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A CurtainUp Review
Jeff Daniels in Concert
By Elyse Sommer
I've heard about his other activities as founder of the Purple Rose Theater in his native Michigan, as a playwright and his venture into concertizing, singing his own songs and accompanying himself on the guitar. Wow! Daniels may look like a handsome Mr. Average, but he's certainly above average in terms of energy and versatility. When I learned that he was using one of his Mondays off from Carnage to strut his musical stuff at Pittsfield's beautifully restored Colonial Theater, it was like a bit of sunshine brightening this rainy summer season.
And guess what? Daniels is a terrific solo entertainer. He strums a mean guitar. And the minute he steps on stage and sits down with his acoustic guitar in his lap, you know you're going to be in for a good time and that you'd like to know this actor/singer/songwriter better. Since his bluegrass inflected songs are very personal and frequently autobiographical, he indeed had the audience at the Colonial (as he no doubt does when he appears elsewhere) enjoying themselves immensely and leaving the theater with the sense that Daniels may be a movie and Broadway star, but that they've spent time with a regular guy who just happens to be enormously talented, funny and charismatic.
What is no doubt a well practiced routine comes off with impromptu naturalness. His opening number, "Pittsfield on a Monday Night" is obviously adaptable to whatever locale he happens to be performing at. He ramps up the connection with his listeners by encouraging audience. participation -- for starters, instead of warning people about cell phones, he tells them to pull out their gadgets and go ahead and take all the pictures they want. Before a song about Detroit trains and his first car, a Blue Valiant, he asks the audience to call out the names of their first cars. At the Colonial concert a man whose first car was a 1946 two-tone Ford not only had his car integrated into Daniels' ditty but was invited on stage to blow a wooden whistle.
The show concluded with another audience involving number that brought several people on stage to illustrate his singing of the "Big Bay Shuffle." And as the people at Mamma Mia always get up to dance, so the folks at the Colonial rose in unison to clap and shuffle along. And yes there was an encore!
What about the quality of the music and singing? Daniels tends to stick with a few favorite chords and his voice is pleasant if not extaordinary. It's the storytelling, character defining lyrics that make these songs enjoyable. And of course the man doing the strumming and singing. Here's hoping that Daniels will make a return visit to the Colonial or, if you don't live in the Berkshires, to a town near you.
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