Kevin Dozier’s recent show at the Metropolitan Room (which will return to the club in November) was called “A New York Romance.” It was a suitable title, I suppose, as Dozier did touch quite a bit on his life in (and love for) New York City. But then again, how many other NYC-themed shows open with a selection from Oklahoma!?
Perhaps a more apt title for Dozier’s program would have been “Sunny Side Up.” Expressing contentment is clearly one of this performer’s greatest skills. His gentle demeanor onstage and his plush, warm baritone notes bespeak a rosy outlook on life. Most of the songs in the show bore glad tidings. Dozier greeted a beautiful mornin’. He advocated putting on a happy face. And he reminded everyone that the best things in life come sans price tags.
He mentioned early on in the show that during his childhood, he and his family would listen to recordings by such singers as Mario Lanza and Johnny Mathis. Dozier’s vocal resemblance to Mathis has been remarked by other writers and is quite striking. I felt it even before Dozier sang the star’s signature number “Wonderful, Wonderful” (Sherman Edwards, Ben Raleigh). The likeness is not just in Dozier’s vocal quality but also in his delivery.
There’s something to be said for the Johnny Mathis temperament. After all, many listeners have taken great pleasure in Mathis’s croony, reliably romantic tones—despite the relative narrowness of his range. Stephen Holden once called Mathis “a one-note singer,” but one that managed to “work that one note virtuosically.”
Similarly, in this show Dozier was able to color his romantic optimism with a range of shades. In “Sailing On” (Alan Menken, Dean Pitchford) he expressed a dreamy nostalgia for the imaginative wonders of childhood. “What More Can I Say?” (William Finn)—which he dedicated to his husband—shimmered with easygoing, loverly tenderness. His version of “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” (George and Ira Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward)—which was the central number in his New York City medley finale—allowed him to slip into party-going mode. He may not have been “raucous” on the selection, but I’ll hand him “spirited.”
Dozier will probably never be billed as a blues singer. He’s not likely to rock out much or deliver songs boiling over with blistering anger, tortured angst, or dangerous sexuality. If he fancied himself an explosive and mercurial guy, he wouldn’t tell childhood anecdotes about asking for the same toy year after year or wearing the same beloved cowboy outfit day after day. He seems to be fine with living in the musical realm where he works best and feels most comfortable.
He does, however, seem willing to explore that terrain’s outer reaches and mine some slightly darker sensibilities. In his mash-up of “Always” (Irving Berlin) and “Time Heals Everything”(Jerry Herman), he contrasted the former song’s heartfelt and simple declarations of fidelity with the latter’s disturbing current of heartbreak and regret. In another pairing, of two Stephen Sondheim songs, he began with the musically caffeinated “Another Hundred People,” then modulated into the love ballad “So Many People.” But as he sang the final notes of the second song, the agitated vamp of “Another Hundred People” barged its way into the other song’s peaceful denouement. (Dozier has performed both of these song pairings in previous engagements.)
Certainly Dozier knows the importance of engaging the right collaborators. His musical director and pianist, Alex Rybeck, created some of the show’s arrangements (a few of the others were concocted by Marilyn Maye and Tedd Firth). Bassist Jered Egan, percussionist John Redsecker, and guitarist Sean Harkness added to the lively mix onstage.
Harkness was an especially welcome presence. He provided the sole accompaniment for Cheryl Wheeler’s “Almost,” and he was prominent in Dozier’s fetching country-swing version of “The Best Things in Life Are Free” (De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson) and in his elegant and sprightly rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “I’ll Tell the Man in the Street”—possibly the best number of the evening.
“A New York Romance”
Metropolitan Room – March 17, April 8, May 13
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.