Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Review: Cheyenne Jackson Wins Hearts at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Cheyenne Jackson at Walt Disney Concert Hall. All photos by Mathew Imaging

Cheyenne Jackson won the hearts of a sold-out crowd by completely opening his own in his debut performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Saturday night. The self-professed goal of the tall, dark and handsome singer was simply “to blanket the audience with love,” which he did repeatedly in a program that paid tribute to the ‘50s and ‘60s with his Music of the Mad Men Era

All I can say is it was the best two hours of my entire week. The next time you have an opportunity to hear Jackson sing live, do yourself a favor and GO! Blessed with an extraordinary set of pipes, and searing emotional depth, he is the “It” boy of the moment and master of a career that has taken him from Broadway (Xanadu, Finnian’s Rainbow) to television (30 Rock, Glee, Behind the Candelabra) and film (United 93, Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks), to the concert stage (Carnegie Hall). 

He’s got the hip-twitching swagger of a modern day Elvis Presley and the sadder-but-wiser eyes of a 2:00 AM Frank Sinatra. It doesn’t take much to fall in love with him.

Opening with the high energy sexy Latin rhythms of “Americano,” he put those swiveling hips to good use, before transitioning to his first love song, a sultry version of the famous bolero “Bésame Mucho.” Jackson brought the sizzle all evening long in luscious standards like “Old Devil Moon,” “Luck Be a Lady” and the powerful Ben E. King classic “I (Who Have Nothing),” but it was in the intimate songs that his artistry exceeded even the highest expectations.

He has conquered a lot of demons in the last few years; a path that led him to get sober, get divorced and even move across the country. The ache in “Mister Lonely Boy,” a ballad that Jackson wrote (and can be found on his new CD I’m Blue, Skies) is wrenched from that deeply personal place and ended up on the set list because a friend said it sounded like it belonged in a James Bond movie. It does, and you can hear the unspoken back story in his richly nuanced vocal lines and poignant phrasing. It’s all there in the voice, and his willingness to go to such a vulnerable place is what makes him a true artist.

When he sings, it’s a musical suspension of time that cuts right to the heart. It happens in “Red Wine,” another original song that Jackson wrote about his grandmother and her alcoholism, and in his version of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You” dedicated to his mom and dad. To hear these songs rise and fall within the perfect acoustics of Walt Disney Concert Hall was an experience I’ll never forget.

He rocked the house with Elvis Presley’s “A Little Less Conversation” and flirted his way through the crowd with Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” Special guests Rebecca Romijn and Jane Lynch each joined Jackson in a duet. Romijn provided the glamour for the Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet “Something Stupid” while the two shared a dance, and Lynch added some fun to the classic buddy number “Me and My Shadow.”

Jackson also performed a song written by his terrific musical director, Ben Toth, whom he jokingly called his “heterosexual musical life partner.” (Toth recently composed the music for the new musical Sleepless in Seattle at Pasadena Playhouse). Using a Sylvia Plath poem as the lyric, “Mad Girl’s Love Song” opened with a haunting a capella verse before swinging into a cool jazzy arrangement that begged to be heard again. “Angel Eyes” and “Walking My Baby Back Home” featured Jackson and Toth joined by two local artists, Jeffrey Scott Parsons and James Campbell, in delicious 4-part harmony heaven around the piano.

All roads eventually led to his showstopping 11 o’clock number “Feeling Good,” a song that more than any other showed that Jackson is exactly where he wants to be. His soaring vocals filled the hall with all the joy of a man on top of the world. There is no doubt that it’s a new day and a new life for this magnificent artist who continues to spread the love with his music. Did we feel blanketed with love? That would be a resounding, yes.

Cheyenne Jackson with Jane Lynch

Cheyenne Jackson and Rebecca Romijn

Cheyenne singing "You Know I'm No Good"

Cheyenne singing Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come"

Music of the Mad Men Era concludes the LA Phil’s 2013/14 Songbook Series.
Musicians featured at this performance:
Ben Toth, musical director/piano
Dan Higgins, Jon Yoakum, Jay Mason, reeds
Andy Martin, Charlie Morillas, trombones
John Fumo, Pete DeSiena, trumpets
Ray Brinker, drums
Kevin Axt, bass
Grant Geissman, guitar
Brian Kilgore, percussion
For information about the LA Phil's season, visit www.laphil.com

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