- CHARITY BENEFIT
Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr. – August 12, 2012
Michael Arden, who has appeared on Broadway in Twyla Thorp and Bob Dylan’s The times They Are A-Changin’ and as Tom Sawyer in the Deaf West/Roundabout production of Big River, made a rare cabaret appearance at 54 Below in New York City on August 12, 2012. In the past he has appeared at Joe’s Pub and Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency. Currently a resident of the West Coast, Arden, under the terrific musical direction of Our Lady J (also known as Jonnah Speidel), did not choose to sing any of the songs from his Broadway, off-Broadway and road productions although he has won many theater awards for them. Instead, he chose an eclectic group of songs he said that he liked and especially related to.
Arden, also in the tradition of some of the Broadway stars appearing at 54 Below, made his personal sexual autobiography a major thread in his act. Openly gay, he described his problems with being bi-coastal and having lovers that were on the opposite coast. One of his selections had a recurring lyric “I wish I could be your wife.” He also played two amusing voicemails from his cell phone for us. One was from his grandmother, a heavy set woman, who described a recipe for an extremely rich cake. The payoff was hysterically funny. He also went into great detail about touring internationally with Barbra Streisand and meeting a hot man in Germany at the hotel’s gym, inviting him to the show, going out afterwards, attending a leather sex club, and then there was an amusing payoff back in the man’s hotel room for naked dancing which name dropped a very prominent name in the news today. He also dropped the name of Charlie Sheen with whom he has a featured part in his new series Anger Management. He described how he and Hinkley were in school plays in their small town in Texas and outraged everyone by appearing in something Arden wrote that included a male kiss on stage!
Musically, Arden’s voice is superb, his body language charms the audience, and he did some wonderful songs including Joan Osborne’s “What If God Were One of Us,” Muse’s “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” (“fly to me, hover in the air”) and an extraordinarily beautiful “The City and The River,” (the Rescues). There was a hysterical duet about girls wearing bikinis on the beach at Malibu on which he was joined by another male singer. Both did animated bumps and grinds describing a Beach Boys type song. Two of his own compositions were compellingly sung with great lyric intensity, “Hummingbird” (the lover is a hummingbird that never stays in one place) and “Running Free.” There was an unusual horror song by Sufjan Stephens which was entitled “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” (‘nuff said.)
Throughout the act, Arden had the audience in the palm of his hand, even singing “Happy Birthday” to a friend in the front row who was delivered a piece of cake with a candle.
He credited all his musicians and gave special praise to Our Lady J, on piano, who had appeared the previous night at Joe’s Pub. They collaborated long distance on this show and are also writing a musical together about astronomers and scientists which is being developed at the Williamstown Theatre in Massachusetts. They have a grant and were leaving the next day to work on it.
The last number in the show was a song from this musical, a song set in the Griffith Park Observatory (famous for the scenes there in the James Dean movie Rebel Without A Cause) entitled “Meant To Be.” The song was a beautiful work of art and I hope that this musical gets a production soon, and we are able to lure Arden back to New York more often.
Giving credit where it’s due, Arden credited his high school friends from Texas, Matt Hinkley, who played wonderful guitar, and Christian Heberl who played a mean rock violin. The other terrific members of the band included:
Alon Bisk – Cello
Matt Wigton – Bass
Marques Walls – Drums
Gabby Garza and Gabe Violett – Backup Vocals
Darren Ritchie – Guest Rapper