Last night, amid a packed house in the Duplex’s narrow but engaging cabaret room, the sounds of old Broadway were heralded by Mason Griffin, Jerry Herman’s old Broadway.
Bounding onto the stage was Mason, the slight-of-frame, perfectly coiffed musician, who’s overflowing love of all things Herman prompted him to share his love and research with an adoring and knowledgeable crowd (what else could you call a group that literally knew the harmony and incidental ensemble lyrics to Hello Dolly’s title song)
Herman is known for big shows – well of course, when you have David Merrick in your court you can do nothing else – but this was not a big show. This was just Mason, a piano, a few lights, and some beautiful music. Ironically, the intimate setting made the show that much more enthralling.
Mason astutely began with the song that first woo’d Herman to the great American musical theater, the famed “There’s No Business like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun. The number could easily have come from a Jerry Herman musical so in this way, Mason showed us the genesis of the composer who gave us such anthems as “Need A Little Christmas,” “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and of course … “I Am What I Am.”
We were then treated to more than an hour of fascinating trivia – like Carol Channing listening to Before the Parade Passes By in her robe and slippers in a hotel room at 3:00 a.m. or Jerry’s belief in fate regarding his being chosen to score La Cage Aux Follies; plus joyous and memorable showtunes; and a few surprises like songs from Herman’s lesser-known shows.
That’s a pun as it was Frank Loesser who first told Jerry to pursue a career in music.
Mason alone sang what are normally soaring multi-voiced pieces and while that might seem like an obstacle, it was actually a delight. His lovely tenor range coupled with a sandy lower register on top of stunning piano work was like giving us an entire generation of musical theatre wrapped and ribboned in a Tiffany’s box.
The only critique that should be given is there wasn’t enough. Songs like “Movies” from Mack & Mabel left the audience hungry for more obscure tunes; his rousing “Sunday Clothes” made the jubilant crowd beg for more chances to bask in the glory that was – and is – classic musical theatre; and the witty banter and interesting tidbits were a trivia lover’s dream and left us wanting more (lots of ooo’s and ahhh’s at obscure facts). Basically, Mason’s 75 minutes (made clear when his parents skyped in to the show) should have been at least two acts.
Mason Griffin is a newcomer to New York (by NY standards), but it’s easy to see that it will “only take a moment” before it’s obvious that he “belongs here” on Broadway – the land of “milk and honey!”
And for us, Mason Griffin will give us “the best of times.”