Let’s Drink to That!: The Music and Lyrics of Drew Gasparini

| October 8, 2017

Let’s Drink To That!
The Music and Lyrics of Drew Gasparini

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, September 11, 2017

Reviewed by Victoria Ordin for Cabaret Scenes

Drew Gasparini

The preternaturally charismatic Drew Gasparini (pictured) told a packed house at Feinstein’s/54 Below that Let’s Drink To That! would be different from his prior appearances at the upscale cabaret venue because the songs didn’t come from musicals. The evening was unusual for two other reasons: it took place on 9/11, and just days after the tragically premature death of Michael Friedman, which left many in the Broadway community in deep mourning. (He was just 41.) This backdrop made for a uniquely intense experience, full of tears as well as laughter.

After a funny gimmick, with others taking the stage in his place, Gasparini sang the heartfelt “My Name Is Drew,” which functioned as a sort of overture about the new songs he’d been working on “so damn hard” (songs that are about life’s “nosedive[s]” as much as the “joy ride”). The entire show is on YouTube. With the exception of two or three songs, one wants to play them on a loop.

The evening featured the powerhouse, up-tempo, musical theater-pop crossover numbers for which Gasparini is known, as well as achingly beautiful ballads, each performed by a veteran of at least one Broadway show who acts the song as flawlessly as he or she sings it. The songs all resonate with personal, yet relatable, truth about family, relationships, and career. The songwriter joked that the songs were like his diary set to music. But not everyone’s diary (or life) makes for music of this quality.

Three songs about his talented musical family aimed straight for the heart (often catching the funny bone on the way, as is typical with Gasparini). Jeremy Morse evoked 35 or so years of brotherly love in “Danny and Andrew.” Few songwriters capture the innocence and exuberance of children like Gasparini. His well-known “Kindergarten Song” grew out of observing children at parties where he played guitar, one of his early gigs in the city.

“Danny and Andrew,” rendered with humor and feeling by Jeremy Morse, is a worthy successor to the song often sung by his real-life sister, Kasie, who muses on cookies, lunchboxes, crayons, as well as things beyond her ken: “Dad says Obama takes half of what he makes/I don’t know what that means.” In this vein, Morse sings, “Is it bad, Danny? Kasie’s mad, Danny/’Cause we scraped her Barbie’s boobs on the concrete in the driveway/She’s throwing a fit/And we’re in deep shit/But it’s worth it ’cause I’m hanging with my big brother.”

No mother could imagine a more loving tribute than the raw, poignant “Mom Could Play Guitar,” sung by regular Gasparini collaborator, Alex Brightman. Brandon J. Ellis (fresh off a triumphant turn in Bandstand) sang a devastating, spare ballad about Drew’s father, who died much too young: “He Was Good at Building Things.”

Every New York songwriter, whether a native or a transplant, must have an anthem about their love/hate relationship with the city. “That’s The Thing I Love About New York” joins the ranks of other New York musical rants, complete with universal experience of being questioned by a tourist about the location of a landmark while standing “right the f*** in front of it.” (We’ve all had that Tootsie Russian Tea Room moment.) Andrew Kober infuses the campy song with all the ferocious snark one would expect of one of Broadway’s most talented and watchable performers.

The spectacularly versatile Julia Mattison sang “On the Edge,” an edgy, tongue-twisting song about coping in the modern age. Clifton Duncan’s smooth, deep voice dazzled on “So Damn Mean” (though it wasn’t the strongest of Gasparini’s new material). “Something Good,” sung with clarity and earnest emotion by F. Michael Haynie, struck a note of a cautious optimism. And Keith White made us feel the precariousness of life and the courage of recovery from addiction in “I’ll Stick Around.”

The evening closed with a trio of songs performed by Drew and his talented sisters, Kasey and Chloe, whose folk music project, Saint Adeline, reflects their Bay Area roots: “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “My Darlin’,” and “Graceland.” All are too young to have listened to the singer-songwriters, like Paul Simon (who influenced Saint Adeline) when their music first appeared, but growing up with a music teacher mom in Novato, CA—who was in the audience—that music was no doubt in the very air they breathed, if not in their blood.

As always, Gasparini assembles the best musicians, as well as singers, in the city, and the band, under the musical direction of Justin Golden, was no exception. Like many of his fans, I left the show wondering why Drew Gasparini isn’t a household name.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, New York City, New York City Cabaret Reviews, Regional

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An incredibly clear voice and secure wide range.