There are precious few old-school crooners in popular entertainment today. As the work of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin slip farther away into our collective memory, the resurgence of 1960s pop culture (with Mad Men still dominating the airwaves) has reminded the world of why it was such a beloved art form in the first place. Honoring that, Broadway baby Cheyenne Jackson honored those iconic songs and that style last week in a concert at Carnegie Hall, backed by the New York Pops under Stephen Reineke’s baton. And while he has certainly sung American Songbook standards before (most notably on his album with Michael Feinstein), this concert solidified his status as one of the few old-school entertainers who can still fill a large auditorium and then hold the audience captive through pure charm, talent and charisma.
The concert, quite appropriately dubbed “Music of the Mad Men Era,” focused primarily on era-appropriate numbers, beginning with several quiet (and, frankly, somewhat staid) selections from the early ’60s and moving on towards modern numbers that still fit the theme.
For example, Jackson’s rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” was pure sexual energy, with the singer casually sauntering down the aisle of the auditorium. (For the record, the song was used during the first season of Mad Men.) The song was a highlight of the evening, not only for Jackson’s smooth delivery and the Pops’ rich sound on the instrumentals, but as a bridge between the classic and the contemporary. While the song is decidedly modern, it has a classic sound
Among the more traditional highlights were a swingy “Luck be a Lady” that would have done old Blue Eyes proud, and a fun “Tu vuò fà l'americano.” Paul Castree, Michael Winther and Ben Toth sang with Jackson on “Walking My Baby Back Home” and “Angel Eyes,” and Jane Krakowski joined him to sing a very cute and winsome “Somethin’ Stupid.” In between the songs, Jackson bantered effortlessly, keeping the talk casual and light (which fit the evening’s overall theme).
The Pops themselves got several opportunities to shine, most notably in an extended suite of music composed and conducted by David Carbonara, who provides much of the music for Mad Men itself. (The evening’s overture, an instrumental cover of Esquivel’s “Mini Skirt,” was also fun, and nicely set the mood for the evening.)
The evening was also notable for Jackson’s major-venue debut as a songwriter in his own right. As an encore, he sang his new “Don’t Look At Me,” accompanied by the full orchestra. As much as the evening was about an old-fashioned art form, seeing the future of the American Songbook—and the premiere of a promising new songwriter—was (somewhat surprisingly) very uplifting and emotional. It’s not as though Cheyenne Jackson is a new talent emerging from obscurity…but discovering new skills, and a new side of a performer, is always exciting. Here’s hoping Jackson and the Pops reunite soon for another concert.