Cabaret Review: KEN PAGE (Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre)

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by Jason Mannino on July 5, 2024

in Cabaret,Theater-Palm Springs (Coachella Valley)


Ken Page is a marvel. It would be reasonable to start and finish this review with that sentence. He has been a powerful presence in stage, film, and cabaret for well over five decades. If you think you don’t know him, you do. If for no other reason, he is the voice of Oogie Boogie in Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. But it is his work in the American Musical Theater which has really left an impact: on Broadway he played the Cowardly Lion in The Wiz, Nicely Nicely Johnson in the all-Black cast of Guys and Dolls (his Broadway debut), Old Deuteronomy in Cats, and himself as an original member of the hit revue Ain’t Misbehavin’.

On Thursday, June 27, he wowed the Palm Springs crowd in his glorious cabaret as part of Coachella Valley Rep’s 2024 Summer Cabaret Series. Early in the show, Page explained that at his age (he turned 70 this year), he asks himself, “Why do I still do it?” His answer: “I want to give people joy.” He did exactly that, gracing us with his enormously larger than life presence and joy. It was infectious in the best way.

He gifted us with elating, soulful, bluesy, heartbreaking music as he took us on a journey throughout his career and beyond (names dropped included Nell Carter and Shirley MacLaine). He knows what gives joy indeed, astonishing with a voice that hasn’t aged a day, as proved by the aforementioned shows: “Mean Old Lion” from The Wiz; “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” from Guys and Dolls; “Memory” from Cats (with Betty Buckley’s blessing as she expressed long ago that “Kenny” was the only one she wanted singing that song to her at a tribute); and three show-stopping performances from Ain’t Misbehavin’ including “This Joint Is Jumpin’,” “Your Feets Too Big,” and “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” In the two and a half years since Stephen Sondheim’s passing no theater performer’s cabaret has really been complete without a little of his music. He included from the Sondheim canon by sharing that when anyone asks a veteran like him for career advice he explains “You Gotta Have a Gimmick” (Gypsy) and to keep it “Cool” (West Side Story). I think Sondheim would have been thrilled. Page handled a little mix-up of lyrics with humor and grace, illustrating his legendary status.

Throughout, the distinctive Mr. Page cast a magical spell that had the audience “Feeling Good” (Bricusse and Newley’s The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd). It almost seemed like audience was breathing in unison with cohesive hearts, almost like a ritual. He ended with a stunning spiritual, chant-like interpretation of Michael Colina’s “Shambhala” in which he assumed the essence of a Shaman, blessing the viewers before sending us on our way. Thank you, Ken. And bless you, too.

Ken Page
2024 Summer Cabaret Series
Coachella Valley Rep, 68510 E Palm Canyon Dr in Cathedral City
reviewed June 27, 2024
cabaret series continues: for tickets ($50), call 760.296.2966 x 201 or visit CVRep

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