Club Review: Robert Bannon’s “Rewind”
Robert Bannon, a likable and talented singer, took Rewind, the title of his recent show at The Green Room 42, seriously, opening with a videotape collage moving backwards through his life, to the precociously stage-stealing performances of his youth. After the opening number, a rousing “I’m Still Standing” (Elton John, Bernie Taupin), he took the audience on a journey through his life in song. This is a sometimes tried-and-true, sometimes tired-and-true, formula that has been overused as a concept in cabaret since the first two-drink minimum was announced. Rewind was a bit of both, but the bigger bit was the tried and true, thanks to Bannon’s energetic and, at times, moving performance and his captivating storytelling. That made the material that did not work all the more intrusive. The screen for the opening montage stayed in use for the length of the show, again for both good and ill.
The singer fell victim to a common mistake—medleys. A good medley can be a satisfying musical moment, but the sheer number of them in this show prevented fully investing in the performer as a singer or a storyteller. Often his performance was reduced to sound bites accompanying slides when what I wanted was to be let in on the formative moments of his life. Having less obvious material might have rescued a few of the medleys but there are just too many of them, leaving little chance for emotional connection. The recognition of the material pleased some in the audience, but was not enough, at least for me.
The second number was a Muppets medley that had the usual suspects included, when one fully-realized song done in earnest might have given a better glimpse into how the singer’s love of performing was shaped from the start by television tunes. A later grouping of sitcom themes was even less successfulcliched and cursorily presented. His homage to Liza Minnelli, “The World Goes Round” (John Kander, Fred Ebb), benefited from being done on its own. He sang it with energy and growing passion, but it could have benefited from a bigger key change (this is not a comment I find myself making very often). Bannon paid tribute to two other performers who had “mentored” him over the airwaves—Barry Manilow and Laura Nyro. One or two songs done with the conviction he revealed elsewhere would have been a much more moving and telling tribute than the snippets he provided. Bannon told the story of having appeared in a tribute to Nyro at the Beacon as a featured singer in a youth group. I happened to have been at that concert and, while I do not remember him in particular, I do remember being touched by the performance of the young singers. He joked at the end of her medley that he still did not know what her words meant. It showed; he should have taken the time to figure them out before performing them for a paying audience.
Barry Manilow received a much more successful nod with the inclusion of “Every Single Day” from the new Off-Broadway musical Harmony (written with Barry Sussman); it a lovely song, beautifully sung in its cabaret debut. Bannon’s impassioned version of “From a Distance” was made all the more so by the presence in the audience of its composer, Julie Gold. This song also proved to be something of a turning point in the show. The singing gained a gravitas that had been hard to find in some of the previous selections. The one successful medley of the evening brought together a very personal investigation of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” with “I Think That He Knew” (Matt Gould, Griffin Matthews) creating a touching remembrance of a father’s love and acceptance. There was a welcome vulnerability and emotional honesty; here was the singer I had been hoping for since the opening number. He delivered an equally strong closer with the anthemic love song, “Once Before I Go” (Peter Allen, Dean Pitchford). An encore of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” (George Merrill, Shannon Rubicam) could have been a high energy send-off but, instead, he took the easy route and made it a meaningless sing-along.
The music throughout was fine thanks to music director Yasuhiko Fukuoka, with Marco Panascia on bass, Simon Fishburn on drums, and Cinquegrana on guitar, but their contributions were limited by the medleys which allowed no time for invention. The singer and his director, Robbie Rozelle, need to concentrate on the cabaret basics. Bannon held the microphone much too close, practically eating it and covering the bottom half of his face and making some lyrics hard to understand. He had a loose-leaf binder on a music stand and continually referred to it for order, lyrics, and even patter. He destroyed the beautiful mood he was establishing in “Every Single Day” by reaching over to the stand and turning a page in the middle of the song. His exaggerated physicality, including a hop and skip that showed up in every uptempo number from first to last was, I suppose, an attempt at being a rocker on stage; that, plus overly dramatic moves with the mic stand and turning abruptly away from the light at the ends of songs, were “too big for the room.”
Still, when he delivered, Robert Bannon showed off a style and talent I would go to see again. Perhaps the next time instead of Rewind-ing, he will fast forward to a simpler, more honest delivery throughout the show.
Presented at The Green Room 42 on April 16.