Live in Living Color: Stage and Screen Star Aaron Tveit is "Alive" in NYC Cabaret Debut
By Michael Gioia
Stage and screen star Aaron Tveit makes his New York City cabaret debut in a sold-out — and very buzzed-about — engagement at the swank Manhattan nightspot 54 Below. Playbill.com was there.
When tickets for Aaron Tveit's solo concert at 54 Below sold out in less than five minutes, it was clear that the dashing leading man (a Link Larkin and a Fiyero in the respective hit musicals Hairspray and Wicked, the original Gabe in Next to Normal and Frank Abagnale, Jr. in Catch Me If You Can, and the Enjolras of the starry Les Misérables film adaptation) had become a hot commodity in the Broadway community.
The room at 54 Below — filled mostly with "fangirls" in their teens and early twenties — was "alive" May 9, the second performance in Tveit's run through May 18, as the crowd awaited the singer taking the stage. Entering to a thunderous applause, Tveit kicked off the evening with "I'm Alive," his famous solo from the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Next to Normal.
The evening, which began at 9:30 PM, celebrated songs that Tveit connected with on a personal level. Before his second tune, he explained his first brush with theatre and the moment that he realized he could call the stage his home: when he was cast in West Side Story, the Tony Award-winning classic by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, his junior year of high school at Middletown High School in Middletown, NY. He gave a quick shout out to classmates from the 2000 company who were in attendance at 54 Below and then launched into "Something's Coming," perfectly mixing the high A at the end of the number.
The actor confessed that, although his stage success has been in contemporary works, he is a huge fan of legit musical theatre and offered a warm rendition of "If I Loved You" from Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel that led immediately into his take on Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love" (recently made popular by Adele), which was different from most versions. Tveit, inspired by Garth Brooks and his dad's love for country music, put a Southern twang on the ballad — a nod to his father.
"When I Was Your Man," a radio hit from Bruno Mars, was next. What was Tveit's special connection to the song? Not much, he confessed. "That was completely indulgent!" he said with a laugh. While the actor has a great knack for the classics, who could resist his belting, runs, riffs and vocal embellishments? Not the crowd at 54 Below!
Throughout the evening, Tveit also touched upon his college experience at Ithaca College, where he began as a Vocal Performance major, but decided to switch his focus to Musical Theatre. (He said that he had his parents' blessing to pursue a career in theatre.) "What You'd Call a Dream," a song written by Craig Carnelia for the musical revue Diamonds, was a piece "thrown" at him by friends his freshman year at Ithaca, and the first tune he performed for his professors. He revisited the touching song again in his 54 Below concert.
In the midst of college, Tveit was cast as the Mark and Roger understudy in the national tour of Jonathan Larson's Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning Rent. He talked about his time on the road and in the 2010 Hollywood Bowl production — in which he starred as Roger opposite Skylar Astin as Mark and Vanessa Hudgens as Mimi — and then offered "One Song Glory."
Another highlight of the evening was the lesser-known "I Could Be in Love With Someone Like You," from Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years, which was seen in the musical's Chicago premiere and later replaced by "Shiksa Goddess" — both made famous by original Last Five Years star and Tveit's Tony-winning Catch Me If You Can co-star Norbert Leo Butz — for Off-Broadway. He followed with Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk's popular ballad "Run Away With Me" from The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown, a song that he performed the last time he sang in a New York City concert (here's the YouTube video, one of the best performances of "Run Away With Me" on the internet); Billy Joel's "She's Always A Woman"; and Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You."
After offering his take on Taylor Swift's "We Are Never, Ever, Getting Back Together," Tveit said with a laugh, "[The song is] catchy as sh*t!" The crowd, it should be noted, sang along as Tveit — looking dapper in a powder blue collared shirt and vest — rocked out.
For his last number, Tveit said "Goodbye," the final song in the 2011 Tony Award-nominated Best Musical Catch Me If You Can. It was his first time singing the song in New York — sans his May 3 concert — since his starring turn as Frank Abagnale, Jr. in Catch Me If You Can. A standing ovation followed.
In case you weren't among the few to score a ticket to Tveit's run, Broadway Records will record "The Radio In My Head: Live At 54 Below," a live solo album based on his engagement.
(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)
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