Jason Danieley and The Frontier Heroes

August 20, 2009

The Metropolitan Room – August 17, 21, 22, 23

While Jason Danieley is the name you’re likely to be familiar with, The Frontier Heroes deserve fully half the credit for what makes this group and this show so enjoyable. To elaborate: Jason Danieley is the tenor who made his Broadway bow starring in the 1997 revival of Candide, and went on to play leading roles in The Full Monty and Curtains; The Frontier Heroes are a trio of multi-instrument musicians: Eric B. Davis (guitar, banjo, mandolin), Michael Aarons (guitar, banjo), Christian Hebel (fiddle, mandolin). Together they bring a “genuine back-porch sound” (to quote their press release) to an eclectic catalogue of songs. I’m not sure I’ve ever been on a back porch, but I’m quite prepared to accept that description, for their music certainly smacks of rural America to the ears of this city boy.

These three instrumentalists are only half of the full Frontier Heroes band. Danieley tells us that he chose this subset for this engagement because a string band is the most versatile and chameleon-like for performing Americana music. By the end of the evening, we’ve had every possible permutation and combination of guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin accompaniment—the colorations are varied and it’s all damned near irresistible.

Danieley brings commitment and exuberance to Arlen and Koehler’s “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and with fiddle, mandolin and guitar backup, Harry Connick, Jr.’s “Drifting” is quite beautiful. Accompanied by two guitars, “Because of You” (Arthur Hammerstein and Dudley Wilkinson) is very pretty, Danieley’s spirited rendition of “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” (the Gershwins and B.G. DeSylva) is exhilarating, and Stephen Foster’s ‘No One to Love” is lovely. It took me a few moments to adjust to the unconventional rhythmic arrangement of Lionel Bart’s “As Long As [S]he Needs Me,” but I’ve since played that selection from their CD a half-dozen times for the sheer pleasure of it.

OK, not every number is a gem. “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” (Russ Morgan, Larry Stock, James Cavanaugh) is not especially interesting, and Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse’s “What Kind of Fool Am I?” is a bit bland. And some of the proceedings are ever-so-slightly hokey—for example, some of the humor in the patter and Danieley’s crying out “yeah” in Bobby Troup’s “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66″—however, it’s all rooted in innocent benevolence and openness of spirit; only a cynic could take exception. At no point does it seem that Danieley is acting. He’s from St. Louis, where his family had its own band; I’m convinced that this Broadway star is down home and unaffected through and through.


About the Author

Roy Sander has been covering cabaret and theatre for over thirty years. He’s written cabaret and theatre reviews, features, and commentary for seven print publications, most notably Back Stage, and for CitySearch on the Internet. He covered cabaret monthly on “New York Theatre Review” on PBS TV, and cabaret and theatre weekly on WLIM-FM radio. He was twice a guest instructor at the London School of Musical Theatre. A critic for BistroAwards.com, he is also the site’s Reviews Editor; in addition, he is Chairman of the Advisory Board of MAC.