Julian Eaves reviews The Seth Rudetsky Concert Series which this week features Broadway’s Jeremy Jordan.
The Seth Concert Series : with Jeremy Jordan
Sunday 13th and Monday 14th September
Visit Seth’s Website
This was a welcome return to form for the intrepid Seth Rudetsky, who puts everything on the line in this disarmingly frank, intimate and free-wheeling cabaret-chat show format. There aren’t many who dare risk such freedom in their presentations, or who put such complete faith in their guests to play the game he has set up. But this series of concerts has revealed him to be a presenter of exceptionally good judgement and also to be one who is a bit of a gambler and risk-taker, something that theatre – never mind whether it has music in it or not – is all about.
This time, Seth took his show ‘on tour’. We opened in the sumptuous drawing room of a friend of his, Barbara, and they were joined – in time-honoured fashion – via the wonders of the internet – by his guest, the silver-tongued tenor, Jeremy Jordan. ‘Death Note’ (Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy on top form), a fairly new show from 2015, provided his opener, ‘Hurricane’, for which he had done a demo: this showed his mastery of close-microphone technique, seducing us into the imaginative world of the song, before opening out with the drama and action of the story. This was a return to form, indeed. The playful chemistry was there from the start. Connections to Jordan’s TV no-special-powers Superman role were made, and drew forth a (flawless) impromptu snatch from ‘Eye of the Tiger’, before veering back to chat about ‘West Side Story’, and then encompassing his love of video games (old school Mario and Zelda stuff, but ‘Rocket League’ – essentially soccer with cars, listeners – is his No.1 fave right now). The banter was on. (And on!) You see, these two go back a ways: they have ‘history’….
Back to the Hollywood Bowl and a gig for Jeremy with Gustavo Dudamel (only top stuff here). Here we got, ‘Maria’ (Bernstein-Sondheim – I and a zillion other viewers wanted to hear this: yes, you get to REQUEST numbers in this series!). It got a hushed start, growing slowly and sweetly, avoiding showiness, but letting us see Tony changing by the moment before our eyes, then throwing open the curtains and letting light and noise blaze in, before pulling it all in again for a breathless finish. And thence to Richard Oberacker and Robert Taylor’s ‘Bandstand’, another show he did not get: ‘the best skill you can have is how to take rejection,’ he said. That did not stop Seth from letting us hear what Jeremy can do with the character Donny Novitski’s ‘I am’ song about himself. This is a popular choice for auditions and cabarets because it goes everywhere a tenor likes to send his voice to show its shine and scintillating sparkle. In addition to technical brilliance, Jordan sings this with passionate physicality, and it’s a super-charging feeling you get from seeing him throw his body and soul into the creation of this character. Indeed, he does this all the time: honest-to-goodness 100% commitment and truth – without fail – and a boyishly disarming smile to cover the absence of any applause afterwards.
As if this were not enough about ‘set-backs’, and then we went to another role he didn’t get: Jordan not only shows his vulnerabilities, he actually takes pride in them. In fact, it seems his core strengths – as an artist, and as a person – are actually built on those very fragilities that some artists don’t feel able to share: and this is a rondo theme in this series, coming round again and again. We next heard from, ‘Miss Saigon’, Chris’s dramatic number, ‘Why, God, Why?’ (Schoenberg/Boublil). This displayed his heroic dignity in spades, painting in bright hues and big shapes the scale of the feelings in this story all about love and sacrifice. Seth was surprised to hear Jordan didn’t get this part, and everyone listening to the performance in this cabaret would agree. We got some talk about ‘Waitress’ (Sarah Bareilles), and then something about, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, a show he did get to play (Frank Wildhorn again, this time with Don Black). From the land of gynaecology, however, came the strains of another kind of voice, a light, middle-to-upper-register take on the show’s big hit number, ‘She Used To Be Mine’, Jenna’s extraordinarily heart-felt and soulful confession in ‘Waitress’, for which Jordan made the most complex, convincing and compelling case for crossing gender: it’s a truly great song, and it takes a really great singer like Jordan to do an approach like this full justice.
Next, we travelled to yet another part he never played, from, ‘Book of Mormon’ (Parker, Lopez, Stone), and ‘You and Me (But Mostly Me)’. He nailed Elder Price (with a duetting Seth screwing Cunningham into the floorboards as well). You see? With a voice like his, one can do simply anything and everything. Including animation voice-overs: we got some chat about humour for kids, before switching to Jason Robert Brown’s ‘If I Didn’t Believe In You’ from his ‘The Last Five Years’, a two-handed memorably brought to the screen with him playing the JRB role. Again, this is a number that requires a huge palette of vocal colour and effortless command of intricate technique from the singer. And this took us to the competition number – drawn from ‘Newsies’ (Menken/Feldman/Fierstein) – and Jack’s stonking Act 1 finale, ‘Santa Fe’, in a bold winning performance from Ray Waters, which made an efficient bridge into a discussion of social justice and the engagement of both of these artists in that field. Seth wanted to know why Jordan was going this route, too, and he said, ‘It’s common-sense, really’. But before we had a chance to hear from that show, we got his own personal take on Arlen and Harburg’s ‘Over The Rainbow’, using his remarkably sexy and yet also innocent mix of light tenor and falsetto to this anthem to childhood’s dreams, mashed up with a beautiful Stevie-Wonder-like ballad: Charlie Smalls’, ‘Home’ from ‘The Wiz’.
Splashing all this emotion with Manhattan sours and vinegar, Seymour’s ‘Grow For Me’ (Alan Menken and Howard Ashman), shook us all back into a sense of uncomfortable realism. (No small feat for a gruesome Sixties-pastiche schlock-horror, sci-fi B-movie.) David Katz and Kieran Edwards were on top form with the sound again, by the way: all the crazy ups and downs of volume and mass, energy and mood were seized by their lone microphones as if this were coming from a great big shiny recording studio. Filling it to absolute capacity, the ‘Soliloquy’ from ‘Carousel’ (Rodgers and Hammerstein) made a glorious send-off, and Jordan found a new way to tell Billy Bigelow’s story. It was another typically generous and highly nuanced performance, alive to every passing shadow or light in the score, roaming and roving like the restlessness of Hammerstein’s ideas, and playing Rodgers’ musical line with an amount of rubato that might have given Dick Rodgers heart-failure, but which enchants any audience today.
A great return to superb form, then.
Next Up: Judy Kuhn