Photo by Ramona Rosales

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The world is in a mess
With politics and taxes
And people grinding axes
There's no happiness — George and Ira Gershwin, “Slap That Bass”

So sings Fred Astaire in the 1937 film “Shall We Dance?”. Lyricist Ira Gershwin’s solution is to “Slap that bass / Slap it till it’s dizzy.” But if he were still alive and if he’d been in St. Louis last Wednesday and Thursday (May 8 and 9), I think he might have added: “or just see John Lloyd Young at the Blue Strawberry.” Because anyone who didn’t emerge from that show with a smile on their face is a candidate for the curmudgeon hall of fame.

John Lloyd Young and David Duncan
at the Blue Strawberry

With a powerful high baritone that zooms up seamlessly into supernatural falsetto and a blitzkrieg charm that would do credit to the great Gene Kelly, the Tony Award-winning star of “Jersey Boys” is the kind of magnetic performer who wins the audience over the moment the light hits him.  By the time he finished his opening set of the 1966 Lou Christie hit “Lightning Strikes” and “My Prayer” (a hit for The Platters in 1956, although the song was written 30 years earlier) he had the entire house on his side.

He kept them there right to the end with a lively mix of songs and stories. Numbers that were big in the 1950s and 1960s predominated, as you might expect. That included “In the Still of the Night” (written in 1956 by Fred Parris for his group The Five Satins), Harry Noble’s “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” in a rendition inspired by Mel Carter’s 1965 recording (although Karen Chandler first charted with it in 1952), and even a bit of classic Broadway with “I Have Dreamed” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1951 “The King and I.” But he also ventured into the 1970s with Paul McCartney’s 1970 “Maybe I’m Amazed” and Albert Hammond and Mike Hazlewood’s “The Air That I Breathe,” which was a hit for The Hollies in 1974.

Young also ventured out into the audience for some good old show biz mingling. Not everyone can pull that off, but Young’s entire stage presence is so open and approachable that it all felt perfectly natural. He even invited the audience to sing along on some of the hits, and while attempts to match his high notes were doomed from the beginning, a good time was still had by all.

Mixed in with all this were some anecdotes about his unorthodox entry into Broadway stardom, his work as a cultural ambassador for the Obama administration, and a tribute to his musical hero Roy Orbison—complete with shades and a killer performance of “Only the Lonely.” There are some exceptional cabaret talents out there who tend to tell you more than you want to know about their personal lives, but John Lloyd Young is not, happily, one of them.

Oh, yeah: he also did a few numbers from “Jersey Boys.”

Impeccably backing Young up on the piano was David Duncan. He was a sympathetic accompanist, and his frequent solo breaks were powerful stuff.

John Lloyd Young played the Blue Strawberry Showroom and Lounge Wednesday and Thursday, May 8 and 9. It wasn’t his first visit to our town, and judging from the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, I expect it won’t be his last. To find out where he’s appearing now, check out his web site. Meanwhile, live entertainment continues at the Blue Strawberry, with details available at their web site.

Finally: for my in-depth interview with Young, including a look at his many other talents, check out Chuck's Culture Channel on YouTube.

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