Regional Reviews: Seattle
Gray Matter Returns as Showcase for Songwriter at The Crepe De
Also see David's review of The Grapes of Wrath
A few seasons back Seattle musical whiz (actor/singer/songwriter/director) Richard Gray along with a trio of talented dames performed a songbook show of Gray's work entitled Gray Matter at Town Hall to appreciative crowds. Now, Gray revives the title and many of the same songs as a solo show at the Cabaret in the Crepe de Paris, which long housed his holiday standard show Forbidden Xmas. In a tight, intermissionless set of about 80 minutes, Gray sings his own words and music from the piano, and the effect is not that of an ego trip, but rather like being welcomed into his living room. If not having the female voices (whom he writes so well for) on hand is a bit of a drawback, Gray himself is a captivating, strong (high baritone) voiced entertainer, who knows how to color lyrics to fine effect..
After the catchy opener "Stuck In Your Craw," Gray chooses a lot of numbers that tickle the funny bone, including "Geppeto's Lament" in which Pinocchio's papa longs for the good old days when his boy was a puppet, the side-splitting "Heidi with An I" from Gray and Scott Warrender's very insider view of musical theatre writing History of the Rollercoaster, and a zany medley of songs he wrote as a "Songwriter for Hire" which range from a Seattle Emmy awards opening number to "Moscow Train" which imagines a musicalized version of The Three Sisters. Two more recent, rather more subtler gems, which showcase Gray's composing as much as his lyrics, are "Stompanato" about Lana Turner's mobster beau who was killed by her daughter, and "Whatever Happened to the Leading Man?," both from the ambitious but unsuccessful play with music (L)imitations of Life.
When Gray wants to write sincere, heartfelt songs he does so with ease and skill, prime examples being "Good, Better, Best" and one of his newest tunes, "You Make A life by What You Give." And with his musicalization of the '60s film comedy Cold Turkey moving well along the workshop trail, it is good to hear that show's searing ballad Scream again, though this number suffers the most from not having a powerful female voice to deliver it.
He revisits his Forbidden Xmas parody franchise with the pointed "Empty Chairs at Empty Theaters," as well as a "Cash Cow" medley of songs from Christmas theatre misfires past (i.e. Gary Sandy in The Music Man, the umpteenth local staging of Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Cathy Rigby's seemingly unending string of runs as Peter Pan.) Gray is one of six nominees this year for the Fred Ebb Foundation and Roundabout Theatre's Fred Ebb award grant of $50,000 and will be in attendance at the awards ceremony at the Roundabout in NYC November 29, 2005. Gray is a Seattle treasure, so grab the opportunity to hear him perform his work here, before Broadway steals him away from us.
Gray Matter has a limited run, Friday and Saturdays at 8PM through 10/29 (before Gray heads off to start rehearsals for Forbidden Xmas 2005 , which this year plays at the Empty Space) at the Crepe De Paris. For dinner & show, or show only reservations call. 206.623-4111.- David-Edward Hughes