Davis Gaines

July 30, 2009

“All the Way’

Forget about the old “you can’t have everything” saying. Davis Gaines just stepped on it but good in “All the Way,” a two-night Feinstein’s at Loews Regency gig. He proved he does have everything, at least in a cabaret-requirements sense.

First off, he’s got a rich baritone that fits on a boite stage and only takes, apparently, a small adjustment from the Broadway-leading-man voice he’s strutted over the years in, for instance, the 1980 “Camelot” revival and as a replacement and then as the title character in “Phantom of the Opera.” The funny thing is-and he can be truly funny-he often uses that big-hall approach satirically.

Gaines has an impeccable on-the-floor manner that allows him to achieve that ultimate intimate-space piece of praise: he turns the surroundings into his living-room. He’s good-looking in a non-pushy way. He’s absolutely on pitch-no small accomplishment in an arena where many performers believe being close to proper pitch is good enough.

Moreover, the guy has great taste in material. Okay, that judgment usually has to do with-this isn’t often admitted-a reviewer’s specific taste in songs. Let’s just say Gaines’ choices and this auditor’s ears are in tune. Not many singers go to “Falling” (Carole Bayer Sager-Marvin Hamlisch) from “They’re Playing Our Song.” Gaines does and pairs it with “Maybe This Time” (Fred Ebb-John Kander) to make a point about the unpredictability of love-love being his (not terribly ground-breaking) theme for the show.

And how could Gaines know this listener has a soft spot for “Saturday Night (Is the Loneliest Night of the Week)” (Sammy Cahn-Jule Styne)? He couldn’t, but the native Floridian sang it in an accent so that one lyric came out, “Ah don’t mahnd Sunday night at all.” Another all-time fave of this writer’s is the Oscar Hammerstein-Richard Rodgers “This Nearly Was Mine” which he and musical director-accompanist-arranger Carol Anderson braided into Rod McKuen’s “A Man Alone.”

In a set that was a Dow Jones graph of high points, Gaines, a subtle actor, may have reached his highest peak with the Sammy Cahn-Jimmy Van Heusen “I’ll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her.” The comic zenith came with the Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe “If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot,” which he transposed as “If Ever You Would Leave Me” to underline Sir Lancelot’s unceasing egotism. Amusing idea as an example of “self-love,” Gaines emphasized and amusingly delivered with grandiose gestures.

If there was the slightest crease in the proceedings, it may be the medley abundance. Gaines and Anderson give much thought to finding songs that dovetail, but in doing so-as guitarist Jim Hershman and Mary Ann McSweeney tag merrily along-they scant some of the numbers selected. I, for one, would like to have heard more of “Falling,” a ditty that gets to me every time.

On the other hand, I didn’t mind the slight trimming done with the beg-off coupling of “Over the Rainbow” (E. Y. Harburg-Harold Arlen) and “When You Wish Upon a Star” (Ned Washington-Leigh Harline). The two songs won Oscars in, respectively, 1939 and 1940, but I’d never realized before that both of them contain the phrase “wish upon a star.” There’s trivia for you.

Based on the West coast, Gaines said he’d gotten to the Feinstein’s stage as a result, as luck would have it, of running into Michael Feinstein out there. So once again we’ve got Feinstein to thank for filling his room with someone who should be doing this regularly. As Gaines sang in Barry Manilow’s “All the Time” (Martin Panzer, composer), “To think I had it all, all the time.”


Feinstein’s at Loews Regency

540 Park Avenue

Sunday and Monday, July 26-7


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