with Gavin Creel
by Deirdre Donovan
recently got a real taste of Broadway at the 92nd Street Y with “An
Evening with Gavin Creel” on July 17th. The program, which was part
of their popular Concert series, showcased the Tony Award winner Creel who
regaled the audience with some beloved songs from the American Songbook as well
as some delicious backstage stories.
warmed up the audience with a silky-smooth rendering of “Somebody’s Back in
Town,” sequed into the pulse-quickening “Something’s Coming” from West Side
Story, and then moseyed into Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer’s “I’m
pipes were crystal-clear. But it was his patter, interspersed among the classic
melodies, that truly pulled the audience in. He shared that he was born in
Findlay, Ohio, and got bit by the theater bug while still in high school. He
would go on to study at the University of Michigan, receiving his degree from
their school of Music, Theatre and Dance in 1998.
was a pregnant pause at one point in the concert, with Creel smiling almost
mischievously at the audience, as if he had a secret to impart to us. He did.
One of his professors, he said, had a cache of recorded tapes from the 92nd
Street Y’s “Lyrics & Lyricists” series. And he would have all the students
play and rewind them, again and again, to inculcate upon their brains, not only
the essential components of harmony, but how the masters put their signature on
a song. Although he admitted that the rigors of this course physically and
mentally drained him at times, he admitted that being steeped in the American
Songbook via these recordings laid a rock-solid foundation for his career in
imparted other things from his background that made the audience both laugh and
understand why Creel has surfaced in the competitive world of of New York
theater. He confessed that he was an ardent fan of Whitney Houston growing up
in Ohio and would play her hit songs, miming her distinctive voice until it
sunk into the deepest recesses of his soul.
also had a tale about his first day in New York as a wannabe actor. He
confessed that when he got off the bus, he headed straight to the McDonald’s in
the heart of Times Square. And with more of a hunger for seeing Broadway shows
than eating something on their menu, he planned his theater itinerary from the
second floor dining room, starting with Beauty and the Beast.
stretches of the concert were pure fun. Creel breezed through a medley that
began with Harry M. Wood’s “Side by Side,” continued trippingly with Meredith
Wilson’s “Gary, Indiana,”, flew through the novelty song “Fifty Nifty,” came
back down to earth with Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” and ended
with Irving Berlin’s beatific anthem ”God Bless America.”
Creel hails proudly from the Buckeye state, he revealed that he always itched
to go to the Big Apple. He captured this wanderlust sentiment in his
autobiographical tune “Hot Ohio,” which evokes Midwest dust, scorching summer
heat, humming insects, and an Ohioan who longs to up and leave it all behind.
glided into more romantic terrain with a triptych of love songs, including
Rodgers and Hart’s "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," Hoagy Carmichael
and Ned Washington’s “Nearness of You,” and Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s
“Come Rain or Shine.” Yes, his phrasing was subtle, his tone was just right.
But it seemed he really introduced these numbers to shed light on the LGBTQ
community. Creel, who is openly gay, is the co-founder of Broadway Impact, the
“first and only grass-roots organization to mobilize the nationwide theater
community in support of marriage equality.”
through the 2-hour show Creel teamed up with guest-performer Sara Bareilles.
And the two launched into a trio of songs: John Legend’s ”All of Me,” Jeanine
Tesori and Dick Scanlan’s “I Turned the Corner,” and Bareilles’ own gorgeous
melody “You Matter to Me” from Waitress. These two artists in harness
ratcheted up the energy of the evening and seemed to feed off each other’s
shared with the audience how he first crossed paths with Bareilles at a
benefits concert for Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund and Broadway Impact.
Their chemistry immediately clicked, he said, and a friendship gradually
bloomed between them. Most recently, they have played opposite each other in Waitress.
So what’s next for them? Well, whatever it might be, it’s bound to create some
sizable waves on Broadway or off.
43 year-old Creel has become a familiar face on the Great White Way and
distinguished himself as a performer time and again. He made his Broadway
debut in Thoroughly Modern Millie, which earned him a Tony nomination in
2002. Other shows would follow, including La Cage Aux Folles, Hair (his
second Tony nomination in 2009), and Mary Poppins (Creel played Bert).
He also crossed the pond and originated the role of Elder Price in the West
End, winning the 2014 Olivier Award (he later reprised it on Broadway). Back
in New York, he would go on board the revival of She Loves Me. But the
role that changed his life forever would be Cornelius Hackl in Hello, Dolly!,
winning the 2017 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor and playing
alongside Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce.
managed to tuck in a few more backstage stories towards the show’s end.
Perhaps the most endearing ones were linked to Hello, Dolly! and getting
to know the inimitable Bette Midler. He told the audience that he drummed up
his courage one day and asked Midler to sign his sister’s Sesame Street album
that featured Midler herself singing one of the numbers. Midler graciously
agreed, even though she told Creel that she hadn’t a clue what Sesame Street
tune was in her repertoire.
fittingly wrapped up the show with “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello,
Dolly! Creel crooned it like a seasoned professional—and with a
hint of nostalgia.
the last note faded out, the audience applauded with genuine enthusiasm for this
emigree from the Buckeye state. Creel looked out into the audience, warmly smiled, and then dove into an encore: Scott Frankel and
Michael Korle’s ”Neverland.” It was the perfect ending to a near perfect show.
17th, evening performance.
the 92nd Street Y, Lexington Street, Manhattan.
more information on the 92nd Street Y’s programs, visit www.92y.org.
time: 2 hours with no intermission.