I went to a concert by Gavin Creel at the 92 Street Y on 6/17/19. I've been a fan of Creel's since 2002, when I saw him in his Broadway debut role, Jimmy in *Thoroughly Modern Millie.* Here's an overview of what I've seen him in:
2004: *La Cage aux Folles*
2016: *She Loves Me*
2017 and 2018: *Hello, Dolly!* (three times)
He has wonderful energy, he exudes charisma and theatrical know-how. He's tall and lanky and adorable. He had a band of five for this concert:
Mary-Mitchell Campbell (music director and piano)
Yair Evnine (cello and guitar)
Ethan Pakchar (guitar)
Mark Vanderpoel (bass)
Damien Bassman (drums)
They were a tight band, and Campbell's arrangements were strong. I might like a little more variety in the instrumentation, with an ensemble of five I like to have a few moments where each of those players has a moment to shine, and that was missing - - but that's splitting hairs. They opened with "Lulu's Back In Town," which Creel sang as "Someone's Back In Town," eventually "Gavin's Back In Town." That was cute, there were many lyric alterations in the show, all of them worthwhile.
Let me say what he was wearing! A trim suit, it was hard to tell whether it was purple or brown, so should we call it puce? Or aubergine? He had a white shirt with no tie and a white flower on his lapel. A very snappy outfit.
His next song was "Something's Coming." I was thrilled to hear him do the final "Maybe tonight" in full voice, not in falsetto. It might have been a crafty use of head voice (what the French would call <<voix mixte>>) but it was fortified and sounded strong and vibrant.
I knew going into the show that Creel and I had the same birthday, that has given me a special little kinship with him since I learned it. And he came out a few years ago, that got added to the list. Early in the show he said he was from small town Minnesota, and I'm from a small town in Wisconsin. There were another somewhat mind-blowing link I learned about later in the show, but I'll get to that later...
He sang "I'm Old Fashioned," which I'd only heard sung by Dianne Wiest in *Hannah and Her Sisters*! He sang it MUCH better than her. He told a touching and wonderfully detailed story about a typical summer day in his childhood. He would spend two and a half hours at swim practice (the Finley Area Swim Team - - aka FAST), then rush home on his bike to eat a peanut butter sandwich and bowl of Spaghetti-Os while watching *The Price Is Right.* He would do chores, his mom would tell him to pick the raspberries for dessert, and then the family would have dinner and listen to albums together. The Great American Songbook sung by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald. In their honor he sang a medley of "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," "The Nearness Of You," and "Come Rain Or Come Shine."
He went to college at the University of Michigan and took a class where he studied classic musical theatre. They listened to tapes of performances and lectures, analyzing songs from the Great American Songbook, studying how the words worked with the music. These performances and lectures, would you believe, were recordings of the 92 Street Y's Lyrics and Lyricists series, recorded on the stage where he was performing. How touching is that?
The high point of the concert was his performance of "All the Things You Are," admittedly one of the most beautiful songs ever. He asked the lighting guy to turn the lights down very low, so we could all listen to the song and not be distracted by what was onstage. I don't want to overstate things, but this was one of the most extraordinary performances of a song I've ever heard, he (and pianist Campbell) really delivered all the tender, gauzy romance that the song deserves. I was crying hot tears, tears not just streaming down my face but coming out with such force that they streamed down my NECK. That doesn't happen every day.
Here's Tony Bennett doing that song. I believe his recording was the first I heard, and it's pretty damm rapturous.
Creel broke the spell of that song in the best way, he made us laugh, and we laughed really hard. He said, "What an incredible song, am I right? I mean, listen to that lyric - - 'You are the angel glow that lights a star.' If a guy were to come up to me in a bar and say, 'Um, I've been looking at you, and I have to tell you that you're the angel glow that lights a star.' If a guy said that to me, my response would be --WSHHT!" And with that sound he mimed pulling down his pants. Oh, the riotous laughter.
