Ron Dabney

June 17, 2017 | By | Add a Comment

At the top of Oh Broadway, My Broadway, his new show at the Metropolitan Room, Ron Dabney promised that he was going to give us new takes on songs from the Great White Way. To be honest, the songs were not exclusively Broadway and the arrangements did not stray all that far from the traditional. But the show did offer an opportunity to appreciate his rich sound and obvious delight in performing.

His creamy, burnished low notes prove to be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because at their best they recall the iconic vocals of Joe Williams and Sarah Vaughan. A curse because the singer seems so enamored of them that he rarely strayed away from them, resulting in a repetition of sound that became a bit numbing. Phrasing and time were sacrificed again and again for the sake of sustained, sonorous sounds. For example, in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Have Dreamed,” when he sang “…how you look in the glow of evening,” he held the word “of”—perhaps the least important word in the whole phrase. Imagine a violinist bringing a Stradivarius onto the stage but then just holding it up for us to look at and admire the beauty of the instrument rather than using it to investigate the material, and ultimately reveal himself. Lyric imprecision was another frequent problem.

The show opened with a bright and inviting intro by the very talented Barry Levitt Jazz Ensemble, but rather than sustaining the high energy of that music, the Dabney’s first number was a drum-heavy and drawn-out ballad take on the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You.” This version, as is, might have been effective later in the show, but it felt as if all of sudden the show had gone into slow motion before it had even begun. “Lazy Afternoon” (Jerome Moross, John Latouche) seemed focused on its complex arrangement, when it would have been much more successful if it had focused on Dabney’s dreamy vocals. “I Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good)” (Duke Ellington, Paul Francis Webster) was so oversung and anchored to the bottom of his sound that at times the melody was lost.

An overdue uptempo song, “Do It Again” (the Gershwins), provided a welcome bit of buoyancy and revealed a lighter sound to the vocals. A special appearance by countertenor Derek Lee Ragin on two numbers proved unfortunate, not only because the disparate voices did not blend well, but also because it diluted what were two of Dabney’s best vocal performances. In the ballad-heavy show, Sondheim’s “Send In the Clowns” was, perhaps, inevitable. It seemed as if Dabney were singing just the lower notes of Sarah Vaughan’s classic version without the balancing upper register.

Dabney revealed the beauty and power of his voice in the first number. I wanted the rest of the show to take me somewhere else rather than just reiterate that one revelation. If he loosens up and concentrates on storytelling a bit more, and brings some of the easygoing warmth and likeability of his patter into his singing, he has the potential to be one of cabaret’s major voices.

Oh Broadway, My Broadway
Metropolitan Room – May 31

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has directed many cabaret artists, among them Darius de Haas, Andre de Shields, and Helen Baldassare. He's created several musical revues, including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George," and he has produced two Bistro Award-winning CDs. His most recent theatre credit is directing "Hamlet" at the ArcLight Theatre with Australian actor/writer Matthew Newton. He's taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London's Goldsmith College, and conducted private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he covered New York's theatre and cabaret scene for over twenty years for various local publications, and for nearly ten years, he co-wrote a national entertainment column. His lyrics have been sung by several cabaret artists, and he's currently at work on a memoir of his life in the city.

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