Sexy R&B and Dating 101 Lessons Document ‘The Gentlemen…Experience’: Concert Review
Soulful concert featuring burgeoning R&B acts adds theatrical component to its lineup
While resting within the shadows of Southern-bred urban R&B, Alvin Garrett seems to be a longways from being a household name. A lot of that has to do with a lack of exposure and his permanent location; Birmingham, Ala. is simply not the incubator for his kind of musical style, not now. But he’s hoping to change that perception. Lately he’s been writing for the likes of Alabama native Joe Thomas (whose current single, “I’d Rather Have a Love” is spinning on Urban AC playlists across the country), Jordan Knight and Fantasia. He also earned a Grammy nod for his work on Trin-i-tee 5”7’s last album. Poised to break into the big time, Garrett is steadily climbing the ladder of success, while also working tirelessly on enough projects to make him look like a black James Franco. He’s a singer, songwriter, faithful member of Ruben Studdard’s old R&B/funk band Just a Few Kats. Now add playwright to his line of duties. With the launch of the half-stageplay, half-R&B concert The Gentlemen: The Experience, Garrett along with Just a Few Kats’ frontman Logan the Entertainer are both poised to put the often overlooked region of central Alabama on the map.
That’s not a premature guesstimation. Backed by a redoubtable house band, the “experience” is imbued with Steve Harvey dating tips, original compositions (“Move,” “Lawdhavemercy,” “Never Gonna Find”), decent stage actors detouring from Tyler Perry tomfoolery and sexy old-school throwbacks that defined the 30-and-up soundtrack, including Babyface’s “Whip Appeal,” Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and SWV’s “Weak.” And it is that stunning grown folks’ soundtrack that generates much of the show’s synergy. Both Logan and Garrett sing using their Trey Songz-designed crooning. Garrett, who trots back and forth from the lead microphone to his killer bass, depends more on gospel-stirred melisma; Logan is more visual with his pipes, while exploding with wild stage antics and MJ-tweaked pelvic gestures. But musical guest Danny Clay, whose appearances are less frequented, stands calmly, bearing very little motion. There’s a reason behind that: In order to channel his Luther Vandross, he needs precision and concentration. Like an Olympic gymnast, he has to make sure he calculates every breathing exercise just right and that he makes those hard-to-maneuver runs seem effortless. Singing the Luther catalog is a tedious job, especially if you’re mocking the late singer’s every move. But Clay doesn’t sound like an average impersonator; he actually sounds like he’s been possessed by him. And that’s probably why the crowd at the WorkPlay Theater immersed themselves in an obvious stillness. They were studying Clay’s every move, recalling every note from the original recordings and hoping that the rotund singer, dressed in a gentlemen’s black and white suit, would nail every second. He swooped, glided and pulled off the classic “woo-woo-woo” chants, as if Luther had been reincarnated for the magical night. His stage time seemed shorter, opting to sing the more modern track “Take You Home” as well as ten-minute versions of “A House Is Not a Home” and “If Only for One Night.” But the little time he had turned the night into something very special. It’s not often one will say that they’ve been to a Luther show since his passing.
The show’s acting was handled entirely by Preston Pratt III and Tanika Harrell, portraying a couple on a surprising date night that seems to be a forgotten work of art in today’s pop culture. Very little props are enclosed, which gives off a hint of off-Broadway appeal. Moments of laughter ensue when Harrell’s character breaks through the fourth wall to interact with the audience. Besides the few technical difficulties that plagued some of their skits (i.e. microphone volume), many of their scenes added spark to the program. As their running time began to fade with an intimate boudoir scene, the singers took back the stage, singing their own original songs, partying things up with Rick James and Kool & the Gang (“You and I,” “Ladies Night”) and concluded the evening with a sweet audience sing-a-longs. For a city that’s been earmarked as Ruben Studdard territory, the “gentlemen” proved that there’s ample room for others.
‘The Gentlemen: The Experience’ will play at The Bama Theater in Tuscaloosa, Ala. at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15. For more information, go to http://thegentlemenexperience.com.
INFO & DETAILS
Date: July 19, 2013
Location: Workplay Theater, Birmingham, Ala.