NEW YORK — Canadian Gregory Charles is the son of a Trinidadian father and Quebecois mother, hence the title of his one-man musical, “Black and White.” Charles began a U.S. tour with performances Nov. 12 and 13 at the Beacon Theater here.
Charles is “the man who took Canada by storm,” according to his publicists. He can sing, he can move and he can definitely play the piano. Now in his 30s, he won his first piano competition at age 7. When he was 13, he played at Carnegie Hall.
His current show has two segments separated by an intermission. The first part is all about him — his life and where he came from. In strong voice he sings about his African heritage, at one point doing a very credible version of Paul Robeson’s “Ol’ Man River,” then launching into a Motown medley.
The second part is all about the audience. While entering the show and during intermission, the audience is asked to suggest songs they would like him to sing. It is a fun way to show off his vast repertoire. Adding to the fun, when he pulls a song title out of the hat, he just
tells his music director what key to play in, but not what song he is going to sing. The pianist, the back-up band and the audience wait in anticipation. The audience and the band love it and it is a good audience participation device.
One gimmick that many in the audience seemed to be expecting was his playing of two pianos at the same time. This display demonstrated his musical pull between classical (his mother) and jazz (his father). The man has skills, no doubt about it. The show ends with a couple of standard gospel songs performed by a youthful choir.
Charles is talented, energetic, engaging and aiming to please. He is a man who has done many things: hosted television shows in Canada and France; gone to law school; acted in plays; conducted the New World Choir; and toured with Celine Dion.
Charles is comfortable being on stage — maybe too comfortable, which leads to some lack of discipline and self-indulgence. At times there was more talk than music. Charles has the potential to be a great all-around performer in the mode of Sammy Davis Jr., but that will require revealing more of himself, laying himself bare.
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