John O’Hurley: A Man with Standards

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John O’Hurley

A Man with Standards

Café Carlyle, NYC, March 28, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

John O’Hurley
Photo: David Andrako

Custom-made for the storied Café Carlyle,  John O’Hurley is A Man with Standards, a man reminiscent of the days of poise, grace and fine taste. He’s a man of musical standards with lyrics that speak of truth and emotions delivered with a full-bodied baritone. He was also the pompous J. Peterman on Seinfeld, and a first-year finalist in Dancing with the Stars with the smoothest quick-step since Astaire and Rogers. He was soap opera’s go-to doctor, a game show host (Family Feud), and a witty raconteur with a gift for gab and just an edge of sarcasm mixed into self-deprecation. Just see his show—you’ll love it.

In his home town of Kittery, Maine, three-year-old John announced to his family, “I am an actor.” In first grade he soloed with “Sing a Song of Sixpence” —a cappella. Proudly, he portrayed a marigold, and his career grew from there. Tackling all genres of show business, he is the Thanksgiving Day co-host for Purina’s popular annual National Dog Show, and he has performed the part of Billy Flynn in Chicago on tour and on Broadway over 1,500 tunes. Making his debut at the storied Café Carlyle, he credits his eclectic career to the values learned from his family and from the ethos of times past. 

“I was lucky enough to grow up by the sounds of the standards, and I was lucky enough to grow up in the presence of gentlemen who had standards.” This forms an hour-plus show that is sentimental as well as humorous, with sharp timing in stories delivered so eloquently that they sound casual. His patter is seamless, anecdotes leading into songs and carrying his audience with him as he looks back on special moments. He tells of his mother’s humming, not singing, just humming, and learning to sing her favorite song, “Moon River” (Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer) when he was eight years old. He painted a portrait of his parents’ Saturday nights of “dinner and dancing,” his mother with her hair “done” that afternoon, and his parents dressed up in “going out” clothes. With a light swing, he turns back the clock more than a half-century to songs of the day: “Beyond the Sea” (Charles Trenet and Jack Lawrence) and “Let There Be Love” (Lionel Rand and Ian Grant).    

His music idol was Frank Sinatra, who once invited O’Hurley to a celebrity golf outing and a private party later. There was a pianist playing and it was expected that singers step up and entertain Sinatra.

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Robert Goulet was there, Don Rickles, and then O’Hurley was called. He chose two songs written by Joe Raposo, a nostalgic “There Used to be a Ballpark,” and “You Will Be My Music.” Questionable choices—O’Hurley sings Sinatra! And what a reaction from Ol’ Blue Eyes!

O’Hurley softened his resonant voice for the Anthony Newley songs, “Once Upon a Time” and “Lullaby,” tenderly paired with Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park,” layering them with nuance and poignancy. The highlight was a heartfelt ballad, “The Greatest Love the World Has Known,” that O’Hurley wrote for his wife.

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With a neat pivot to John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Chicago, he morphed into Billy Flynn for “All I Care About” and “Razzle Dazzle.” With musical director/pianist Steve Rawlins, Ron Vincent on drums and Rusty Holloway on bass, John O’Hurley’s cool, sly, razzle dazzle delivered “the big bambooz-a-lah.”

John O’Hurley continues at Café Carlyle through April 8.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.