With the shrinking number of daylight hours ushering in the winter blahs that traditionally permeate the city this time of year, we need Jason Graae
in New York now more than ever. No amounts of medication or herbal tea can pep you up and chase away the blues like a visit to his recently opened cabaret act, Coup de Graae
. Regrettably underutilized on Broadway (His only appearance in a hit was as Chip Zien
's replacement in Falsettos
.) Graae continues to sparkle in theatre productions out on the left coast and especially on the cabaret stage where he is Jimmy Durante with a better voice, Bing Crosby with better jokes and Al Jolson with better makeup.
Aided by "The Foie Graaes" (the lovely and talented pairing of Wendy Lane Bailey and Jill Anderson) our hero tweaks a Kander and Ebb favorite for an opening celebration of self-importance, "All I Care About is Me". Newcomers to Graae will soon catch on that this is his finely developed shtick. While never diving fully into camp, Jason Graae's charm is an ability to exude a show-biz persona while maintaining warmth and humorous sincerity. He mocks cheesiness by embracing it, closing the show with Strouse/Adams' "Applause" (complete with celebrity impersonations) like a Bar Mitzvah boy hungry for that extra helping of attention.
When he does settle down for a ballad a tiny part of you might be waiting for the eventual gag, but don't let such thoughts disrupt your enjoyment of his dulcet baritone and conversational phrasing enhancing Stephen Sondheim's "Good Thing Going" and bringing extra richness to Jerry Herman's "I Belong Here". You wouldn't think a voice that endearing and lovely could suddenly tear into Barry Kleinbort's "Sondheim Song", a hilariously frenetic collection of music and lyric samples that continually changes tempos with a screech, with such flamboyant intensity. Or attack the Al Carmines/Maria Irene Fornes "The Moment Has Passed" like he were the star of some Brechtian Las Vegas floor show. These numbers especially show off the dexterity of musical director Alex Rybeck at piano.
One of the happy circumstances of having Jason Graae playing in New York is that he can discuss the juicy stories of his career without having to take a hunk of time explaining to the audience who people like Alan and Marilyn Bergman are or who Ken Jennings is. (The actor, not the Jeopardy guy) "Just being in New York cuts 45 minutes from the show.", he quips.
One such story involves how he became the TV commercial voice of Lucky Charms' leprechaun. Utilizing Kander and Ebb's "How Lucky Can You Get" Graae turns the tale into inspired psychodrama as the primo gig magically disappears.
Had he been of another era, Jason Graae would probably be playing the Palace or featured in the Ziegfeld Follies. He makes Coup de Graae a whirlwind of fast-paced wit, Broadway-style bravado and mighty pretty singing.
And did I mention he plays a mean oboe?
Jason Graae plays Helen's Hideaway Room through December 18. Visit helensnyc.com
For more from Michael Dale visit dry2olives.com