Michael Cavanaugh brought a refreshing, vibrant take on some of most classic songs in the repertoire of legend Elton John—among many other iconic artists—with his rousing performance at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Concert Hall last night. Accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Pops, conducted by Steven Reineke, Cavanaugh’s electrifying melodies were perfectly accompanied by a full orchestra and band that kept the audience tapping their toes, slapping their thighs, and bobbing their heads all night long.
As the lead vocalist from Broadway’s Movin’ Out—which was made famous because of Billy Joel’s involvement in its production, Cavanaugh is no stranger to the stage. As a Tony and Grammy–nominated artist, Cavanaugh returns to The Kennedy Center for his second collaboration the NSO. He first performed at The Kennedy Center in April 2010, in Michael Cavanaugh in Concert: The Music of Billy Joel and More—which he referenced throughout the evening, alluding briefly to the prospect of a return performance.
Cavanaugh began the evening with “Philadelphia Freedom” and “I’m Still Standing”—invigorating the audience with pulsating bass and tantalizing guitar solos. Performing with his 4 band-mates and the full orchestra behind him, Cavanaugh’s vocals weree textured and unique enough to complement the rich combination of guitar and symphonic harmonies. His vocal style is also varied enough to accommodate a wide repertoire of songs—allowing him to easily switch between songs like “Hotel California” and “Pinball Wizard”—both boasting a very unique and recognizable stylistic signature.
Singing along is definitely encouraged, and his performance of “American Pie” by American folk rock singer-songwriter Don McLean and “Don’t Stop Believin’” by the classic rock band Journey, allowed the audience to genuinely participate in the concert in a way that is often rare in a symphonic orchestra setting. Hearing yourself since alongside a Tony- and Grammy-award nominated artist, a full rock band, and a full symphonic orchestra is truly a treat.
Perhaps the most mesmerizing songs of the evening were those in which Cavanaugh sang accompanied only by his own piano playing. Performing “Your Song” and “Candle in the Wind,” the stripped down set-up of these songs afforded the audience not only a nice change of pace, but also the opportunity to hear how strong Cavanaugh’s voice is: raw and unfiltered. Cavanaugh also teased the audience with new original songs from his new album including “Miles Away” and “Let My Love Open The Door.”
The talent of the NSO Pops is also not be understated. In several orchestra only pieces, conductor Steven Reineke explored the relationship between symphonic music and rock classics, including one piece entitled “Riffer Madness,” in which the orchestra and band went back and forth with popular motifs from both orchestral music and the rock genre.
By far, the neatest treat of the evening was the opportunity for the audience to text in and vote for one of three songs during intermission, which was later performed during Act II. The chosen song Friday night was Billy Joel’s classic “Piano Man”—which turned out to be, it seemed, the fan favorite of the evening. With a slew of rousing chorus sing-alongs and chilling vibrato, Cavanaugh’s rendition was incredibly earnest as he told stories about how he, too, at one point, was playing songs like these in piano lounges during the earliest stages of his career.
Cavanaugh has come a long way since then, and he carries the stage presence and technical chops of a seasoned, nuanced star, and his voice is the perfect instrument for delivering compelling renditions of classics from the American songbook.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
NSO Pops: Michael Cavanaugh: The Songs of Elton John has one more performance tonight October 26, 2013 at 8 PM The Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall at – 2700 F Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online, by phone at (202) 467-4600, or at The Kennedy Center box office.
Michael Cabanaugh’s website.