Wednesday, November 22, 2017

'Neath the Cover of November Skies

Not gonna lie, I like a man with range.

And that Scott Wichmann has range to spare. It's been so long I can't even remember when I first saw him onstage and though I've seen him dozens of times since, he never fails to dazzle, chewing scenery and singing with a voice that belies his height.

He'd dubbed his show tonight at Richmond Triangle Players "Leave Them Wanting Less" and with a three piece combo backing him up (including the always stellar Scott Clark on drums), he pretty much succeeded, although I'm pretty sure the devoted crowd would have stayed as long as he was willing to sing.

My seat was in the second row, off to the side, making for a fine view that included a canoodling couple in front of me and easy proximity to theater friends in the row behind.

Appearing from the back of the theater, Scott bounded to the stage and started right in with Van Morrison's "Moondance," singing, snapping his fingers and reminding us that it was a marvelous night to listen to him, too.

It immediately became clear that all his song choices had personal reasons behind them. His first date with his wife had been to see "Muppets Most Wanted," so he did "I Can Get You What You Want" and then bragged he'd already gotten her the dog and the ice cream cone and he was working on the moon.

No indication whether he intended to lasso or acquire it otherwise.

In 2003, he'd gotten a message from a director saying he had the perfect role for him ("It's probably Hamlet," he cracked), which turned out to be the lead in "Batboy, the Musical." Before singing a song from it, he quipped, "The play ran during Isabel when people didn't have power, but Firehouse was on a good grid so people came for the air conditioning and it sold out!"

I remember that production because my then-boyfriend suggested we go, only to find out it was sold out. As a consolation prize, he took me to see it while we were in London, which was pretty wonderful, albeit absent Scott.

There was a Mel Torme (one of his heroes, along with Sinatra and Bobby Darin) arrangement of a song from "The Nutty Professor" and a sweet tribute to his wife who's been away for a while ("Don't Dream of Anybody But Me") and tonight was sitting in the back.

"I love the feeling of being in the middle of the Great American songbook," he enthused to a roomful of people feeling the same without having to do any of the work.

Then he moved into hilarious mode for a couple songs, beginning with the favorite song of an older friend called "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park," complete with skipping and tossing out poisonous bits to the birds as he sang about strychnine and arsenic. In a nod to the fact that he was performing on the set of "The Santaland Diaries," next came a holiday classic he first heard as a 15-year old listening to Dr. Demento on the radio.

Whip me, Santa Claus
Spank me, Santa Claus
Don't worry if my flesh be seared
I should be harshly punished
For being bad all year
Choosing the correction is solely up to you
But I would like a reddened butt
Do what you have to do

Periodically as he sang, he'd face the drummer and raise his coat jacket enough to provide easy access to his backside. The audience roared. For "You've Got a Lot to See" from "Family Guy," he had us laughing so hard some of us missed lyrics.

The PC age has moved the bar
A word like "redneck" is a step too far
The proper term is "country music star"
You've got a lot to see

That's a big part of the Wichmann charm: he doesn't just sing anything, he acts and sings everything. Midway through the American standard "Skylark" when the pianist began a solo, Scott sat down on the floor and gazed at him raptly.

During intermission, I chatted with fellow theater regulars about the trend toward plays without intermissions, musing about the causes for it. Someone posited that it's an attempt to woo younger audiences with shorter attention spans, another complained that it hurt bar sales.

I was introduced to a woman, a devoted beer drinker, who'd just recently started drinking cocktails. Tonight was her first Cosmo ("I'm buzzed," she admitted when asked if she'd liked it) and her plan for next time was to have a Blue Lagoon. You've got to admire a woman with a plan.

Scott came back swinging with "Settle for Me," from a TV series I'd never even heard of (not that that's saying much) and using all his acting ability to sell it.

Settle for me
Darling, just settle for me
I think you'll have to agree
We make quite a pair
I know I'm only second place in this game
But like 2% milk or seitan beef
I almost taste the same

Then he got all serious on us, saying there's so much tumult and bad stuff happening in the world, so it was a good thing that we'd come out to hear some music and be with people. Just as we were buying into his solemnity, he launched into "From Russia With Love," ending by turning in profile and crouching with an imaginary gun. The crowd about lost it.

That song took us on a tangent about the Columbia Record and Tape Club where you'd send them a penny and get 13 records or tapes and then be indebted to them for the rest of your life. After scoring a penny from his Mom, one of young Scott's 13 records had been a selection of James Bond movie themes.

"So while the other kids were out playing football or baseball, I was singing Nancy Sinatra's "You Only Live Twice" in my backyard. That led me to where I am today," he joked, but probably everyone in the room was grateful for that penny.

As a proud member of the Navy Reserve, he dedicated "I'll Be Seeing You (In All the Old Familiar Places)" to his retiring commanding officer and everyone in the Greatest Generation who'd won the war at home.

I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I'll be looking at the moon
But I'll be seeing you

"I'm So Lucky To Be Me" went to "all the people who come up to me in the grocery store and say, hey, I saw you in that play or, hey, I thought you were taller! This song is about how you make me feel."

The song he sang for his estranged biological father who died this summer left him in tears, so he moved right into one about driving to Cape Cod, tying it into his Massachusetts childhood. The satirical "Entering Marion" managed to combine a road trip with enough sexual innuendo about townships to be full-on comedy.

Explaining that there were two basic truths - he would never play Alexander Hamilton on Broadway and we would never get tickets to see it, so as a matter of public service, he was going to perform "My Shot" and play all the characters.

Of course he nailed, right down to the distinctive accents and mannerisms of each of the participants and the show ended. At least until the standing ovation dictated that he return for an encore.

Turns out his last role in high school had been against actress Elizabeth Banks, so he took his next song from that. "This song is my personal musical statement," he said and began singing "The Impossible Dream." Goosebumps.

Classic songs, unlikely songs, hysterical songs and moving songs and not one pigeon harmed in the making of this song fest. Who could ask for anything more?

As for wanting less, I don't know that anyone left with a reddened butt, but I didn't check, either.

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