Broadway Finds It’s Countertenor in Downtown Cabaret

By James Monroe Števko

This Post is for the performance on March 18, 2017. 

For audiences expecting a normal night out to see cabaret sung by the usual voice types, this was no such night.

The SubCulture, an underground performance venue near the East Village, was presenting an evening of musical theater composer, Jason Robert Brown (Tony-award winning composer of Parade and Bridges of Madison County) sung by Broadway leading man, Steven Pasquale, who took on The Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Carousel” as Billy Bigelow two years ago.

The show kicked off with a hysterical vignette of impressive tap dances followed by “You Made the Wait Worthwhile” from Honeymoon in Vegas sung by JRB (as he’s called in the industry), with “She Cries” from Songs for a New World and the hit “The Old Red Hills of Home” from Parade ending the initial section.

The crowd died down after Pasquale’s triumphant climax into the song’s final falsetto “Farewell” and JRB took the mic once again to tell a story of his search for a countertenor.

“Surely he isn’t telling this story because there’s a countertenor here tonight!” I thought.

As it turned out, JRB crowd-sourced on Facebook, as is the norm today, in his search for a countertenor for that evening’s concert!

Out strutted the dashing Patrick Dailey, straight from Nashville, in a sleek, blue suit. He took his seat at the mic and opened his mouth for a soulful rendition of the spiritual “I Got a Home In-a that Rock”. Considering the audience that night, I was not sure many viewers had any idea what to expect, but Dailey won them over as he wailed to an emotional finish, exciting the room in the same way a soprano would with a final high C.

As JRB made clear in his search, he not only wanted a countertenor but one who could act. Dailey took on the song “Hope”, which made it’s debut the day after the elections by Kristin Chenoweth in her “My Love Letter to Broadway” review concert. Jason Robert Brown’s contemporary styling relied heavily on telling a story through song, so it was no surprise he made the effort to find someone with the proper dramatic chops. Dailey once again held us captive; the piece’s emotional journey presented not just through his outstanding stage presence but through his vocal musical finesse, briefly dipping down into his baritone register.

Returning to the stage, Steven Pasquale joined Dailey in another surprising twist in a duet from “The Bridges of Madison County,” beginning with “Before and After You” into “One Second and a Million Miles”, with Dailey singing the role of Francesca, originated on Broadway by Kelli O’Hara.

The evening carried on with JRB, who was not only an ingenious composer/lyricist, but also: star singer, witty cabaret host, and accomplished musician, accompanying himself on piano and even a bit of hambone percussion, slapping and stomping as the inspiration struck him.

Meeting Patrick Dailey afterward to express my astonishment, I learned his undergrad, Baltimore’s Morgan State University, has a rich tradition of versatile African-American countertenors, with careers that venture outside of the typical Baroque repertoire.

Dailey will be making waves next month with Grand Rapids Symphony, singing Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.

JRB’s concert series continues next month at Subculture on April 24th, with Broadway star, Betsey Wolfe, who played Ida in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus.” Anyone who’s a fan of great art by great artists shouldn’t hesitate to see JRB’s downtown artist-residency, that will no doubt end in another well-deserved standing ovation!