Theater Review: Davis Gaines Double Standards at The Abbey
Thanks to the recently finished Fringe Festival, I’ve seen more than my fair share of out-there cabarets in recent weeks, featuring everything from tap-dancing to drunken improv. Davis Gaines, Orlando ex-pat and long-running star of Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera, arrives at The Abbey this weekend with Double Standards, a straightforward reminder of the artform’s foundations.
The title refers not to exposing the sexual hypocrisy rampant in too many romantic songs (now that would be quite a show), but rather the juxtaposition of two tangentially related tunes taken from the Great American Songbook, up through the turn of the 21st century. Gaines’ curatorial conceit combines Patti Page’s “Tennessee Waltz” with a melody from 1908; “Tea For Two” with Jerome Kern’s “Folks Who Live on the Hill”; and Marvin Hamlisch’s “They’re Playing Our Song” with “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret. Tom Waits makes an appearance (with a song written for but never recorded by Bette Midler), as do The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, but most of the selections are drawn from Broadway of a half-century ago. And no, there’s no “Music of the Night,” not even in the encore.
With the exception of one wonderful medley incorporating a Charles Bukowski poem, the paired songs aren’t really “mashed up” so much as played in succession, and connections between them aren’t always obvious, with some simply sharing a lyric or year. But as Gaines notes, there are certain themes that recur: love, dreams, luck, and whiskey. No matter the tune’s origin, Gaines delivers them all with his open, effortless tone, delivering the appropriate emotions without becoming uncomfortably overwrought. Gaines is ably supported by a traditional jazz trio, before which he bounced boyishly between gulps of what he jokingly referred to as “vodka.”
The power and clarity of Gaines’ voice nearly compensates for the echoey sound mix, which often overhwhelm his vocals with instrumentals and leave him sounding like he’s in a carvernous hall, instead of an intimate club. (The fact that the show is being mixed by a Grammy-winning engineer and still sounds this bad points to fundamental flaws in the venue’s sound system).
Judged as a pure concert, Double Standards is a delight, but cabaret demands a more personal touch with the between-song banter. Gaines delights the hometown crowd with shout-outs to his Fern Creek and Edgewater alma maters, but beyond bracketing a Camelot tribute with a bit of biography about his early spear-carrying career, there’s precious little of his personality binding the songs together. As he announced on opening night, Gaines’ next local role appearance be as Javert in Orlando Shakes’ fall production of Les Miserables; hopefully that role will let him match his marvelous vocal chops with more emotional meat to chew on.
Remaining performances are Friday (7 p.m. & 10 p.m.) and Sunday (3 p.m. & 7 p.m.) Click here for tickets and information.