Highly Recommended Cabaret: WILL HE LIKE ME? (Phillip Chaffin at Coachella Valley Repertory in Palm Springs)

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by Tony Frankel on June 6, 2024

in Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley),Tours


Philip Chaffin, who has the perfect honeyed baritone for those swanky musicals of the 20s and 30s, embarked on an adventure that was rather trailblazing when his 2018 album Will He Like Me? came out (so to speak). (See my review.) It’s a collection of show tunes — some rarely done, some which are part of the Great American Songbook — that tells the story of a relationship from courting to hurdles to true love. Chaffin, who for 31 years has been married to Tommy Krasker, with whom he formed the label PS Classics, has already released four well-produced solo efforts with his label, chock-full of Broadway’s best tunes, so it’s no surprise that this wonderful collection includes such standards as “When I Marry Mr. Snow” and “Happiness Is Just a Thing Called Joe.” But here the pronouns aren’t altered.

It’s a gay love story, sung by one man to another.

Now, Chaffin and Krasker will share the stage on Wednesday, June 26, at Coachella Valley Repertory in Palm Springs for the debut of Chaffin‘s new one-man show, Will He Like Me?, drawn and expanded from the 2018 Bistro Award-winning album.

The 80-minute, one-act show consists of 29 classics of the Great American Songbook — songs that were once the exclusive domain of women — reimagined for the marriage-equality era. Through the course of the evening, Will He Like Me? charts a gay man navigating a series of relationships from first date to final farewell — told entirely in song. Chaffin’s 2018 album — which includes such rarities like Martin & Blane’s “An Occasional Man” and the title song from Man With a Load of Mischief — has been augmented with 12 additional theatre songs: songs that, like the others, couldn’t or wouldn’t have been sung by men until recently. Krasker — whose first New York job was rehearsal pianist on the original production of Nine — will accompany Chaffin at the piano.

Chaffin comments, “We always hoped that the album would become a stage show, but it called for a whole lot of rethinking. On the album, the storyline was left to the listener’s imagination. Here we see the man go through five distinct relationships — each with a beginning, middle and end — and that took us years to figure out, because we wanted to stick to songs that men wouldn’t or even couldn’t sing just a decade or two ago. The new songs include even more classic songwriters: Cole Porter and Frank Loesser and Jerry Herman and Burton Lane — plus two John Bucchino songs I’ve always loved, that were introduced by Liz Callaway and Andréa Burns on albums we ourselves released. It’s funny: in 2018, the album felt like a celebration of new freedoms. Now, when LGBTQ rights seem in danger again, the show gets me very emotional. Getting onstage and telling a gay man’s love story through classic theatre songs — and doing it during Pride Month — is very moving. I was actually rehearsing ‘Lovely, Lonely Man’ last week when we heard that Richard Sherman had died. I thought that never in a million years — when I was growing up in Louisiana — did I imagine that someday I’d be singing that on a stage, and not have to change ‘man’ to ‘girl’ or something like that. I think Palm Springs is the perfect place to premiere the show — and I’m so thrilled that Coachella Valley Rep invited me to do it. It feels liberating — and important at this time — to sing these songs honestly.”

Chaffin and Krasker will be having the new songs orchestrated later this summer, then head into the studio, record them and add them to the original album, so that the new stage version is available on disc. Chaffin and Krasker hope to perform the show — a hybrid of a musical and a concert — at cabaret spaces and second stages across the country. To that end, although the show is fully staged, the set consists of just a few movable stage pieces, and the wardrobe changes — suggesting the passage of time — are made while Chaffin is onstage singing.

Krasker says, “I think the show will appeal to anyone who loves American popular song and a good story — especially a good love story. But I think it’ll be especially fun for show music fans. They’ll hear things others won’t. Here’s my favorite example. We realized early on that the show onstage needed a lighter touch than the album — we were too ballad-heavy — so we devised a 15-minute section where the character Philip plays gets involved with a man named George. The entire relationship is told through songs that Amalia and Dot sing in She Loves Me and Sunday in the Park With George, respectively. I think that’s the sort of thing that show music fans — who know the material well — will get a real kick out of. There are Easter eggs all over, as when one of Dolly Levi’s lyrics from Hello, Dolly! — just four bars of it — is used to set up one of Dot’s songs from Sunday in the Park in a way you’ve never heard.”

2024 Summer Cabaret Series
Coachella Valley Rep
May 15-July 25, 2024
Wed and Thurs at 7
for tickets ($50), call 760.296.2966 x 201 or visit CVRep

Philip Chaffin recently portrayed the role of Da in Coachella Valley Rep’s production of Once. A recent transplant to Palm Springs, he spent the previous 25 years in New York City, where his credits included the world premiere of Alan Menken and Tim Rice’s King David and the Encores! revival of Sweet Adeline. He’s soloed in venues from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to the Kennedy Center, performed in regional theatres up and down both coasts, and — as a singer with the Ray Conniff Orchestra — spent nearly three years touring Brazil. But he remains best known for his recordings, which have garnered him three Grammy nominations. They include the big-band themed Where Do I Go From You?; his reflection on his Southern roots, When the Wind Blows South; and his Dorothy Fields collection, Somethin’ Real Special. His most recent album, 2018’s Will He Like Me? (a love story), reimagines the Great American Songbook for the marriage-equality eraweaving together nearly a century of American popular song to tell a gay man’s love story. The New York Times cheered, “From ‘When I Marry Mr. Snow’ to ‘I Got Lost in His Arms,’ Chaffin tells a familiar story that has never sounded so new.” In addition to performing, Chaffin is A&R Director of PS Classics, dedicated to the heritage of Broadway and American Popular Song. The label’s cast albums — including Fun HomeFolliesSondheim on SondheimPorgy and Bess and Grey Gardens, several of which Chaffin produced himself — have been honored with nine Grammy nominations.

Tommy Krasker has been producing albums — mostly Broadway cast recordings — for 35 years now. He was Stephen Sondheim’s preferred album producer from 1999 to 2015, producing 15 Sondheim discs, including Broadway cast albums of AssassinsCompanyA Little Night MusicThe FrogsSondheim on Sondheim and Follies. He has received 12 Grammy nominations for his efforts.

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