He had two guests in the show, the first was his songwriting partner Robbie Roth. They did a song they wrote together called "Hot Ohio," a delightful, tasty song about Creel on the day before 7th grade. And while in that childhood space he did a medley of songs he'd learned as a child: "Side By Side" (the Irving Berlin song, not the Sondheim), "It's a Lovely Day Today," "Gary Indiana," and "Fifty Nifty United States." This led to "This Land Is My Land" and "God Bless America," sung with absolute earnestness. This, for me, was the biggest gamble of the show - - it's no risk for him to make racy jokes about gay sex, but it is a risk to talk and sing about strong, unvarnished patriotism. He lost me a little bit, I feel that in this current cultural climate, it's important to temper patriotism with understanding of others' point of view and maybe even a little defiance. But snaps to him for his nerve.
He sang his favorite Sondheim song, "What Can You Lose" from *Dick Tracy,* and then "What Do I Need With Love" from *Millie.* He told a hilarious story about his days auditioning, how he would audition for anything even if he was sure to fail - - "strong and wrong," that's an expression I hadn't heard before.
So here's the most awe-inspiring overlap between me and Gavin Creel. He told the story about his first trip to New York - - he and a friend from Michigan slept on a friend's floor, saw a few shows, took it all in. He made this trip Thanksgiving weekend 1994. My first trip to New York was the weekend BEFORE, exactly a week before his, the middle of November in 1994. Isn't that spooky? He talked about how he felt so green and dewy when he first moved here, he felt like everyone was judging him for being from the Midwest. He sang "Another Hundred People" and sang it as one of those asshole New Yorkers to illustrate his point.
His second surprise guest was Sara Bareilles. He had appeared in her show *Waitress* earlier this year. She sang "All Of Me," which was a delight. They sang "You Matter To Me," a duet from *Waitress.* Do I need to see that show?
He ended with a fantastic story about Bette Midler. He was totally starstruck when he started working with her in *Hello, Dolly!* but of course he couldn't admit that, he had to play it cool. He definitely couldn't mention how much he loves *Beaches.* I don't remember all the details of the story, but somehow it involves his sister taking all of his parents LPs, and saying that she would give them all back if he got Midler to autograph their Sesame Street album, on which she does a song called "Blueberry Pie." So he got the album and steeled his nerve. He knocked on her dressing room door before a show on a Sunday, asked her to sign the album, told her the context, and of course she was tickled. She said, "You know, I've never seen this, I've never heard this!" She remembered the song, remembered everything about recording it, but had never seen or heard the album. I don't remember Creel's sister's name, but let's call her Jenny. Midler signed the album, "Dear Jenny, I never saw this, I never heard this. Best wishes, Bette Midler." How cute is that.
So that was a Sunday. They had Monday off (like they do on most Broadway shows) and when he got to his dressing room there was a pile of LPs on his makeup table. I don't remember all of them, but the three I remember are *Revolver,* *Magical Mystery Tour,* and *Gonna Take a Miracle* (the miraculous album Laura Nyro did with LaBelle). He assumed they were from her, and was curious to know if they were HER actual albums, or just albums she got from Ebay or whatever. He went to her dressing room.
GAVIN: Hey Bette - - those albums, are they from you?
BETTE: Yes, of course! I thought you might need something to hold you over until you get those albums from your sister.
GAVIN: Thank you so much, that's so kind of you.
GAVIN: What did you do with your day off?
BETTE: Um, I was in the attic digging through my vinyl collection for you!
He sang a medley of "And I Think It's Gonna Rain Today" going into "Before the Parade Passes By." When he got to the second song, there was a hushed "Ah!" from the audience, with the wonder and delight that he was doing that song.
He did one encore, "Never Never Land." He sang it from the front of the stage, near the piano, away from the microphone. And he introduced it to make it clear that Never Never Land, for him, is New York City.
I looked high and low on youtube for a suitable clip of Creel, and the best I could find is this performance from the Olivier Awards, doing his show-stopping song "I Believe" from *The Book of Mormon.* He won the Olivier for that show!