love, Creel did leave a heartfelt gift as he departed. Campbell returned to the piano for a deep track from his Goodtimenation album. Like everything Creel does, it wasn't just a closing number. It was an entire production.
He began by introducing his friend Dave in the second row. For those who aren't familiar, Creel wrote a song called Going to D.C. that actually namechecks his friend in the chorus. If you know the song, it was really THAT Dave.
Creel noted that D.C. doesn't have its own song like New York, Chicago, or San Francisco do. He proceeded to lead an energetic singalong of Going to D.C. and offered up the tune for us to adopt. He humbly shrugged and added, "Only if you want it." On behalf of the entire city, we thank you for the gift and gladly accept it. I hope you have an occasion to sing it again very, very soon.
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy