Ben Fankhauser: Ben’s Fanked Up Broadway

Ben Fankhauser

Ben’s Fanked Up Broadway

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, February 22, 2018

Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes

Ben Fankhauser

First things first: Ben Fankhauser has the goods. There’s that velvety voice—agile with a gorgeous tone. There’s that approachable charm, charisma and likability quotient that particularly appeals to the three “G”s: girls, grandmas, and gay men. There’s that robust musicianship.

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And, most importantly, there’s that unique style and dynamic that most other young men of his age could only aspire to. So why does Fankhauser’s recent outing leave us feeling so empty?  

Opening with a contemporary pop version of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II) which morphed into a Stevie Wonder-inspired jam session on the Broadway standard, Fankhauser proves he means business. His back-up band, the brass-heavy Fank 5 lead by music drector Charlie Rosen, matched Fankhauser’s intensity at every turn and provided the “slam, bang, tang” aesthetic that permeated his arrangements.

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There was a big-band medley of selections from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Frank Loesser), followed by a mash-up medley of “Beyond the Sea” (Jack Lawrence/Charles Trenet), “I’d Rather Be Sailing” (William Finn), and “On a Slow Boat to China” (Frank Loesser). Fankhauser expertly serves up supper club “realness” (as the kids would say), yet the slick appeal quickly begins to wane, particularly when he followed with yet another mélange, this time from Big River (Roger Miller).  

With the exception of the catchy but facile “You’re Falling in Love,” self-penned, Fankhauser never allows his audience a simple moment for authentic connection. There are incessant medleys, hyper-kinetic in nature that deflect from any emotional journey, as well as entire selections stuck behind a piano. The physical distance literally separates himself from the possible complicité with either duet partner (the always spectacularly voiced Natalie Weiss) or audience.

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And this foundation similarly casts the crowd as spectators waiting for his next vocal pyrotechnic moment, rather than feeling the embodiment of these stories. 

This was most evident in finale “Seize the Day” (Alan Menken/Jack Feldman), typically an anthem of ambition and hope. The arrangement was reduced to a gospel-shuffle, undercutting any of its original drive, and was layered with melismatic fireworks. Even when the arrangement segued into a gospel-frenzy breakdown ending, seemingly intended for a clap-along, the congregation sat dormant, oblivious to any lyrical messaging, feening for another hit of vocal over-exuberance.

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The pity is that Fankhauser really does have the goods to be an in-demand cabaret artist, rather than frontman of a Broadway house band, which is what this hollow evening seemed to amount to.

Randolph B. Eigenbrode

Randolph is the newest addition to the writing staff at Cabaret Scenes. He is a cabaret teacher, previously teaching with legend Erv Raible, and his students have gone on to success in the field with sold-out shows and many awards. He is also a director and that, combined with a knowledge of the art form and techniques that cabaret performing encompasses, makes him love reviewing NYC’s cabaret scene. When not catching the Big Apple’s crazy talent, Randolph loves 1970s variety shows, mall Chinese food, Meryl Streep films and a good cold glass of pinot grigio.