Jason Graae’s Graaetest Hits (The Sequel)
By: Alix Cohen
November 3, 2022: Take a Jason Graae show for what ails you. The outside world gives way to laughter and heart quicker than you can raise a glass. Graae is the whole enchilada. A thinking man’s clown thinly veiled by vaudevillian charm, he gracefully moves – lurches, flails, gestures, jumps on the piano knees first, and pointedly doesn’t tap dance despite hauling out a wood board and donning the shoes. The artist annotates lyrics with rubber facial expression we haven’t seen since Jules Munshin, yet never over-camps. Comic timing, including quick and cheeky responses to his audience, is impeccable.
Launching with levity, Graae begins with “I’m Calm,” or rather, “c-c-c-c-calm.” He (purposely) misses his vocal entrance and on “where others might hurry, I stroll,” plasters himself against the piano, arms spread as if blown by a strong wind – then pivots: “No! don’t look at me…trying to place the name – Jason Gray – GRAAE!” he continues, segueing into the second Stephen Sondheim song. At this point, the performer inserts and single-mindedly rotates a Q-tip in his nostrils, leaving a pandemic test to ferment on the piano top. The room is in stitches.
“Just a Gigolo” (Leonard Casucci/Julius Brammer/Irving Caesar) arrives in an ersatz Maurice Chevalier version with gargles and bleats, but make no mistake, Graae can and does sing – well. ( The COVID tests proves negative.) Over the years, the artist repeatedly worked with both Jerry Herman and Stephen Sondheim. “I have quite a history with both of them,” he snickers, “none of which I can talk about tonight.” The quip rides tandem with genuine admiration and droll, self effacing anecdotes. We hear Herman’s “Marianne” (The Grand Tour in which the artist starred) and Sondheim’s “”No, Mary Ann” (Billy Goldman’s television production of The Thing of It Is).
A rendition of Stephen Schwartz’ “Popular” (Graae played the wizard in Wicked) is aimed at MD/pianist Gerald Sternbach, the entertainer’s captive, good-natured foil. “I’ll teach you proper poise/When you talk to Goys,” he sings. “Does Seth Rudetsky (writer/producer/pianist/radio host) have brains or talent?! Graae leans back freezing, moth agawp – “He’s POPULAR!…lar, lar, lar…” The audience, crammed with entertainers, erupts.
Alan Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (Here I am at Camp Granada)”, skips in with italic eyebrows and a kid’s deep breath before each lyric. Cast in the show of the same name, the avowed Unitarian panicked he didn’t “get it.” Clearly that issue was resolved as Graae went on to act in a number of successful “Jewsicals.”
What seem at first glance to be disparate song choices are artfully stitched together to reflect the performer’s professional trajectory. Moving to Los Angeles, Graae met “the love of my life,” to whom he’s now married despite a grave difference of opinion about salad bowls. (It sounds like quite a wedding.) “What More Can I Say” (William Finn) and “Married” (John Bucchino) are suffused with surprise and gratitude. The room is stilled by memory, empathy, and envy. It’s immensely moving.
An oboe medley of “Bewitched” showcases musicianship we’ve watched honed over the years. Not that Graae will leave us with anything but laughter. Al Carmines/Maria Irene Fornes’ satire of Brecht/Weill “The Moment Has Passed” offers a second encore giving the performer one last opportunity for highjinks.
The deftly constructed presentation feels freewheeling. Jason Graae is a delectable original. He should be seen at regular intervals for the health of one’s spirits.
Photos courtesy of Ron Fassler
Jason Graae’s Graest Hits (The Sequel)
Gerald Sternbach-Music Director/piano
Green Room 42