By John Hoglund
JARON VESELY “Swingers & Standards” - Metropolitan Room .A Newcomer Not Afraid to Take Risks. Cabaret has always been full of surprises. And nobody gets attention sitting in the back of the bus. Enter Jaron Veseley.
While most cabaret acts (particularly debuts) are often structured around strict thematic concepts, it takes a certain chutzpah to buck the trend and take risks – really big risks. Such was the case with singer Jaron Vesely who recently made an impressive solo debut in a mixed set he called “Swingers & Standards” at Metropolitan Room at Gotham. Previously, his cabaret experiences have been as part of the musical comedy group Fabulous Pink Flamigos!
Hence, this was a maiden voyage with Miles Philips deftly steering the ship as director, and the band, led by superb musical director/arranger Scott Bradlee. Vesely (which is pronounced like Elvis Presley) sailed through an ambitious, albeit risky, hour that he ultimately carried off with aplomb. One left the show with the feeling that this is the start of something big.
However, it got off to an uneven start. Performing with an in-your-face theatrical flair, Vesely's show had more than one theme going on that, at various stages, was funny, poignant and confusing. It all started with him belting out several overblown arrangements in a bigger-than-life loungy manner that bordered on overkill. He affected his strong baritone with a somewhat nasaly belt that was almost stinging at times. That, along with some ongoing asides about “what Jews do” and other lame bits of silliness resulted in an initial turn off. A little lounge lizard goes a long way. Oozing an abundance of self-satisfaction didn't help. Embellishing the distortionsabout lounge types, combined with the aforementioned, made it appear as though he didn't know where to draw the line. Opening with the Michael Buble'-Andrew Van Slee “Peroxide Swing” in medley with Stevie Wonder's “Sir Duke,” he was soon into the jazz standard “It Don't Mean A Thing” (Ellington-Mills.) His between-song patter was peppered with some talent show level shtick.
Between joking around, he moved on to spit-fire readings of “On the Street Where You Live” (Lerner-Loewe) and a saccharine-laden “I'm Always Chasing Rainbows” (Carroll/Chopin). At the top, he was laying it on a bit too thick. The band, in spite of some strong arrangements, was too loud forcing him to compensate as his impressive belt frequently segued into a piercing yell. Very risky business. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Why risk turning off some of your audience at the start (though, clearly, the room was filled with over-zealous family and friends who cheered his every breath)? Several of the songs were prefaced with off-beat anecdotes that served little purpose other than to get a guffaw. Not a hint of a real throughline. And, in spite of some razzle dazzle showing off, not much sincerity. Where was this going?
However, there were pluses. Vesely projected a bright charm and an off-kilter blend of self-deprecating zaniness that grew more endearing as the show moved along. But, too much of this was negated by such a brash approach. Enough. He was spoofing lounge singers. We got the message. Next.
Then, like a bolt from gods at Valhalla, it happened. After a kinetic version of “Hard Hearted Hannah” (Ager-Yellen-Bigelow-Bates), Vesely sang an upbeat, well-paced “Help Me” by Joni Mitchell. Again, a bit louder than necessary. But the song and Veseley were centered and it was delivered with a passion that had been missing thus far. It was only the beginning. Starting with a carefree “Come On-A My House,” a campy hit by Rosemary Clooney in the 1950s that she later called “cheesy,” he took an artistic leap and glided into Jeff Buckley's bittersweet torcher “Lover, You Should Have Come Over.” That song caused his act to dramatically switch gears as well as serve as a a conduit for what was to follow. The scene changed. Suddenly, this lounge lizard who was full of bravado, had the audience in the palm of his hands – sans jokes and other gimmickry. They were really listening to the words with rapt attention. With this painful dirge about lost love, he turned his act into something with breadth and a vulnerability that had, heretofore, been missing. It only got better with another intimate torch classic, " 'Round Midnight” (Monk-Hanighen), which became the melancholic yearning of a romantically besotted lover. A lively pop-rock medley he called “I'm A Swingle Lady” followed which spoofed several contemporary angst-ridden attempts at love and today's airhead video high-jinks that get airplay by the likes of Beyonce, Britney Spears, Kelly Clarkson, Lady GaGa, Fergie and Pink. It was all cleverly arranged as a cheesy swing medley by Jesse Vargas, showing Veseley's flair for real comedy. What followed next was riveting; a powerful “Misery” written by Pink and Steven Tyler (this has to be a first in cabaret), which created a pin-dropper moment. The set had turned into big league cabaret with one song. A trenchant “Story of My Life” by Bernstein- Comden & Green,” a beauty (oddly) dropped from Wonderful Town, was perfection. Here, Vesely revealed even stronger evidence to support the fact that he is off to a rousing start in cabaret with what looks like one of the most outstanding solo debuts of the year. Vesely turned this piece of romantic kitsch into something genuine and touching.
Throughout his show, Vesely took chances in a complex show that chided swing tunes and contemporary standards. Mostly, he proved what so many have learned: cabaret is the ideal jumping off point as well as a place to work out the kinks before moving up the ladder. With this solo debut, Jaron Vesely secured his place in the roster of today's talented new artists on the rise, setting the new standards as cabaret continues to reinvent itself. After what seemed like an uneven, bumpy start, it all came together in a terrific show that shouldn't go unnoticed when awards are passed out. Vesely has the goods necessary to gain a lot of attention and move to the next level of what promises to be a bright future. And, he also has the chops to shine on Broadway if he chooses to go that route. One of his last numbers was the Kander and Ebb “Sing Happy.” And that sums up Jaron Vesely and his future.
Jaron Vesely will be returning to Metropolitan Room with this show on Sept. 11 and 27, 2009.