Sunday evening, Ron and I caught Jim Van Slyke’s Neil Sedaka tribute at the Laurie Beechman Theater. (By the way, both the cheese plate and truffled risotto balls there were fabulous.)
Jim Van Slyke is a powerhouse singer with an amazing sound, and unerring diction. He has a warm and engaging stage presence. He has command of the material and a passion for it. And Tim DiPasqua playing for him was awe-inspiring.
So why did the whole affair leave me so cold?
For me, part of the reason was my unfamiliarity with the Neil Sedaka songbook. (After the show when I asked Ron if Bad Blood had been a big hit in its time, Ron said to me, “You really didn’t listen to pop music as a kid, did you?” I reminded him that this is when I was obsessed with the Andrews Sisters.)
This show made me appreciate how much work it is for an audience when the performer does long stretches of unfamiliar material. And since Van Slyke tended to concentrate on Sedaka’s ballads, the effect of a number of same-ish songs by the same composer filtered through the same artistic sensibility of same music director and same singer gave a lot of the evening a feeling of, well, sameness.
Additionally, except for Solitaire and a medley of children’s songs, I always felt that Van Slyke was singing someone else’s material. I.E., I rarely got the direct connection that made me feel Van Slyke was sharing his personal story with the audience for the first time ever. That is not to say that Van Slyke didn’t know what his songs meant or wasn’t “telling a story.” But I rarely felt he was telling his own story. Or telling MY story as an audience member.
Finally, while Van Slyke gave some biographical information about Sedaka, it seemed perfunctory at best. And none of it gave any particular insight or viewpoint that helped me as an audience member feel a special connection to the material or performance thereof.*
Detailing the explanation to this degree comes across as harsher than the reaction this show deserved. But when an enormously talented performer like Van Slyke accompanied by a protean talent like DiPasqua delivers a show that’s merely pleasant, it’s fascinating (and personally instructive) to try to figure out what happened.
P.S. If you don’t have his terrific Open Road CD, you should.
* I may be a tad sensitive to this issue since I’ve been working on an essay for this blog currently titled, “I Have Wikipedia, Too.” Look for it.