The Radio in My Head: Aaron Tveit Live at 54 Below is a remarkable debut album by a young artist who has enjoyed an amazing breakthrough year this past season. Acclaimed for his Broadway turns in Next to Normal, Catch Me If You Can, Wicked, and Hairspray, his blazing Enjolras in Les Misérables, and his starring role as Mike Warren on this past summer’s USA series, Graceland, the almost thirty-year-old actor is also known among fans and professionals alike for his golden voice – one of the finest musical theatre performers to grace the stage in many years.
But it is the way the voice, itself, shines in the diverse repertoire that makes the album so satisfying. Tveit is no ordinary lyric tenor. His voice possesses a creamy sheen combined with a forceful drive. It is filled with sunshine or tinged with silver as the song dictates. His tone is focused, and his range is stunning, especially in his very comfortable higher register. His phrasing is sculpted; his diction is clean and compelling; he has an expressive command of dynamics. Classically trained, he understands musicianship and how to bring a composition off the page, and he is sensitive to the stylistic demands of each song.
As a first-time cabaret performer, he brings a boyish, informality to his banter with the audience, nicely captured on the CD. The arrangements by Bryan Perri are artfully conceived, and the musicians, Eric Davis (guitar), Michael Blanco (bass), and Damian Bassman (drums), led by Perri on keyboards provide stirring and stylish accompaniment.
Tveit opens the program with a rousing delivery of his signature I’m Alive from Next to Normal. He then segues to two legitimate musical theatre classics. His Something’s Coming from West Side Story is one of the finest renditions in memory; he has the lyricism needed for Tony combined with a sexy tension dictated by the jazz rhythms, and he effortlessly manages the high Ab conclusion. If I Loved You from Carousel is phrased with elegance and a melting romanticism.
Tveit’s shapes the long lines with lovely legato, and arcs through the one and a half octaves of the song with seamless beauty. Both renditions make one wish a producer would soon mount a Broadway revival of these masterpieces for Tveit!
The singer’s country styling of Bob Dylan’s To Make You Feel My Love has a liquid plaintiveness, and Bruno Mars’ When I Was Your Man is a full-voiced rock account. One of the most moving moments comes with Tveit’s quiet, subtle, tender rendition of Craig Carnelia’s What You Call a Dream from Diamonds, which showcases the singer’s gift for storytelling in song. The luminosity of Tveit’s voice captures the “sun shining like diamonds,” and the wonder he conveys helps incarnate the magic of the moment for the young ballplayer.
Returning to two songs that Tveit has performed on stage, He offers a powerfully emotional reading of One Song Glory from Rent, making Roger’s tormented aspiration absolutely heartrending. He follows that with an exquisitely soft and haunting performance of There’s a World from Next to Normal and a touching interpretation of Adam Guettel’s Hero and Leander from the song cycle, Myths and Hymns, where Tveit gracefully floats the ornamented line and captures the poetry of the text.
As a singer Tveit is always attentive to text, and this talent is especially evident in I Could Be in Love with Someone Like You from The Last Five Years and Run Away with Me from The Unauthorized Biography of Samatha Brown. In the first he pays tribute to his friend and inspiration, Norbert Leo Butz, who created the role of Jamie, while managing to put his own stamp on the piece; in the second he delivers a mini-drama – conversational and lyric, vulnerable and imploring.
The pairing of Billy Joel’s She’s Always a Woman with Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You is as unusual as it is inspired. Tveit handles the tessitura of the Mitchell song, written for a woman, with ease and makes the story his own.
The singer’s wicked sense of humor surfaces in his send-up of Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, complete with audience sing-along. Sly but not camp, Tveit manages both to do justice “to an artist whose career I have supported from the start” at the same time that he, in his own words, “indulges his own craziness.”
What better finale than Goodbye, Tveit’s showpiece farewell from Catch Me If You Can? Frank Abagnale, Jr. is a role tailored to Tveit, who participated in the development of the Shaiman-Wittman musical and then starred in it on Broadway. As he did on stage, Tveit gives an all-stops-out performance of the song – part bravado, part heartbreak.
For encores, the singer chooses a vintage pairing of My Romance from Rogers and Hart’s 1935 Jumbo with the Victor Scherzinger-Johnny Mercer 1941 popular song I Remember You to close the evening on a romantic, nostalgic note.
The Radio in My Head captures Tveit’s solo cabaret and recording debut with eloquence and immediacy. One only wishes that this wonderful series on Broadway Records might someday consider video recordings as well. Surely, Tveit, for whom music is inseparable from drama, would be a visual as well as aural delight!