A Duke Returns

rex3 0 A Duke Returns Tom Wopat
The Metropolitan Room
Until July 31

You’ll have more fun on the cabaret scene, where two seasoned pros have cooled off the month of July like a frozen mojito. Every Thursday night, when the curtain falls on the Broadway musical A Catered Affair, Tom Wopat shakes it down to the great new Metropolitan Room at 34 West 22 Street to knock the crowds right out of their sandals. This shaggy dog looks better at 56 than he did as a pup, cutting his baby teeth on the old TV series The Dukes of Hazzard, and you gotta laugh when he tells the audience, “If you like me, I’m Tom Wopat; if you don’t, I’m John Schneider.” They like him, and the reasons are many. He’s got chops, personality, stage presence, a contagious sense of humor and good taste in music. He’s also got fresh musical ideas, enhanced by the spot-on arrangements of pianist Tedd Firth. Opening with the Cy Coleman-Carolyn Leigh standard “You Fascinate Me So,” he phrases behind the beat, interpolating the ends of phrases like the mature actor he has become. Taking the Gershwins at a faster clip than usual on “But Not For Me,” turning “Forty-Second Street” into a purple ballad turning midnight blue, or moving into a driving third-gear spin on the Jets war cry from West Side Story, he never bores. With the versatility and daring of a true musician, he can shift from the artery-clogging richness of John Bucchino’s beautiful ballad “Don’t Ever Stop Saying ‘I Love You,’” the best song in the A Catered Affair score; to the cruise control of a walking-shoes version of “That’s Life” that makes you forget about Sinatra. When he uses his voice like a slide trombone on the tongue-twisting jazz classic “Twisted,” there’s a touch of Mark Murphy. He doesn’t neglect the contemporary composers like Joni Mitchell and Jim Webb, but in my opinion he seems more solidly at home on the hip stuff like Dave Frishberg’s “I’m Hip,” and a tribute to Billie Holiday on “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.” He didn’t learn that on The Dukes of Hazzard. Anyway, this is a new Tom Wopat—showing warm dimensions never exposed in his earlier work. After A Catered Affair closes next week, he moves next door to star in Chicago, and hopefully, when July ends, he’ll keep playing saloons and clubs until he drops. Tom Wopat is one of the most valuable newcomers on the cabaret scene. It would be a crime to lose him now.

rreed@observer.com