'Da Noise, 'da Talent, 'da Duplex
Some brand-new talent on the club scene has been making waves over at The Duplex lately. Booking manager Wendy Rohan is working hard to rebuild a room that has vacillated over the past few seasons. This legendary venue, which turns 50 next year, has long been famous for starting many stellar careers. Now it seems to be back on the rebound.
Every so often a critic is lucky enough to experience greatness. Occasionally, that greatness comes in the form of an act that is highly implausible in an intimate setting. Such is the case with tap-dancing genius Omar A. Edwards, making his club debut at The Duplex in a show that is extraordinary.
Clearly, this is an unconventional, unlikely artist, performing a most individualistic show in a cabaret setting. There is almost no patter. He doesn't sing. He doesn't tell jokes. If there is a throughline to his magical set, it is, in his own words, "A man with dreams... living in the moment." He conveys many emotions through his frenetic footwork, and the results are wondrous. The whole show is a simple and brilliant tour de force of rhythmic jazz tap dancing by a very gifted artist backed by six amazing musicians-pianist, violinist, flutist-sax player, bass, and bongo player. Edwards says more with his lightning-fast feet than do those seasoned pros who attempt to show angst with banal patter and songs that have little to do with who they are.
This is greatness. What Edwards may lack in structure and sophistication, he amply makes up for by dancing at mind-boggling speed to driving rhythms of the band. He reaches his audience in a way that is very street-like, raw and riveting. (Don't expect Fred Astaire!) He soulfully communicates emotions. And, isn't communication what's missing from too many stages-and lives?
Coming to cabaret from Broadway's "Bring in' da Noise, Bring in' da Funk" and "Savion Glover's Downtown," Omar A. Edwards is proof of the diversity found in clubs. This dancing renegade astounds the crowd with his virtuosity. At one point, after mentioning that his mother came from Africa, he removes his shoes and "taps" barefoot almost tribal-style in a turn that is almost spiritual, and totally astonishing.
It's all so unpretentious and powerful-his talent just leaps across the footlights sending messages. (These, admittedly, are not always clear. I would suggest he tell us about himself.) I urge everyone not to miss this mammoth talent. He deserves support and recognition. See him at The Duplex, Fridays at 8 pm, throughout July.
Also at The Duplex, TV sitcom actor Danny Pintauro, from "Who's the Boss?," is making his local debut in "The Velocity of Gary" throughout July. Known to millions for eight years as the nerdy kid starring opposite Tony Danza and Judith Light, Pintauro, who is openly gay, plays the role of a na™ve street hustler in this 90-minute one-man play.
Pintauro relives Gary's life as a hustler through a series of over-zealous, redundant vignettes. For instance, he sells his plasma to keep from starving. A friend introduces him to phone sex and hustling. He loves the friend, who has a girlfriend who is dying. In one of the play's most muddled moments, she leaves her newborn to be raised by this n'er-do-well. The writing is very dark, with little humor and less substance. Yet Pintauro's performance holds the audience. If it weren't for his insightful delineation of his character, this play wouldn't hold up. He is an actor of considerable range and his skillful portrayal of Gary carries the clich -ridden play, which is overrun with many vapid lines-"This leather jacket stands for a religion."
Mark Cannistraro's carefully crafted direction overrides playwright James Still's lines. The play is well-explored territory and the dialogue doesn't move. Pintauro manages to rise above this retreaded material and comes out quite the winner. He was commanding and vulnerable without pandering to obvious clich s. Without his strong performance, "The Velocity of Gary" would sink. Pintauro's strong performance makes this weak play worthwhile. It's at The Duplex throughout July. For information on dates, call (212) 414-5234.
Another debut at The Duplex is Klea Blackhurst, who's running Fridays in July. She's a breath of fresh air. This gal has a lot going for her and is sure to make a mark in cabaret. Her animated personality and riotous bantering with the audience alone make this outing impressive. Hearing her recall her Salt Lake City roots was a riot-especially stalking Donny Osmond's house to get an autograph.
Likening herself to Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, and her own boisterous mother, Blackhurst brims over with chatty anecdotes that are hysterical. Her explanation of the seriousness of Jell-O consumption in Utah was sidesplitting. She even accompanied herself on the ukulele ("The Walkman of the '20s!") while wistfully singing "Mountain Greenery," in a delightful moment. Other highlights included some bravura yodeling as she sang "Yodeling Muchacha" with a sassy obbligato trumpet solo that was a hit. For someone so new to this milieu (she's a musical theatre veteran), Blackhurst is definitely off to a good start. She's at The Duplex, July 22 and 29, at 8 pm.q q
Uptown at Don't Tell Mama, dynamic singer John Ayres is just getting his feet wet in cabaret. This young man, with a strong voice and a winning personality, has quite a lot of going for him. Though he's still in the early stages, he impressed me with a vibrant reading of "West End Avenue," and a thrilling reading of "A New World," from "Jekyll & Hyde." Both were well sung with passion and depth. While at times he belts louder than necessary (as on "Pure Imagination"), Ayres has the chops to bring the house down once he hones his craft and trims some overly personal patter.
In my last column, I talked a bit about the dangers of an autobiographical show of milestones. Well, Ayres chose to go that route. Like many other beginners, he fell into traps as he divided his show into sections about his family-and not enough about himself. I might suggest a director for guidance. For now, I look forward to watching this talent grow.
In the clubs: Broadway's Gene Barry is at The Algonquin's Oak Room, through July 31.... Singer-songwriter Tim DiPasqua's new show, "Songwriter," runs every Friday in August, at Don't Tell Mama, 8 pm.... Broadway's Christine Noll performs an evening of jazz at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, at the Westbank, Fridays, July 23 and 30, at 9 pm.... Jazz legend Helen Merrill returns to Birdland with guest trumpeter Tom Harrel, Thurs.-Sat., July 22-24, at 9 and 11 pm.... Singer-pianist Paul Burke is Upstairs at Rose's Turn, Thurs., Aug. 5, at 9 pm.