Kyle Dean Massey Returns to 54 Below

 

Kyle Dean Massey

 

by Matt Smith

 

 

There ain’t no party like a Kyle Dean party, and diehard Massey fans and first-timers alike found that statement all too true when the acclaimed performer stepped up to the mic! Though the Broadway heartthrob opts to not subtitle his high-octane self-titled solo show, performed July 11th, 13th, & 15th at intimate supper club Feinstein’s/54 Below, the evening is such a pure feel-good romp, it could easily be affixed with the label: “Simple Joys.” And no, not just because it’s a nod to the classic song from Pippin, in which Massey played the titular role in 2014 (though, incidentally, he does include the number within the evening’s array of songs, elaborate hula-hoop routine and all). Because that addendum wholly encapsulates the spirit of the evening. That’s what this compilation of songs is for him… be they ones from shows he was in, or ones to which he just loves to jam out. They have special meaning, stir up memories, and/or solidify a moment in time. They’re just as the song says — pure, “simple joy” — and he unashamedly wears that joy on his face from beginning to end.

While the sequence of the eclectic set list — chock-full of Broadway fan faves and contemporary pop hits — is inspiring as is, it’s interesting to consider why Massey specifically chooses the songs he does.  On the surface, the show is presented, for the most part, as a clear-cut run-down of his résumé, with obligatory stops at Wicked, Pippin, Nashville, and the like (natch!), all interspersed with personal stories that set up the number to come. But he turns each song on its head as only he can do, not only to better suit his silky smooth pipes, but again, to be pertinent to a situation or experience uniquely personal to him. It’s all done with effortless aplomb, from a gender-bending take on a Next to Normal favorite, to a refreshingly stripped-down Bridges of Madison County ballad, sung to new husband, Taylor Frey, to a repurposed Lin-Manuel Miranda tune which serves as a surprisingly moving ode to the city that never sleeps (and no… it’s the one you think!)

As mentioned, when he’s not mixing and melding all his favorite tunes, he’s keeping the mood light with a cavalcade of personal stories. Just as varied as the numbers he sings, this treasure trove of tales reveal all sorts of scintillating secrets — from what book he read onstage at N2N to how he combatted culture shock while living in Korea to how his fervent fascination with a certain encyclopedia prompted an eventual transition to New York full-time.

Of course, he doesn’t do it alone. From his perch at the piano, the eternally-giddy Benjamin Rauhala (musical director) proves to be the perfect second banana to his muse, throwing in off-kilter commentary and topical jabs at just the right moment, keeping Massey on his toes throughout the night. Equally enjoyable is his electrifying band of three — Alex Eckhardt (Bass), Eric Davis (Guitar) and Jeff Roberts (Drums) — as is the aforementioned Frey, who soars in his own right, when he joins his husband in a poignant rendition of “Theme Song” from The View UpStairs (in which, to keep with the theme of the evening, Frey appeared).

All pretty enticing fare on its own, don’t you think? Indeed, but Massey, as most cabaret performers are wont to do, throws us an extra curveball. The show is so brilliantly constructed in this narrative style, it not only tells a story within each number, from song to song, but with the show as a whole — from beginning to end.

The individual stories and numbers he sings are all part of a greater whole, which serves to emphasize his career trajectory and growth from theatre geek in Jonesboro, AR to bonafide Broadway leading man, and effectively communicate how proud he is to have actually reached the final destination he so longed for as a kid.

There’s a reason — it’s not by coincidence — that the show begins with a song about a boy whose “life seemed purposeless and flat…who never learns how to be free,” and ends with a song that defiantly declares, “Something has changed within me….And if I’m flying solo, at least I’m flying free!”

He’s flying free all right. And the struggles in his journey make it all the more fulfilling that not only did he, in fact, “find him some simple joys,” he’s able to celebrate and live out each of them every day. And that, as evident by his jubilant performance, is definitely something to sing about.

 

Having performed his self-titled solo show at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) on July 11th, 13th, and 15th, Kyle Dean Massey will return to the venue on September 20th and 22nd. For tickets and more information, visit www.kyledeanmassey.com or www.54below.com.

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