Donald Corren performed at the Metropolitan Room on Thursday, August 4, accompanied and music directed by the four time-Emmy winning Glen Roven. Bottom line: go see him, go hear him, go laugh with him. Corren is appearing again at the Metropolitan Room on September 26 at 7 p.m.
An entertainer, actor, singer, pianist, Corren brings an engaging intensity to everything he does on stage – but it is an intensity that wears well, and easily. He is a Julliard-trained performer, and like a practiced dancer, his actions have meaning; they are crisp and unambiguous. His expressions are purposeful, and subversive. His eyes are open and accessible. He does not perform so much for you, but with you, connecting with his audience with an easy and wry patter. Corren is funny and energetic, sly and seductive.
The musical material Corren presented is not a slice of the American Songbook; it incorporated less well known pieces with their own charm and novelty. This enabled him to make them his own rather than recalling more famous renditions.The show lacked any pretense or superficial glitz (which, in this political season is refreshing in itself); it was, instead, satisfyingly substantial and constantly entertaining.
Corren is an experienced “pro”, looking and sounding younger than his years (which are apparent only from his history), still with a powerful and resonant baritone, all the while making it look spontaneous and easy – like Bill Robinson doing soft shoe.
He opened by priming the tip jar on the piano (slightly arch), then sitting to play a gentle rag time rendition of “Happy Feet” (Yellen, Ager). He related how he had, in his youth, wanted to be the next Bobby Short. Only one thing stood in his way – noted in a very funny song about, despite having all other requisite skills and knowledge, he could only play piano In C.
At this point Glen Roven took over the piano and Corren was Free! Corren then sang a charming rendition of “My Walking Stick” (Berlin) suggesting but never carrying out the implied threat of actually dancing; and “Louisa” (Coward); and “Horizon” (from a Musical titled Steeplechase, wholly unknown to me but one of Corren’s favorites.)
Corren explained how he can now, with a straight face, call Irving Berlin his uncle – then did some wonderful and unique Berlin duet work – the core of which is sufficiently surprising that I will only reveal here that it is a bit of musical and memory legerdemain that cannot help but make you laugh.
Corren talked about his early and contemporary career, now with a recurring role as Dr. Kurian on Z Nation on Syfy, but previously working on and off Broadway, regional theater, recording, writing, etc. Most engagingly he spoke of his early role on one of America’s most beloved 50’s television shows, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie.
Next Corren performed a song by Glen Roven from the second of his avowed favorite musicals: Small (the protagonist being a ten year-old boy with a uniquely clear-sighted understanding that the political figure at the center of the tale was all surface, a too familiar premise). Additional numbers were interspersed; go hear them – it is well worth your time.
Corren was heretofore unknown to me but is clearly an actor’s actor, favored by musical insiders: his audience included Peter Mintun, renown café pianist; John Glines, winner of Tony and Drama Desk awards as producer of Torch Song Trilogy (in which Corren performed); Tony Sheldon, a theater mainstay down under (Sydney); Dennis Deal of Nite Club Confidential and others, each called out by Corren in his gracious “thanks.” I have to believe that one would have to work actively to resist the appeal of this show and this performer – although it may have an extra appeal to baby boomers.