Tom Gamblin

October 17, 2011 | By | Add a Comment

“A Way Back to Then”

Metropolitan Room  –  September 22, October 11

 Cabaret audiences may know Tom Gamblin best for his stints as the quick-witted host of the Metropolitan Room’s popular annual summer-long performance contest, the MetroStar Talent Challenge. Theatregoers may know him for his off-Broadway and tour work or perhaps his nine seasons playing Santa in The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. This year, after the urging of many friends, Gamblin debuted his own show, A Way Back to Then, an eclectic collection of mostly theatre songs and reminiscences that he infuses with an uplifting tone.

Although Gamblin opened his show with “At the Crossroads” (Leslie Bricusse), it was fairly clear early on that there was little conflict within him—he seems more than happy to continue the showbiz life.

The show had a variety of songs, both familiar and rare. Gamblin’s natural exuberance and comic flair served him best on the novelty and up-tempo numbers. “Waiting for F Trains at Night” (to the tune of “Waiting for Life” by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, with new lyrics by Rachel Kaufman) earned big laughs from the urban audience, and “I Wanna Be a Rockette” (Tom Eyen, Alan Mencken) allowed him to throw in some inspired choreography and a hint of mischief. However, for the most part, he didn’t dig deep enough on the ballads, so they came across as pleasant rather than profound; likewise, he failed to find the undercurrents in Sondheim’s “Broadway Baby,” although his rendition was vocally strong.

Gamblin displayed an impressive vocal range, offering many anthemic selections that allowed him to end on soaring, sustained notes. However, his voice doesn’t have the flexibility it might have, and although he throws in an occasional growl, there is a sameness to the tone and dynamic, and his lower register could be stronger. To his credit, he warmed up as he went along, and at the end of the evening, he sounded as though he could go on singing for hours.

Gamblin’s show had a lot of polish—not a bad thing, for sure—but, as demonstrated in his hosting gigs, he excels at improvisation. One of the most moving moments of the night was his impromptu introduction of Rosamond, a stalwart cabaret supporter in the audience who was about to celebrate her 90th birthday. In that case, it gave the medley that followed—”Over the Rainbow” (Harold Arlen, E.Y. Harburg) and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows” (Joseph McCarthy, Harry Carroll)—a special poignancy.

In terms of structure, the show may have benefited from a director’s eye and ear. Although Rodgers & Hart’s “My Funny Valentine” gave Gamblin an opportunity to speak of his nostalgia for the Grove Street of the ’80s (“You could take your two songs and work the whole street from Marie’s Crisis to the old Duplex to the Five Oaks”), placing this warm, familiar ballad second in the show with no set-up struck me as a little odd. Likewise, a tidbit about Donny and Marie followed by a verse of their television hit, Marty Cooper’s “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock ‘N’ Roll,” seemed to be of lesser importance in his life story (particularly for someone who grew up on the East Side of Manhattan) and appeared to have been wedged into the show to give him an excuse to sing a country song and a rock song, both of which are theatre songs: Roger Miller’s “River in the Rain” and Jonathan Larson’s “Your Eyes.” And finally, it was perhaps not best to bring up a guest to duet with him on his encore. Enjoy that final solo spotlight; at that point, you’ve earned it!

Though the evening was uneven, Gamblin’s heart is in the right place and he has the tools to become a first-rate entertainer. And for all that preceded it, nothing prepared this reviewer for his tour-de-force rendering of Craig Carnelia’s “Flight” near the end of the show. Gamblin poured every bit of passion he had into the song and it became very clear that he was no longer at a crossroads—he had stepped into artistry.

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Kevin Scott Hall performed in cabaret clubs for many years and recorded three CDs, including “New Light Dawning” in 1998, which received national airplay. He also worked at the legendary piano bar, Rose’s Turn, and has taught cabaret workshops and directed shows since 1995. Kevin earned his MFA in Creative Writing at City College of New York. He is an adjunct professor in the Theatre and English departments at City College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. His novel, “Off the Charts!” was published in 2010, and his memoir, “A Quarter Inch from My Heart” (Wisdom Moon), in 2014. Kevin writes a monthly column and entertainment features for Edge Media Network, writes reviews for, and freelances for other publications.

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