Derek Klena at Feinstein’s/54 Below

Derek Klena

 

by Matt Smith

 

“You better call the cops and give ‘em warning / Sound the siren, bang the bell / A main marine rolls in this morning / On his way to raise some hell….”

Though they may not have adhered to the lyrics as exactly as they are written, there’s no question the party was definitely “on,” and the crowd was indeed having “some kinda time” when Derek Klena took the stage at Midtown hotspot Feinstein’s/54 Below last Monday night.

Accompanied by ever-trusty second banana Ben Rauhala on piano, and Main Stem instrumentalist Eric Davis on guitar, the dashing and debonair singing actor seamlessly glided through all facets of his life and career, weaving together stories and songs that best punctuated these milestone events.

From his childhood defined by classic Disney heroes straight through to a lesson learned in the forthcoming Jagged Little Pill and even an impromptu video viewing of his audition for America’s Most Talented Kids, he covers all the bases, leaving no path untrodden and no stone unturned, all in an attempt to enlighten us on the professional and personal peaks and pitfalls that led him to his current Broadway success status today.

And, much like his own story, the concert is an undeniable success. For one, the evening’s rhythm and pacing is quite superb. Rauhala’s standout arrangements pair the full numbers — which outline Klena’s more prominent career milestones, with the obligatory passes at Carrie, Wicked, and the aforementioned Dogfight — with truncated versions of other pop and musical theatre melodies, which cleverly serve to set up or “introduce” stories pertaining to the bigger event at hand. Of note, “West Covina” from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend underscores tales of his reality-show-heavy past — most of which took place in the CA hamlet (also his hometown) of the title — while a soupçon of Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” precedes a musical ode to his wife, Elycia Scriven, capped off with the story of his marriage proposal via avocado toast.

The stories, interspersed between numbers, are quite informative as well. Whether discussing how he nudged his UCLA baseball coach to allow him to compete in American Idol’s coveted “Hollywood Week,” (“As you can imagine, he was quite confused,” Klena says with a laugh), or how a random Facebook message from a certain Main Stem celebrity essentially launched his professional theatre career, he’s equally swoon-worthy and suave in his delivery, much to the delight of the (mostly female-dominated) crowd.

On that note, he, too, is a natural with his audience; he’s got the ladies, again, in the palm of his hand, and he knows exactly how to bait them further, at one point offering one lucky member the chance to sing with him onstage, and at another, indulging in a singular “Bieber Medley,” inspired by the pop star-esque bowl cut he sported in his Wicked days. He even brings former Anastasia co-star Christy Altomare in on the fun, who joins him in a song they not only sang together onstage, but sang in their first (and last) callback paired together — the callback that cemented them as Broadway’s next screen-to-stage twosome.

But on the whole, it’s the set list at large that makes this show what it is. And sure, it’s mainly a redux of his most memorable work, and most cabaret-goers may rebuff these “park-and-bark, sing-me-your-resumé” concerts in favor of their desire to see performers explore new work, but rest assured, given its arrangement and execution, this one wholeheartedly works. To start, there’s the fact that some of these songs retain a double meaning.

From the very beginning, explaining how his childhood was defined by Disney heroes and those movies were her first formal introduction to the modern movie musical, Quasimodo’s desire to join the townspeople in festivity below the bell tower parallels his own yearning to live among the Broadway community, while Hercules’ assertion that he will “Go the Distance” and do whatever it takes to achieve his dream solidifies Klena’s declaration to do the same — ideas even further exemplified by the fact that his storied Disney past served as his introduction to the modern movie musical. It’s especially chilling in retrospect, outlined as ends the show proper with a new stage song written for the then-latest screen-to-stage stalwart — one he grew up admiring and one whom he won the chance to originate and initially give a voice to.

Second, in that same vein, it leaves off with an inspirational message, which (not so) coincidentally comes courtesy of his next Broadway venture, the aforementioned Jagged Little Pill; pooling all of these various experiences together, he explains they all collectively taught him one thing, a message he emphasizes has been instilled in him by his parents since birth: Seize every opportunity, no matter what, because you never know where or what it may lead to… and no matter the result, whether it goes your way or not, inevitably, you’re going to grow and better yourself… inevitably, to take, in part, from the Morisette lyric, you’ll learn.

Well, there’s certainly no doubt he’s followed that advice, and no matter the current result, or whatever the future holds, good or bad, personally or professionally… he’s soaking it all in, absorbing what he can, and using that newfound knowledge to fuel him into the next adventure.

He’s living life, enjoying the ride, and, as this evening so unabashedly exhibits, it’s been, aptly, “Some Kinda Time.”

Derek Klena presented his self-titled debut solo show at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) on February 18th. He returns to the venue with the show on March 17th. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.54below.com.

 

Share