Michael Kennen Miller: Back on the Mic

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Michael Kennen Miller

Back on the Mic

Tom Rolla’s Gardenia, West Hollywood, CA, November 10, 2017

Reviewed by Elliot Zwiebach for Cabaret Scenes

Michael Kennen Miller

Michael Kennen Miller is a charming entertainer who knows how to delight an audience. He sings with honesty, conviction, and joy and, when he tossed a handful of glitter over himself to make a point in one of his songs, it left a bit of sparkle on his face that simply amplified the sparkle in his performance. Miller opened the show with a fierce, insinuating “Life of the Party” (Andrew Lippa, from The Wild Party)—stopping after one verse to raise a glass to the audience and down a shot, which set the exuberant tone for the evening.

He made clear where he’s coming from with an exultant hand-on-one-hip performance of “Way Ahead of My Time” (Peter Mills)—also known as “The Caveman Song”—about a very fabulous trend-setter from the distant past, then announced he was abandoning what he called a lifetime of playing princes to sing a medley of “princess” songs from Disney films. The medley included a full-voiced “Colors of the Wind” (Alan Menken/Stephen Schwartz from Pocahontas); a pleasing “Part of Your World” (Menken/Howard Ashman,The Little Mermaid)an effective “Let It Go” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez/Robert Lopez, Frozen); and a sweet “Reflections” (Matthew Wilder/David Zippel,  Mulan) that ended with Miller tossing that glitter.

Miller was particularly polished in two songs he has performed in national tours. Recreating his turn as Willard in Footloose: The Musical, he was fully into character with a Southern drawl and loose limbs in the amusing “Mama Says” (Tom Snow/Dean Pitchford). Having played Link in the national tour of Hairspray: The Musical, he was very comfortable in a sincerely emotional rendition of “It Takes Two” (Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman).

He explored 1950s pop with a smooth version of “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn); a solid vocal on “Beyond the Sea” (Charles Trenet/Jack Lawrence); and a strong-voiced though slightly out-of-tempo “That’s Life” (Dean Kay/Kelly Gordon).

At age 31, he said he’s beginning to trust himself more—a point he illustrated with an effective mashup of “Chandelier” (Sia/Jesse Shatkin) and an emotionally powerful “Defying Gravity” (Stephen Schwartz, from Wicked). He closed with what he said was the first love song between two men he’d ever heard—a sweet, intense “I’d Rather Be Sailing” (William Finn, from A New Brain).

Miller was backed by a strong trio consisting of musical director Kyle de Tamowsky on piano, Tom Luer on woodwinds, and Soichiro Tanabe on drums.

The smoothly flowing show was directed by Bob Garrett.

Elliot Zwiebach

Elliot Zwiebach loves the music of The Great American Songbook and classic Broadway, with a special affinity for Rodgers and Hammerstein. He's been a professional writer for 45 years and a cabaret reviewer for five. Based in Los Angeles, Zwiebach has been exposed to some of the most talented performers in cabaret—the famous and the not-so-famous—and enjoys it all. Reviewing cabaret has even pushed him into doing some singing of his own — a very fun and liberating experience that gives him a connection with the performers he reviews.