As the lights dimmed at 54 Below, the opening chords to the second act of Rent began to play and Matt Doyle entered to the underscoring of "Seasons of Love," noting that "of course" he would begin his night that way. After all, he admitted to seeing the Tony and Pulitzer-winning musical Rent 22 times and hitting the stage door "every time" after the show.
The singer, backed by a five-piece band, kicked off the May 22 concert at 54 Below with his rendition of "I'll Cover You (Reprise)." Bonnie Milligan, whom he met in the recent Off-Broadway staging of Ryan Scott Oliver's critically embraced Jasper in Deadland, joined Doyle (to belt out the accompanying "Seasons of Love" lyric) at the end of the number.
Following his opening, Doyle offered a selection from his EPs, "Daylight" and "Constant" — on which he collaborated with musical director, accompanist and songwriter Will Van Dyke (currently the associate conductor at Broadway's Kinky Boots and one of Playbill.com's Contemporary Musical Theatre Songwriters You Should Know). "If Morning Can't Wait," from his debut 2011 EP "Daylight," and "Can't Stay Here," off his 2012 EP "Constant" — demonstrating Doyle's effortless vocal abilities and sensible songwriting skills — were met with cheers from fans and friends, and Doyle thanked his band, most of whom previously worked with him in the studio. Steve Gilewski was on bass, with Allison Seidner on cello, Jeff Roberts on drums and Alec Berlin on guitar.
Doyle invited performer, friend and roommate Katie Gassert to the stage to join him for "The Origin of Love" from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (which currently plays Broadway's Belasco Theatre and stars Neil Patrick Harris). The performance, Doyle explained, wasn't a plea for his next Broadway outing, rather a request.
The two performed the song at the Monday night marriage of composer Ryan Scott Oliver to Broadway photographer Matthew Murphy. Doyle and Gassert were among the friends celebrating the couple May 19 at Brooklyn's Galapagos Art Space and were asked by many (including 54 Below director of programming and wedding guest Jennifer Ashley Tepper) to reprise their performance.
Nodding to the recent Playbill Playlist he created, Doyle — a lover of soul, R&B and pop — explored his soulful side with Adele's "Crazy For You," Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" and Foy Vance's "First of July" (Van Dyke's favorite to perform together). He took to his pop side with "The A Team" by Ed Sheeran and "Drink You Away" by Justin Timberlake, joking that he always had a thing for "blonde curly-haired dancers" (referring to boyfriend Ryan Steele of Broadway's Newsies and Matilda).
Without neglecting his musical theatre roots, Doyle invited Milligan back to the stage for "As Long as You're Mine" from Wicked. Milligan, known to her Twitter followers as @BeltingBonnie, took the roof off the cellar on 54th Street. The singer, who recently burst onto Off-Broadway territory and the New York City concert scene — performing in countless events since the start of the New Year — took the ending up in the Wicked tune, making stratospheric high notes seem effortless.
Doyle capped off the night with an original favorite ("What You Stole" from his "Constant" EP), an Alanis Morissette celebration ("Uninvited," featuring War Horse co-star Kate Pfaffl) and an encore ("Home" from his debut EP "Daylight").
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)