Eric Michael Gillett Widescreen: Songs from and About the Movies
By: John Hoglund
It is likely that Eric Michael Gillett ranks as the most popular man in cabaret these days. And with good reason. Among others, he's breathed new life into the shows of Karen Akers, Lari White and KT Sullivan directing major engagements that have been well received as well as mentoring a bevy of rising and struggling performers throughout the cabaret idiom. So it is no surprise that his latest ambitious foray in cabaret, Widescreen: Songs From and About the Movies, recently at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, was such a winner. With his rich baritone that jumps from a booming resonance to a smooth head voice along with natural acting talents, he manages to convey every emotion a lyric line has to offer. And he does it without a gimmick; Just the man talking to a captive room packed with his people absorbing everything he sings or speaks. His musical conversation is cozy cabaret at its best.
A former ringmaster of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus who is currently the new guest director of The Big Apple Circus, Gillett is comfortable in many arenas. He has appeared in notable productions on Broadway including, Kiss Me Kate and The Frogs and
Pooling this galaxy of complex songs into something that made sense was surely no easy task. What might have been a disaster in lesser hands, Gillett pulled it off with intelligence, panache and a wacky sense of fun. He not only painted his easel with a wide brush, he turned it all into a master class of how to make it work and still make the audience have a good time. He even intertwined his complex song list seamlessly with some theater and pop tunes as well. Some were songs that might otherwise disappear if not for cabaret. In doing so, the show became Gillett's most intensely ambitious to date.
Right from the start, it was special. Filled with a mind-boggling range of nuggets, it all started (appropriately) with a rousing “At The Moving Picture Ball (Santly-Johnson.) He then segued into a romantic medley that included, “Moon River” from “Breakfast At Tiffany's”(Mancini,) “Serenade Of Love” from “Travels With My Aunt” (Hatch-Trent,) “Somewhere In Time” (Barry-Kerchner,) from the film of the same name and another same title gem, “Three coins In the Fountain” (Styne-Cahn.) Some performers would have built a whole show based on an opening like that. In Gillett's case, it was only the beginning. The title was not just an idle hook. The sweet romanticism of other eras seems antiquated today with the advent of tasteless hip-hop and pop tunes offering malignant shallowness that today's younger audiences accept as something wonderful. Widescreen reminds us of the depth and heartfelt simplicity of an age we will not see again. His intelligent and whimsical patter held the room's attention throughout. Those ingredients alone, makes this show the stand out it was.
The rangy song list offered a fine balance of diversity from show off numbers like Stephen Bishop's pop anthem from 1985's “Separate Lives” to 1938's “Over The Rainbow” to Rupert Holmes' 2001 “Widescreen.” The introspective Amanda McBroom was represented with two gems, “Errol Flynn,” co-written with Gary Hunt, a melancholic reflection about her one time actor father who “received third or fourth billing” before he left her life and “Hope Floats,” a tune worthy of more attention co-written with Michelle Brourman. A fun set up led to a wildly campy version of Kander and Ebb's familiar paean “
Gillett was deftly accompanied by Jeff Cubeta and bassist Matt Wigton featuring many arrangements by Don Rebic. Two of his vocal protégés, Nina Kaneko and Kelly Mc Donald offered solos that showed they're right track for serious recognition.
Over the last decade, Mr. Gillett has emerged as much a sage as a talented musical performer. Such diversity is needed in the business of show and cabaret is lucky to have such an example of what can be done when one taps into their full potential and uses their natural gifts.