A Double Take on Juan Pablo di Pace
A double take on Juan Pablo di Pace with two reviews!
By Joel Benjamin and Monica Charline-Brown
(by Joel Benjamin)
There’s no denying that Juan Pablo di Pace is an incredibly handsome man, even better looking in person than his photographs. There’s also no denying that he is a charismatic performer whose An Evening with Juan Pablo di Pace walked the rapt Feinstein’s/54 Below audience through the ups and downs of his career (although how anyone this good looking could have had any downs, is a mystery).
Born in Argentina, he studied in London where his career took off after a period of grim, but satisfying jobs. His decision to go into show business was expressed in “Join the Circus” (Cy Coleman/Michael Stewart). He managed to get into a company of Saturday Night Fever from which he sang “Night Fever” (Barry Gibb). His sexy disco dance in a tiny space, gave just a glimpse of what audiences saw.
One of his jobs was as a caretaker to an autistic man/boy whom he managed to get to a performance of the ballet Swan Lake, a performance which caused this fellow to break into happy tears, a rare expression of pleasure from a person unused to it. “Nature Boy” (Eden Abbez), the sad Nat King Cole classic, was a sweet way for di Pace to describe his patient/friend to the audience, singing it with a quiet amusement.
Somehow di Pace conflated the character of Marta from Kiss of the Spider Woman with his powerful mom, sang the bittersweet “Marta” (John Kander/Fred Ebb) which featured some exquisite harmonies from his expert band led by Charlie Alterman who also joined di Pace in with some lovely backup vocals.
Di Pace worked on the filmed version of Mamma Mía in which he had a chance not only to dance with its star, the legendary Meryl Streep, but give her a massage! Her wisecrack to him during the bodywork revealed how down to earth Ms. Streep can be! “The Winner Takes It All” (Benny Andersson/Björn Ulvaeus), sung with a wink and admiration for his “co-star,” showed off di Pace’s big voice.
His career included winning the lead in a film about Jesus (“All I Ever Wanted” by Stephen Schwartz) achieved after many auditions and some semi-mystical experience, a TV series (the joy of which expressed with Stephen Sondheim’s witty “More”) and the musical Chicago (a tongue-in-cheek “All I Care About is Love” by Kander and Ebb).
He expressed what he has learned from his life, his family and show business in a clear-eyed, beautifully sung “Both Sides Now” (Joni Mitchell), in a long angelic arrangement giving each of his musicians, particularly Mairie Dorman on cello, expressive solos.
Juan Pablo di Pace has it all: looks, voice, talent, charisma. This program was a welcome intimate look at his work.
(by Monica Charline-Brown)
You might recognize this handsome Argentine as Fernando Hernandez-Guerrero, the ex-husband of Kimmy Gibbler, from Netflix’s Fuller House. His other notable claims to fame include Jesus Christ in A.D. The Bible Continues (NBC) and Petros in the Mamma Mia movie. What you may not know is that Juan Pablo’s roots are firmly planted in musical theatre. Having played the iconic roles of Danny Zuko in the Italian version of Grease, Tony Manero in Madrid’s Saturday Night Fever, and the Billy Flynn understudy in West End’s Chicago, it was clear Juan Pablo is passionate about singing, dancing, and acting. He radiated pure joy on the stage of Feinstein’s/54 Below Wednesday night. An idea that was planted in his head seven years ago, it was an absolute pleasure to watch him achieve his dream of headlining the distinguished New York venue. Cheering him on from the audience were EGOT Rita Moreno, sitcom queen Fran Drescher, and the blossoming starlet Sophia Anne Caruso.
Juan Pablo di Pace is a bona fide musical theater buff. One of his first tunes of the evening was Cy Coleman’s “Join the Circus” from the musical Barnum, which established himself early on as a song and dance man. Right after, he brought the house down with “Night Fever,” complete with the swagger and groove to pull it off. Later on he revealed his favorite musical theatre composer as Stephen Sondheim, and paid a picture perfect tribute to him with an energetic “More” from the musical film Dick Tracy.
Juan Pablo’s love for the musical theater genre obviously extends beyond selling the song. One of the highlights of his show was his take on the anthem “Marta.” I could tell how deeply he connected to the story of Kiss of the Spider Woman, set in Argentina around the time he was growing up there. Equal parts of me swooned hearing the ballad sung in his natural accent along with his display of emotional and vocal control in the strong and tender moments.
This leads to where Juan Pablo truly excelled: exposing his big heart. He told the story of when he moved to London to study theater at 19. To save up for a theatrical program, he looked after an autistic man with Tourrrete’s Syndrome named Phillip. Undercover from the company that employed him, Juan Pablo took Phillip to a production of Swan Lake. Panicking that it might have been a huge mistake, Juan Pablo described how touched he was when Phillip started crying and said he was happy. This poignancy and love for both humanity and art, and how they are capable of intertwining, was brilliantly expressed in Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy.”
If you aren’t impressed enough, Juan Pablo has recently gotten into songwriting. Surprise: he’s great at that, too! He performed an original song he co-wrote with Josh Olsen called “Broken.” In the popular music category, he fiercely covered Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature,” Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” and George Michael’s “Freedom 90.” Of course, Juan Pablo also sang in Spanish, doing so marvelously with “Piensa En Mi,” a song he sang at a talent competition where he won a parrot when he was a kid.
Juan Pablo couldn’t leave out paying homage to his Mamma Mia days with a masterful “The Winner Takes It All.” The house died for the Meryl Streep stories that went along. The first day of filming, he partnered with Ms. Streep for the “Voulez-Vous” dance, and was so nervous he stepped all over her toes. Later on, he was staged to sit on top of her and massage her back. Naturally, he was squatting for his life, and the story revealed she turned around after about 45 minutes and blurted out: “Juan Pablo, just sit on my ass.”
Possibly his best song of the night was “All I Ever Wanted” from Stephen Schwartz’s The Prince of Egypt. He revealed that this soundtrack accompanied his journey while playing the role of Jesus. With a reading that has been in the works for a while, do I predict a dream casting for this Broadway bound production?
Ultimately, what made Juan Pablo shine was his combination of humility, heart, and confidence in the work. Of course, he could not have done it without the mega talented musical director and arranger Charlie Alterman at the piano, Michael Blanco on bass, Eric Davis on guitar, Eric Halvorson on drums and Mairi Dorman on cello. Looking forward to where Juan Pablo’s sparkling career takes him next.
An Evening with Juan Pablo di Pace (February 21, 2017)
254 West 54th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
New York, NY
For tickets, call 646-476-3551 or visit www.54Below.com