Jason Graae: the funniest best singer you’re likely to see

Mar 30

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Collective memory will soon forget that there used to be entertainers in the grandest sense – performers who could be hilarious, could interact with audience members in wonderful (non-cheesy) ways and, when the mood was right, sing the hell out of great songs.

Sammy Davis Jr. could do that. So could Bobby Darin. And Judy Garland, and the list goes on. The entertainment world has changed a lot – of course there are still wonderful performers out there.

But I have to say, I miss the all-around entertainer, the guys and gals who could hold a Vegas stage without the need for twirling acrobats and pyrotechnics.

Broadway veteran Jason Graae is one of those old-school entertainers. You are guaranteed several things when you see him perform: you will fall under the spell of his dynamic tenor/baritone voice, and you will laugh your ass off.

We don’t see enough of this Los Angeles-based performer here in the Bay Area, but happily he’ll be at the Rrazz Room for two nights, April 3 and 4, with a brand-new show.

As if the anticipated delight of Graae wasn’t enough, he’s doing a tribute to Jerry Herman on the occasion of the composer’s 80th birthday year. Just think of it – a real entertainer doing real show tunes. It’s a show music fan’s (OK, show queen’s) dream come true.

Graae has a long history with Herman as both a friend and a collaborator. For about a decade, Graae has been a part of Hello, Jerry a concert production featuring Karen Morrow, Paige O’Hara and musical director Donald Pippin all performing Herman songs with Herman himself making an appearance.

“In terms of audience reaction, it was like a rock concert every time Jerry came out to sing ‘Mame,’” Graae says on the phone from L.A. “To work closely with him, to travel with him was such an honor.”

The touring has stopped because it simply got too exhausting for Herman, but Graae found he still wanted to sing those great Herman songs. That desire combined with Herman being honored by the Kennedy Center last fall helped Graae make a decision: he’d do his own Jerry Herman show.

The problem with this decision arose when Graae sat down with the Jerry Herman songbook. “I wanted to do every song,” the singer says. “It’s a tightrope for me because I want to get my humor in there while I pay tribute to Jerry. I want to honor his material without imposing my stuff onto it.”

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With the help of director Lee Tannen, he has fashioned Perfect Hermany: Jason Graae Sings Jerry Herman, a 70-minute showcase that hits all of Herman’s shows except Mrs. Santa Claus and Miss Spectacular. That means audiences will hear tunes from Milk and Honey, Hello, Dolly!, Mame, The Grand Tour, Mack and Mabel and La Cage aux Folles. There will also be selections from Dear World, which Graae says just might be his favorite Herman score with his hands-down favorite Herman song, “I’ve Never Said I Love You.”

The problem with singing that song is that if you’re over 18, it doesn’t quite work.

“You have to be so ingenuous, so virginal to sing it,” Graae says, indicating he is no longer either of this. “But I found another way to get in there and still pay tribute to the song.”

Happily for Graae, Herman has become cool again. With the Kennedy Center Honor, the 80th birthday and the Tony-winning return of La Cage to Broadway, the cycle has returned Herman to favor.

“People are a little cynical these days,” Graae says. “It’s easy to say that Jerry was part of a certain era and is a certain type of writer. Then you sit down to listen to the music and lyrics. They’re deceptive because they seem simple, but the message is so powerful. His optimism is contagious, and doing a show like this gives audiences permission to sit there and celebrate Jerry and have fun even if you look down a little bit on musical theater.”

There are plans afoot to record the Herman show, which is good news indeed.

“There’s no way in the world you can’t feel better listening to a Jerry Herman song,” Graae says.

[bonus videos]
Here’s a nice video tribute from a Jason Graae fan:

And here’s Graae with Megan Hilty performing “Popular” from Wicked:

Visit Jason Graae’s official website: www.jasongraae.com

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Perfect Hermany: Jason Graae Sings Jerry Herman” is at 4pm April 3 and 8pm April 4 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 22 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit www.therrazzroom.com for information.

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