Monday, October 7, 2019

Gavin Creel: A Joy-filled Evening at the Kennedy Center

Few performers exhibit the sheer joy of performing, and basking in the love of doing what they love, like Gavin Creel. Each time he steps on the stage, you can see his love for the arts and his desire to share this love with the audience. That was no different when he joined Mary Mitchell Campbell at the Kennedy Center on Thursday as part of the Renee Fleming Voices series. Gavin is undeniably talented, and unabashedly himself, and the audience (and I) loved every moment of it!

For those who may not know him, Gavin is best known for his work in the theater starring in Thoroughly Modern Millie, She Loves Me, and The Book of Mormon (in London), and later winning a Tony for his role as Cornelius Hackle in 2017's gorgeous production of Hello Dolly! Throughout this time, he's been writing music, sharing his favorites in concert, and just being an all around wonderful performer and champion of the arts. 

I first saw him in She Loves Me, and though he didn't win a Tony for the show, he certainly deserved it. The womanizing salesman in the perfumerie in Prague, was so very far from the lovely Gavin. With a mustache and a swagger, he completely transformed himself, all the while singing with that gorgeous voice we've all come to know and love. He was a master in that show, and I was bummed he missed out on the award. Like I said, that oversight was rectified a few years later, when he bounded on the stage to win his first Tony for Hello Dolly!

This was an award he must have won, in small part because of the unbridled energy he brought to that show. He bounced, danced, and completely inhabited the sweet Cornelius. Of course, as someone who's been a fan of his for a bit, I feel he was perfectly cast in that role, because Cornelius is pretty much Gavin in an alternate universe. A more perfect role has never been cast.

Anyway, all of this is to say, he's extremely talented, and I loved getting the chance to see those talents on stage in an evening of classic hits, with a few of his own songs thrown in for good measure. With many of these Voices concerts, the star will sing a few songs, chat with the audience, and get back into the singing. What I loved about this particular show, was the way in which Gavin chose to share his stories. 

It was almost poetic. He truly captured what it was like to grow up in Finley Ohio with this almost impossible dream of being a performer in New York City. But the true talent came when he described his first trip to Manhattan as a college freshman. He'd been planning to be on Broadway for most of his life, but had never seen the city he wanted to call home. He perfectly captured that moment when you first step off the train in the city. You're simultaneously transfixed by everything happening around you, and terrified you'll do the wrong thing. And through all of this he sang "Another Hundred People" from Company - a favorite of mine and the only song he said, captured his feelings about living in New York. 

Of course, a note must be made in praise of his unbelievable music director and accompanist Mary Mitchell Campbell, who is a superstar in her own right. You don't often get so many asides from the star about the piano player, but Gavin realized who he had playing those keys, and included her from start to finish. She's also hilarious and unbelievably talented, and it was a treat to see her perform as well. 

After a few more standards, he ended the night, with some of his own music (even playing the piano at one point!), and a very funny ode to a friend from DC who was in the audience. It was the perfect evening! To see his talent on full display and to see someone like him so completely in his element was thrilling to say the least. And to just throw a bit more praise his way, in a ridiculously classy move I've never seen before in concert, he thanked the light crew, the sound crew and the stage management staff all by name at the end of the show. Seriously!? That's pure class right there, and I wouldn't have expected any less from this amazing showman.

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