Signature Theatre favorite and Tony/Olivier Award nominee Euan Morton kicked off Signature Theatre’s annual Sizzlin’ Summer Cabaret festival with a bit of a twist. In addition to lending his powerful pop-rock vocal talent to a series of songs he selected, he also permitted the audience members to select songs they most wanted to hear via Facebook or via slips of paper in a bowl made available in the theatre lobby. While this decision to not completely plan the cabaret led to somewhat mixed results, one has to admire Mr. Morton’s willingness to try to challenge himself even as the spotlight shined only on him and his superbly talented musical director and pianist Bryan Reeder.
While Mr. Morton chose to perform some relatively safe selections that longtime fans at Signature have heard him do before – “Anthem” from the Broadway musical Chess, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and “La Vie en Rose” made famous by Edith Piaf – there were also a few surprises. Three of them stood out as interesting selections for a variety of reasons.
Certainly, those who have followed Morton’s career since his days in Boy George’s Taboo know his popular rendition of “Stranger in This World” quite well. Not usually part of his cabaret set, it was a treat to hear him perform the haunting song in a venue as intimate as Signature’s Ark Theatre. Although it’s been a little over ten years since he originated the role of Boy George on the West End and reprised it on Broadway, it seemed as if little time had passed because the vocals and the emotion were that stellar.
Although the Swedish musical Kristina written by Ulvaeus and Andersson of Chess and ABBA fame has yet to have a full-scale production in the United States, the yearning Act II number “You Have to Be There,” has become a bit of a cabaret and concert staple for Broadway belters such as Alice Ripley. Less common is to have a man take this power ballad on. Morton’s version proved to be among the most stirring I’ve heard to date.
The Tony-nominated Romance/Romance, which premiered on Broadway in 1988 following a brief Off-Broadway run, is one of those little gems of a musical that’s not often performed. Morton brilliantly showcased one of the better numbers in the show, “Words He Doesn’t Say.” The mere idea of artists breathing new life into lesser known showtunes has been known to set my musical theatre-loving heart all aflutter. In this case, he not only did that, but also delivered impressive vocals to boot.
Euan Morton: As You Like It
Closes August 1, 2013
4200 Campbell Avenue
Arlington, VA 22206
1 hour, 40 minutes with 1 intermission
The concert is sold out.
Amidst the musical theatre numbers, Morton also tried his hand at numerous pop numbers, including “I Have Nothing” made famous by Whitney Houston and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time/True Colors.” Although I find these songs slightly overdone, I appreciated his simple renditions which highlighted his high tenor vocal range. Other numbers, such as John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” did not fare so well, but to be fair he performed it on the fly without knowing the lyrics all that well after an audience member requested the song.
Other moments were not as successful. A decision to pull some friends up to have a bit of a sing-a-long on “Who Will Buy?” from Oliver though fun for a few minutes went on far too long. At least from my perspective, it also came off as Mr. Morton trying a bit too hard to make the cabaret a really relaxed and inviting event. Morton is naturally charming and engaging so these kinds of gimmicks may not be all that necessary to prove to the audience that already loves him that he’s a fun-loving guy. Still, I give kudos to him for looking like he had a lot of fun and being ok with the uncertainty as to whether or not his decision will pay off.
In lesser hands, the ‘on the fly’ approach to cabaret might come off as a bit too much like drunk karaoke, but thanks to Mr. Morton’s enormous vocal talents and charisma this event was mostly enjoyable despite the few missteps.
Euan Morton: As You Like It is the first of 14 summer cabarets at Signature, between now and August 17. Here is the schedule.