Do you have a favorite song or two? Write them on a slip that’s tossed into a box and it may be your request that Canada’s renowned Gregory Charles selects at random in his current show at the Café Carlyle (April 3-7, 2012). Given his vast repertoire, chances are he’ll know the lyrics. In his fashion, he puts a musical spin on everything, with his versatile and alert band members joining in spontaneously, as they don’t even know what number is on tap until Charles begins to play and sing. “Each night they risk their reputations with me,” Charles says of his musicians.
And a creative group they are, especially the fabulous Jean-Benoit Lasante dispensing elaborate solos on the guitar, and also including Jean-Betrand Carbou on bass and Samuel Joly on drums. Charles does the honors at the piano as he sings. This is very much a musically collaborative show.
At the start of his opening night performance, the affable star delivered numbers that he chose, including “Take the A Train,” “It Had to be You,” which, he informed us, orchestra leader Paul Whiteman recorded in 1924 and “Minnie the Moocher,” with plenty of Cab Calloway-like hidee-hi dee-hidee-his and hos that he elicited from the audience. He added “Just a Gigolo" and a few others to the crop before slipping into the audience choice routine.
On occasion he could be seen shunting aside one of the slips he picked, but mostly he stuck to the promise, with, for example, such numbers as “The Nearness of You,” “You Are My Destiny” “I’m Easy,” ”My Love Has Come Along,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “La Vie en Rose,” “Unforgettable,” “The Way We Were” and “Stand By Your Man.”
Charles acts as if he’s having a good time interacting. One couple who submitted a song request said they were celebrating their engagement. But while he provides much enjoyment, there is a downside as well. The random nature of the show results in a certain amount of casual meandering as opposed to the structured sharpness of his prepared material at the outset. But with his skill and personality, Gregory Charles comes across as a welcome original. At the Café Carlyle, 35 East 76th Street (at Madison Avenue). Phone: 212-744-1600.