— Can a man follow two passions at the same time? A familiar DC actor supports his theatre company by launching a new career –
Alex Cook seems a little like every one of us who harbors a secret love or obsession, only he bears his for all to see. And it would be very easy, and irresponsible, to mock it.
Let’s be honest: it wouldn’t be difficult to poke fun at The Swing Set with Alex Cook, a ten-piece big band that brings to mind Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. I mean really brings to mind those guys, and not just because Cook sings a few of their songs. He also tells their jokes and refers to the Rat Pack several times throughout the band’s inaugural set, fittingly held at the Maryland Live! Casino. Especially fitting since the band’s debut album, which releases this fall on NYC’s indie label Young Pals Music, is named Casino Music.
Before show time, the tables are set with sheets of paper that offer “Swing Set Swag,” including a flip-top lighter for $12, a rocks glass for $8 and a flask for $15. You can even get a signed photo for $2. While I enjoyed the show, and the rest of this review is nothing but positive, this move didn’t quite have the class of the band’s beloved Rat Pack.
Sales attempts aside, the first thing that’s obvious about these guys and girls is that they are taking this seriously. There’s no irony to be found. Even when the band plays lounge versions of famous songs like “The Way” and “Faith,” it does so with intent and purpose, none of it comedic.
This shouldn’t surprise me. A week earlier, Cook told me that Richard Cheese, the popular lounge comedy singer, is “the opposite direction of what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to be ironic. We’re not trying to do this as a novelty or a gag. It’s completely legitimate and we hope people get that vibe from what we’re doing.”
It’s clear he loves the genre, and it’s also clear that he comes from a theater background. Cook is better known as Alex Zavistovich, an actor who was featured in The Wire and the Artistic Director of the horror/gore specialists Molotov Theatre Group.
That theatre background comes through in the tuxedoes everyone wears (his, of course, with a white coat), the flask he drinks from between classic lounge songs and even the electronic cigarette he holds throughout his two sets (the casino wouldn’t allow a real one). Even starting 45 minutes late feels like a bit of theatre: he plays well the part of too-cool-for-this, even while his excitement and giddiness is palpable.
The band plays tight and beautifully, still allowing Cook’s deep voice to be the show’s star. Though it took him a while to master that voice.
“When I started on the project a few years ago, I found my style was too obvious. It sounded like I was mimicking things,” he said. “Here’s the thing: when you become aware of someone’s acting style, that’s not good. Now you’re suddenly aware of the training. That’s the mark of a bad actor. It has to sound like a real person, it has to sound natural. The same is true for singing.”
After he got that down, he and the band began picking songs. Genre didn’t matter – if it had a center, it could be made into a lounge song.
The Swing Set with Alex Cook roared onto the scene last night with gusto. The band feels like it has played together for years.
Hopefully, it will.