Song Man, Dance Man
Espresso energy, talent to spare, lean grace, lightening feet, congeniality, an irresistible grin, and that's not all. Jon Peterson has yet another quality that will add to any tribute. Peterson loves and respects his mentors. These are the song-and-dance legends who made American popular songs pop in films and theater musicals. Peterson gave a 29-tune salute to George M. Cohan, who brought new song, dance, and home-style theatricality to the American entertainment scene. He also saluted film terpsichoreans, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.
Another interesting, if unexpected addition, was Bobby Darin. He came along after the movie musical's golden age and yet Darin's charisma and rock 'n roll energy evolved into a nightclub audience magnet. Anthony Newley's trademark theatrical flair likewise brought his songs and dances onto the stage and into the clubs.
Yet, when it comes to talent, who cares what size the stage is? Peterson always makes it all fit. Even the broad moves of "Singing in the Rain" (Freed/Brown), so identifiable with Kelly and his umbrella, dancing free and easy and wet on a rainy street, succeeded at the Triad with Peterson reworking Kelly's signature broad moves. "I Got Rhythm" (the Gershwins) immediately brought to mind "An American in Paris," enlivened with Kelly's punchy stresses.
Peterson avoided long discourses on each song and dance master, and he did not try to imitate their voices as much as their moves. His dances cagily elicited the levity and distinction of each performer. After the definitive tap intensity of Cohan, Peterson switched body language for some flowing classics like the graceful "It Only Happens When I Dance With You" (Irving Berlin). Delivering the Gershwins' "They All Laughed" — ho, ho, ho, no need to announce that was Fred Astaire. Peterson slipped effortlessly into the angular flowing moves interspersed with complex tap rhythms. With Anthony Newley, Peterson emphasized the drama Newley communicated through body language rather than nimble footwork.
He has strong vocal power and breath control. The one sit-down moment was switching into a clown costume and applying makeup for Cole Porter's "Be a Clown."
Accompanied by pianist Michael Lavine, Peterson bookended the show with his own "Song and Dance Man." He has learned from the best and does them justice. You have not seen a heartfelt song-dance tour-de-force like this in a long time, at least not since Jon Peterson's last performance.
Jon Peterson returns with Song Man, Dance Man to the Triad May 18 and 20.