Regional Reviews: San Francisco
The Irresistible Jason Graae
The fascinating and diminutive Jason Graae is at the Empire Plush Room in the York Hotel, 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco through September 5th with an 80 minute show that is a laugh fest from start to finish. Called Coup de Graae, the show features songs from such popular composers as Stephen Sondheim, Charles Strouse, Jerry Herman, Rodgers and Hart and the Bergmans.
Jason Graae has done everything from Broadway (Falsettos, Grand Night for Singing and Stardust) to playing Harry Houdini in the pre-Broadway run in Los Angeles of Ragtime to being an original Plaid in Forever Plaid. He even dabbled in opera, playing Frosch in the Washington Opera's Die Fledermaus and Njegus in Houston's Grand Opera The Merry Widow. He has guest starred on many television shows, including Six Feet Under, and is no stranger to movie voiceovers - he is currently a voice in Disney's Home on the Range. Jason has been on 35 original cast albums and studio recordings, including his own two solo CDs.
The New York Times said it best: "Mr Graae emerges as an irresistible cutup whose splendid voice is matched by mischievous charisma." Jason most certainly has charisma and is always "on," with an occasional lapse into a romantic ballad. Bruce Vilanch says of the show: "It's the Anti-Cabaret!" The wonderful thing about this outgoing person is that he displays a deep felt sincerity in his numbers, even on the comic ones.
When I saw Jason in Falsettos, I could see he was a great talent. His performance as Houdini was outstanding and I saw him in twice at the Marin JCC Center. In this show, Jason uses some of the same material that he used with Liz Callaway up in Marin last year, including his story about Marilyn and Alan Bergman, which is droll.
Jason opens the current show with his two "Fois Graaes" (42nd Street Moon's Stephanie Rhoads and Alexandria Kaprielian), who are backups on a take off of a song from Kander and Ebb's Chicago, "All I Care About is Love," which becomes "All I Care About is Me." At the beginning, Jason talks about growing up in Chicago, then going to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He also talks about the time he spent in Tulsa (which "almost spelled backwards is 'slut' ") and appearing in Orange County where "the birds have two right wings."
Jason's rendition of Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" is side-splitting, especially as he tries to get through the slow movements of the song with special lyrics that Larry Hart would appreciate. He plays to the male couples in the audience, especially if they are in the front row, with Carmines/Fornes's song "The Moment Has Passed." The "Sondheim Song" by Barry Kleinbort, with every lyric from a Sondheim show, is hilarious.
Many of the songs are haunting ballads, like "We Three/By Myself," Sondheim's "Good Thing Going" and Jerry Herman's "I Belong Here." The artist is very versatile, going from comic to romantic with an extraordinary range in his voice. Near the end of the show, Jason talks about how he was hired to do a voice in commercials for the cereal "Lucky Charms" because he auditioned in a leprechaun voice that he "stole" from Ken Jennings (the original Tobias in Sweeney Todd and recently in the Broadway production of Urinetown). He was very happy being a New York leprechaun. However, when he moved to Los Angeles, his agent called him from New York and said since he had moved away from the Big Apple, he no longer could be a leprechaun and he was fired. Jason has a box of the cereal on stage which he crushes as he sings "How Lucky Can you Get?"
The set is completed with Jason's rendition of Charles Strouse's "Applause," with the voices of Tallulah, Johnny Mathis, Bobby Darin and Al Jolson among others. His encore is a song I had never heard of, "Blow Me a Kiss," and Jason delivers it with plenty of double entendres. Once again, Alex Rybeck is at the piano and Jason's special friend and musical director is great.
There is no doubt about it, Jason wows the audience. This man is completely wired and will do most anything for a laugh. Coup de Graae will be at the Empire Plush Room at the York Hotel, 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco through September 5th. For tickets call 415-885-2800 or visit on line at www.emireplushroom.com.
Betty Buckley will open at the Empire Plush Room on September 7 and play through September 26. Coming up later will be Sandra Reaves-Phillips and Melissa Manchester.
Photo: Kevin Merrill