It’s unusual for an artist to perform a CD from top to bottom as a cabaret act, but that’s what Tom Wopat did in his one nighter at 54 Below. He opened his show Monday evening with the title song, “I’ve Got Your Number,” followed by “The Good Life.” Wearing a vintage suit (“Sinatra wore a suit,” he quipped), white shirt and tie, he described his show as “more like a saloon than cabaret.” For Wopat, that translates to less story telling and “more of a vibe”. . . or perhaps, more of a publicity opportunity. Wearing a baseball cap, he personally passed out CD’s to his fans before the show.
Better known as an actor aka Luke Duke from the 80′s hit TV show, “The Dukes of Hazzard”– the two time Tony nominee says his passion is singing, and he’s a singer first. But not in Broadway’s “Sondheim,” “I felt like a utility,” he explained. In performing songs from his CD he feels he reaches his creative peak. That, in part, is why he did this gig to launch this recording. His selections include swing, jazz and pop. Backed by his musical director Tedd Firth on piano and other accomplished musicians: Ed Howard on bass; Peter Grant on drums; Birch Johnson on trombone; Barry Danielian on trumpet; and Bob Malach on saxophone. You wouldn’t have guessed that the band had not played half of the selections together prior to this appearance. The full sound was a hybrid of big band and orchestra.
The show picked up with Wopat on guitar singing a Springsteen recording, “Meeting Across The River” followed by “Summer Dress.” He then moved back to the standards, “Devil May Care.” The tempo changed with “The Folks Who Live on The Hill” and the familiar 60′s tune, “Call Me.” That, and “Born To Be Blue,” written by Mel Torme, were his strongest numbers.
Wopat wrote two of the songs, both music and lyrics on his guitar: “Summer Dress” and “I Still Feel That Way.” The latter because at 61, he’s still feeling 16. “Each song has its own internal story,” explained Wopat. He was at his best on guitar with Firth’s arrangements and his original material. He has an easy, comfortable style and presents well even when his baritone voice isn’t at its best. The show ended on an upbeat note with his rendition of “Summer In The City.”
His selections demonstrate the performer’s versatility. He likes tempo; “the public likes ballads,” he told me after the show. He’s a baseball fan –a Brewer’s fan to be specific. And a fan of vinyl. It’s about the quality so he plans to do six cuts from a previous album on vinyl. Somehow, he seems to be trying to convince us. . . or himself, that in song, he’s found his niche although he reflects on the passage of time, vinyl records and the Sinatra days, while at the same time he wants to do the cool vibe of “Mad Men.”
Wopat has reason to celebrate. In addition to his CD release, he’s in the Quentin Tarrantino film, “Django Unchained,” and in rehearsals for a Broadway revival of Horton Foote’s “The Trip To Bountiful,” which previews in late March.