by Tony Swanick(page 3)
As I mentioned, Rob and I spoke just after he performed at New York’s China Club in his first solo concert. In a room packed with friends and fans, Rob opened his show with the song “‘Till You Came Into My Life”, which was cut from the Broadway version of Jekyll & Hyde but contained on the concept album by Colm Wilkinson and Linda Eder. He then launched into what he called his “Jekyll Super Song,” which was a medley of “I Need To Know” and “This Is The Moment.”
As you can imagine, by this time the crowd of “Jekkies” were already in a frenzy and Rob was starting to look more comfortable on the stage. Despite a persistent cold, Rob was an imposing figure, his powerful 6'3" frame dressed in a dark suit with his trademark long hair pulled neatly back into a pony tail.
Before his next song, Rob told a very funny story about the time he was on stage for Jekyll & Hyde’s “Red Rat” scene when he noticed Luba Mason giving him a strange look which he could not figure out. He exits the stage for a coat change before coming back on to sing “This Is The Moment,” one of the showstoppers in the musical.
As Rob told the story at the China Club:
"So I’m back onstage and give a great “This Is The Moment,” but the audience is responding really weird. Then I hear somebody yell out, ‘You go, brother!’ and I’m really confused. So I go into the “Transformation” scene and ya know I’m shooting myself up and I heard this gibberish that sounded like “close your fly” but I couldn’t really hear what was being said. So I inject myself and I do the whole transformation, rolling on the ground and I stand up as Hyde. As I turn to the mirror, there it is, gaping open .... my fly. Not just a little open but GAPING and my shirt is hanging out of it."
Rob told the much-amused crowd that there was hell to pay later for the cast and crew who failed to alert him to the unexpected ... um, exposure. The laughter continued as Rob sang “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story and, in light of the story, the lyrics became a very funny homage to his embarrassing zipper incident. “There's something due any day, I will know right away, soon as it shows...” You get the point. It was a warm and funny moment between audience and performer which was indicative of similar moments throughout the concert. Rob was clearly at home with this crowd.
Once the audience settled down, Rob offered a smooth and powerful version of “Where’s the Girl?” from The Scarlet Pimpernel and “Northbound Train” from The Civil War which, at the time of the concert, was still playing at the St. James Theatre.
TS: You rose to the defense of Frank Wildhorn and The Civil War during your show. Why do you think he faces so much criticism as a composer?
RE: There is criticism but only on some levels. The way I see it, he is publicly successful, commercially successful and the critics just don’t care for it. I think they are beginning to lose credibility with the public who have embraced Frank and his work.
TS: The Civil War is not doing well and it might not survive [it has since closed]. Why do you think it failed where Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel managed to succeed?
RE: The Civil War is a very different kind of show, less a book musical and more a song cycle. I think it will take some time for people to embrace it and, even if it does not succeed on Broadway, I think it will in years to come be recognized for the great music and spirit it has.
After talking about The Civil War, Rob was joined by his old friend, Christiane Noll to sing the classic “When I Fall In Love.” At first attempting to do this beautiful love song seriously, as they were looking longingly into each other’s eyes, the fact that they were more brother and sister than lovers intervened when Christiane began to giggle. “This wasn’t supposed to be a comic number,” Evan quipped between the giggles. After the song, Rob left the stage so Christiane could perform a number solo. “I’m so sorry I laughed,” Christiane explained. “I haven’t gazed into his eyes in such a long time, it was overwhelming.” Christiane then sang the song, “My Valentine.”
After she was through, Rob again took the stage and introduced his musical director, Neil Berg before singing Berg’s song, “Twilight,” originally written for Berg’s show, The Prince and the Pauper. Rob entered into his Act One finale, “The Music of the Night” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, The Phantom of the Opera – a bold choice since one of the members in the audience was Rob’s good friend Brad Little who has been touring with Phantom and whose deep baritone voice gives this song a special quality. Rob’s version was very good considering he was sick and having trouble with his upper range. Still, he managed to pull it off and left the stage with his fans standing and cheering, including Brad Little.
Act two started off with a few surprises, not the least of which were the tight leather pants Rob wore when he strode onto the stage. Surprise two came when he charged into the Tom Jones hit “Delilah” for his opening number. Rob was every bit the rock n’ roller with this number he clearly enjoyed. Can Vegas be too far behind? Rob followed this with the Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller composition, “I Who Have Nothing,” which was made famous by the likes of Ben E. King, Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack and has been immortalized on Broadway in Smoky Joe’s Café. Rob’s version managed to capture much of the sadness in this song about a man who has little to offer a woman than his undying love. It was a nice moment in the concert and showed a different side of Rob’s voice.
