If life were fair, Eric Michael Gillett would be a Broadway or Metropolitan Opera superstar choosing between the kinds of roles formerly offered to Alfred Drake, Robert Preston, John Raitt, or, more recently, Michael Crawford, before he turned into a 350-pound canary. But life is not just, which just may be our blessing. Superstardom would have limited Eric Michael to doing only one thing brilliantly, and limited our cultural vistas. On the positive side, impoverished culture vultures like most of us can get up close and personal to this as-good-as-it-gets interpreter of song at intimate cabaret rooms like Don't Tell Mama, The Laurie Beechman Theater, the late, lamented Feinstein's at the Regency and even at the slightly more pricey 54Below for a modest cover charge plus the cost of two drinks.
The best way to aptly describe Eric Michael Gillett's infinite talents and commanding presence is is just to say he's an outstanding, versatile, multifaceted, conceptual and creative artist in every sense of every word. Actor? Yes, but also a singer. Tenor or Baritone? Both and probably capable of uncovering the basso hidden in his vocal chords should the need arise. Teacher/mentor? And how! with 135 private students plus 50 more enrolled in his acting classes at HB Studios and the Singers Forum where he also directs the Actors Equity Scholarship Program. His working graduates include the now-performing-shows-of-her-own-at-the-age-of-80 Cookie Stark, a beginner who Gillett taught to "talk dirty to the animals," Gillett was also was the singing Ringmaster at Barnum & Bailey's circus for 10 years, starred in regional theater, performed on Broadway in several musicals including Sondheim's The Frogs at Lincoln Center, and is a swell singer of Sondheim in Sondheim Unplugged. He's also a very sought after director and co-creator. His clients include stars like Karen Akers -- she trusted him enough to sing something beside ballads; KT Sullivan -- he turned her journey from the sticks to Broadway into a thrill ride; Grammy Winner Lari White; Broadway's "Frankie Valli" -- Jarrod Spector and as of Feb. 7, 2013, Tovah Feldshuh, who we all know would never hire anyone but the best. Directing her show may have given Eric Michael kosher certification. But enough of his glorious past, let's move on to his illustrious present, most specifically, his current show, Careless Rhapsody: The Lyrics of Lorenz Hart.
Gillett arrives on stage looking like a million bucks, with a spectacular haircut, an immaculate open-collar dress shirt and an exquisitely pressed obviously tailor-made tuxedo. He commands the stage and audience as if they were born just to watch him perform. The man really know hows to work a mic. When he sings, exquisite tones fill the room. Wotta delivery! Not a trace of middle-aged vibrato.
His musical director, Don Rebic has supplied him with spectacular arrangements packed with sexy diminished chords that seem like foreplay. Dick Scarpola on bass ain't chopped liver either. What was most amazing about Gillett's program was how it gave me new insight into Hart's familiar lyrics. I had always considered Hart clever and witty, but Gillett gives Hart's words real meaning and expresses their pain. The familiar phrases pass through Gillett's brain and then through his heart so that the sadness which pervaded Larry Hart's days and nights becomes evident and touching, but never boring. My husband Alvin, that long-suffering saint, has been known to fall asleep on the third note of a ballad, but Eric Michael's delivery kept him wide awake and applauding loudly.
Gillett is a mature singer who touches you with his ability to understand and express his knowledge of human nature. It's hard to say which songs he does best, because he does them all so well. "Little Girl Blue" is a tour de force. "My Funny Valentine" tears your heart out. There's no phony sentimentality, no false notes, just the facts of love -- exhilaration touched with sadness mixed with bitterness and even outright hostility as in "I Wish I Were in Love Again."
Hart's poetry deserves to be sung by a great troubadour with great range like Eric Michael Gillett. They really do each other justice. Gillett is a mature singer who touches you with his ability to express and share his knowledge of life. He brought tears to my eyes with "It Never Entered my Mind." It had never entered my mind that this was a sad song.
And just when you think there will be no more surprises, for an encore, Eric Michael Gillett invites three adorable young songbirds help him sing for his supper which made me very happy to pay for mine.
Eric Michael Gillett will be appearing in I Lost it at the Movies at the Laurie Beechman Theater on Feb. 17th and will be singing the lyrics of Lorenz Hart at 54Below on Feb. 26 and 27.