Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Reardon understood this set of songs from two of the greatest singer-songwriters ever (as he wisely pointed out, Dylan basically invented the singer-songwriter persona) is a bit of a stretch for a musical comedy veteran, but has bravely attempted to re-frame the selections to fit his voice. Sometimes, as with "Maggie's Farm," the approach is successful. He and his band and three backup singers give the song a bounce and drive that are both charming and toe-tapping. Likewise, his take on "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" gives the number a twang of western swing that works perfectly. Too bad he doesn't have a pedal steel player to add that final touch of Bob Wills-esque authenticity! But when it comes to "I Shall Be Released" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," Reardon's cheery persona can't help shining through these two very sad numbers, and they fail to communicate the emotional power within the songs.
Compounding these unfortunate choices, Reardon's voice, while pleasant enough, lacks power in the higher register. Every time he journeys up the scale, it is as though his voice is constrained or boxed in. Rather than bursting free to the emotional highs these moments require, he seems to struggle to maintain the pitch. One of his guest stars has a similar, but more serious problem: on her way to higher notes she often stops short and lands flat. (But in her middle register sweet spot, she is sweet indeed.)
Despite these flaws, the show is well planned, with just the right mix of banter, song background, and personal stories. The choreography, especially for his three backup singers, is top-drawer: imaginative and clever, but never drawing too much attention away from center stage. Reardon has some terrific comic lines and lands them well, with excellent timing. (Referring to the ostrich suit he wears, ostensibly mollifying the animal rights activists in the room, he says "For the price I paid for this, the bird was already sick.")
Given that this is Reardon's fourth appearance at Feinstein's, expect a return engagement (though likely with a different show) sometime soon.
Tom Reardon's Both Sides Now: The Songs of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, at Feinstein's at the Nikko through March 19, 2016. Information about Reardon's career and shows can be found at his website. The calendar of upcoming events Feinstein's at the Nikko is available at www.hotelnikkosf.com.