Rob then sang a lullaby dedicated to his sons, Max and Johan. The first was “The Land of Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. He followed this with “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables, a part he had played many times before. Again, his cold wreaked havoc on his falsetto towards the end of the song but I doubt any of his fans noticed or cared. The hankies came out in abundance because of the depth of feeling he put into this number and the song brought a tear from his own eye as he hit his last note.
TS: You know how much I love you in that role because of your performances with Laurie Beechman.
RE: Yea, I still think about her too whenever I do a song from Les Miz.
Rob was playing Valjean to Beechman’s Fantine as the diminutive Tony-Award nominated actress was dying of ovarian cancer. Their performances together were some of the last she ever gave.
RE: I loved working with her but it was so hard. She was not well and everyone knew that she could be dying and to watch her die as Fantine made everyone weep.
TS: I know, I remember seeing the two of you in her hometown, Philadelphia, and the Forrest Theatre just echoed with the sound of people crying during and after her death scene.
RE: I remember having to carry her to her deathbed in the show and when I picked her up she felt so frail that I usually broke down. Still, she was the consummate professional and never gave less than 100 percent. It was one of the most difficult and, at the same time, rewarding theatrical experiences I have ever had.
Following the thunderous applause which followed “Bring Him Home,” Rob introduced a second guest, Norm Lewis who has dazzled audiences in shows including Tommy, Miss Saigon, Side Show and Captain’s Couragous. Lewis gave the best rendition I have ever heard of “We Live On Borrowed Time” which was written by MAC Award winner David Friedman. Besides being one of my favorite composers, Friedman produced Laurie Beechman’s first CD, Listen To My Heart. “Borrowed Time” was a song he wrote for Beechman while she was very sick with cancer and when she tried to sing it, she could never get through it because of the emotions it welled up within her. Eventually, after Beechman died, the song was recorded by Nancy LaMott who also succumbed to cancer. If they weren’t already crying from “Bring Him Home,” the audience was brought to tears by Lewis’ rendition of this brilliant song. Rob returned and after some patter, the duo sang the duet, “Lilly’s Eyes” from The Secret Garden.
Again delving into the unexpected, Rob sang the pop tune “Spinning Wheel” as he introduced the members of the band and let them each perform a solo riff during the song. It was a fun number and Rob and the band clearly enjoyed performing it.
As his closing number, Rob chose “Anthem” from Chess and sang it to perfection. All hints of a cold were absent and the audience went wild. The irrepressible Jane Elissa came onstage to announce that Rob would follow Catherine Hickman, Thom Christopher, Laurie Beechman, Bob Cuccioli and Douglas Sills as the winner of the “Shining Star” award. Rob will be honored in October on behalf of the Leukemia Society. As an encore, Rob surprised everyone with “From This Day On,” a number from Frank Wildhorn’s upcoming show Svengali.
RE: I had a great time doing the concert and it helped me put things in line to complete the recording of my CD. Now I just need a night off.
TS: So what is next for Robert Evan? More concerts, more personalities?
RE: Well, I see myself staying in Jekyll & Hyde through the year 2000 and I hope to have my new CD, Moments, released by the fall. After that, I’ll consider my options.
TS: Where will fans be able to get your CD?
TS: Well, it will be available on my web site and in stores. One of the things we’re working on is the distribution details, but I want to see it in stores where fans can easily get to it.
TS: Would you like to do another Wildhorn show?
RE: That could be fun if he has anything good for me in Havana, Svengali or any of his other upcoming shows.
TS: What about The Phantom of the Opera? You seemed to enjoy doing “Music of the Night.”
RE: Well, if it was offered or a possibility, it is something I would love to explore. I mean it is one of the greatest shows ever to hit Broadway and I think I could sing the role well. I would also love to see Chess restaged and I think I would be great for the part if it gets produced.
TS: Who are your musical heroes?
RE: Well, as theatre performers, I would have to say Colm Wilkinson and Anthony Warlow. Colm has a great sounding voice and has been a huge influence on me. Anthony Warlow has some of the best phrasing in the business. Outside of theatre I would have to say I’m a big Billy Joel fan and, of course, Tom Jones. I also like Tony Bennett.
TS: Well, thank you for taking the time to talk with me and your fans on Talkin’ Broadway.
RE: You’re very welcome. I love doing things for the fans cause without them, all of us in the theatre would not have the chance to do what we all love doing.