Steve Kazee is proud of the 2012 Tony Award he won for Best Performance as a Leading Male Actor in a Musical for his work in “Once.” But he wants to make sure the public knows that he also won a Best Musical Theatre Album Grammy for his work in the show.
Feigning annoyance that the Grammy award is often not mentioned along with his Tony when he is referenced, the self-deprecating Kazee was anything but a “celebrity diva”—an image he assiduously avoids, and proved as much during his 7 p.m. (the first of two one-night only shows) performance Saturday at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis
Kazee’s appearance in Indy was somewhat of a homecoming for the L.A. resident who is a native of Ashland, Ky. Introduced by Kazee early in his show were family members, including his dad and grandmother, from Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and Kentucky who were scattered throughout the room.
Cabaret audiences are accustomed to shows starring Broadway singers who often perform a mix of standards or show tunes so Kazee was quick to inform the crowd gathered for his show that his was “not your typical Broadway cabaret show.” And though he played several songs from “Once,” which itself isn’t a typical Broadway show, Kazee sang in a folk-rock style, strumming an acoustic guitar as he sang some of his original tunes as well as those written by lesser-known songwriters.
Early in the show Kazee informed the audience that when he becomes nervous, he cracks jokes, which make him come off to some as a “smart ass.” Continually bantering with the audience throughout, he charmed them with his sardonic wit. He was forced to employ it often as he interacted with the audience to keep things moving while tuning his guitar, affected by the high humidity in the room, between songs.
Kazee opened the show with “Faithful Heights” by Night Beds and quickly established that not only was he in possession of a richly toned baritone voice and a strong stage presence but also impressive acting chops which made him a captivating story teller.
“Working Titles” and “Beacon Hills” were other songs included in Kazee’s program, which consisted mostly of ballads. They were written by Seattle based Indie composer Damien Jurado, a songwriter who Kazee said he had a strong affinity for. Of special interest was Kazee’s heads up that he would be singing “Beacon Hills” in an upcoming episode of the Showtime TV series, “Shameless” of which he is a cast member.
“We Might be Dead by Tomorrow,” a song about living life to the fullest, by French singer Soko, was yet another song performed by Kazee that spoke to his sensibilities about not taking life for granted. It’s a philosophy that Kazee, who lost his beloved mother, his greatest influence, a few years ago, feels passionately about.
“On a Wire,” and “My Wild Love,” two of his own songs that Kazee performed, confirmed his preference for songs “about people who love, who lose, who long for love.”
Those who came to hear Kazee perform songs from the musical that won him his Tony AND Grammy were not disappointed when he sang “Gold” and “When Your Mind’s Made Up.” A special surprise for the audience was when he sang a duet of “Falling Slowly” with 18-year old Indianapolis resident Peri Barnhill. She is a young woman who sent Kazee a video of herself singing the song after he tweeted and asked for submissions from those interested in performing it with him on stage. Barnhill showed talent and poise as she performed with Kazee. A 2014 Roncalli High School graduate, the young performer is taking a “gap year” while she decides on a college with the right theater program.
A highlight of Kazee’s show occurred when he went off mic to venture forth into the house where he strolled through the crowd to serenade them with “I Like to Be Me When I’m With You.” Sounding a bit like Jim Croce and Cat Stevens in this particular song, Kazee endeared himself further to the crowd while singing lyrics such as these: “If I could be like Albert Einstein/I’d rather just be dumb and be with you/If I could sing like Frank Sinatra/I would rather sit and talk to you.” It was a song that reflected not only Kazee’s obvious humility also his willingness to be authentic.
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