Thanks to high school theater and vocal music programs—and to TV’s “Glee”—there’s a growing population of tweens, teens and college students embracing Broadway and Great American Songbook fare
That was evident by the Oct. 13 performance by Jonathan Groff. While not a household name beyond the theater geek set, Groff filled the house with a younger crowd than this joint is used to seeing. I’m still not sure if they were drawn because of Groff’s recurring role on “Glee” or because of his lead in the original company of Broadway’s “Spring Awakening.” Most likely a combo. Having seen him in both, though, I still wasn’t prepared for the most charismatic entertainer I’ve seen yet on the Cabaret stage.
Groff opened with a rousing “Life of the Party” from the musical “The Wild Party,” segued into a cast-him-in-the-show-already song from “The Last Five Years,” offered a hint of the power of “Spring Awakening” with the tender “Left Behind” (followed by a hilarious recounting of forgetting the lyrics during a performance), gave insight into his Lancaster County, PA, roots leading to a surprisingly committed version of Weird Al Yankovich’s “Amish Paradise” rap, and triumphed with an equally funny and virtuosic “The Lonely Goatherd” (accented by the story of a gastric challenged “Sound of Music” kid).
Beyond Groff’s charm and musical talent, what made his set work so well? For one, the banter with the audience and his band didn’t feel overly rehearsed. At the same time, it didn’t feel sloppy. He avoided the “and then I did this show/then I did this show” chronology that has hindered many a Broadway performer trying cabaret. For the most part, he made surprising song selections that nonetheless played to his strengths. (Although I wouldn’t mind if the Cabaret banned the overdone “Moon River”). And he avoided catering to “Glee’ fans by including too much pop.
I’m hoping he inspired many of the young performers who attended the concerts and worked with him during an afternoon master class. My only fear is that some may, after seeing Groff’s set, throw in the towel. If this is the competition at an audition, who else stands a chance?