Robert Creighton

March 11, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

“Ain’t We Got Fun!”

Metropolitan Room – February 12 & 13

Moonlighting from his eight-shows-a-week job playing the ship’s purser in the Roundabout production of Anything Goes, tenor Robert Creighton docked at the Metropolitan Room for a couple of evenings last month to launch his debut CD, “Ain’t We Got Fun!” Early on in the proceedings he promised us that we would, indeed, have fun. But he sold himself short. Yes, the evening was fun, but Creighton delivered something more substantial, more fundamental, more emotionally rewarding than fun: joy.

And he didn’t just deliver joy, he was the very personification of it, projecting it in everything he did: his musical selections, his singing, his patter, and his physical performance. He told us that he had two mottoes: one was that good things happen—meaning that good things will happen; then he cut short any notion of overt preachiness with his second motto, a wry bit of fluff. One might expect so much cheerfulness to become cloying, but his is so clearly genuine that it was anything but—it was infectious and it was spirit-lifting.

Cabaret is possibly the most personal of the performing arts, and while it’s difficult for a performer to mask his true self, what the majority of performers in the medium offer, and what we measure them by, is their talent and their personality. Provided their personality is not off-putting, if their talent is strong, they can do very well—even superbly. However, occasionally a performer comes along in whose case the person, himself—not his persona, and not his personality or stage presence, but his most deeply held view of life—is an important element of his effectiveness as a performer, so important that it is difficult to separate it from his artistry. Robert Creighton is one of those few.

But a life-embracing spirit would not be enough, and Creighton has his artistic bases covered as well: his voice is a lovely tenor, and he sings with solid musicianship and performs with savvy showmanship. He brought both his spirit and his talent to three songs from the ’20s and ’30s. His rhythmic bouncing on “Ain’t We Got Fun?” (Richard Whiting, Gus Kahn, Raymond B. Egan) was irresistible—and because it came from within and was an organic part of his interpretation, it wasn’t distracting, as such movement can be. With “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue (Has Anybody Seen My Girl?)” (Sam M. Lewis, Joe Young, Ray Henderson), the glee with which he tackled the kazoo was as delightful as the delight he displayed when he finished. And after whistling in “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” (Ted Koehler, Billy Moll, Harry Barris), he smiled like a child who does a trick and then grins at his mother as if to say, “look what I did!” Endearing! Let no one try to tell me that these were calculated moves; I wouldn’t believe it for a second.

He’s also quite a good songwriter. The show included three of his original songs from Cagney!, a musical he’s co-authored that recently enjoyed a very successful run in Florida. (Lest there be any doubt, the Cagney is James, to whom Creighton bears a striking resemblance.) The swinging, appealingly old-fashioned “Crazy ‘Bout You” is perhaps the sweetest, though not necessarily the most circumspect, expression of romantic lust since Ira Gershwin wrote “you and you alone bring out the gypsy in me.” “Falling in Love,” performed as a duet with Laura Osnes the evening I attended, is a charming number in which Cagney tries, with difficulty, to express his love to the woman who would later become his wife. By contrast, “Fortune Is Fickle” is reflective and quietly dramatic; though it’s been cut from Cagney!, it deserves a life outside the musical, and Linda Muggleston did a fine job singing it that evening.

On Arlen and Mercer’s “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive,” Arbender Robinson, the third guest singer, started singing sweetly, but then allowed what he’d been keeping in reserve to come out; it was formidable. And what a smile! There was a fourth, unscheduled guest that evening: about three-fourths of the way into the show, Joel Grey, one of the stars of Anything Goes, surprised Creighton by joining him on stage. The pair did George M. Cohan’s “Give My Regards to Broadway,” which they do on Creighton’s CD. It was evident that Grey has great affection for Creighton, and his participation in the festivities was a lovely moment. (For those of us who’d seen Grey’s memorable performance in the musical George M!, the moment was doubly wonderful.) Creighton then performed Cohan’s “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to a fare-thee-well; I can’t imagine that Cohan, himself, could have been more entertaining or more rousing or more crowd-pleasing.

Creighton did sing a few serious songs: Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” Walter Donaldson and Gus Kahn’s “My Buddy,” and Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal’s “I’ll Be Seeing You.” If his renditions did not dig as deep as those of the great ballad and saloon singers, nonetheless he interpreted the songs with affecting directness and simplicity. (On this last number, the bluesy accompaniment was at odds with the vocal; however, the flugelhorn on the CD, more muted and triste, supplies the right mood and coloration.)

The enterprise was smartly put together. For example, the way some lines of patter, which serve their purpose perfectly well early in the program, have an additional payoff at the end. Or the shtick in Rodgers and Hart’s “Johnny One-Note,” in which the band frustrates Creighton’s efforts to come in while they’re cutting loose. (The marvelous musicians were musical director Greg Anthony on piano, Larry Lelli on drums, Eric B. Davis on Guitar, Randy Landau on bass, and Ralph Olsen on woodwinds.)

I’m told that Creighton plans to return to the Metropolitan Room in the late Spring or Summer—which will give us another opportunity to celebrate both music and life.

 

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for BistroAwards.com, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.

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