Adam Pascal, in skinny jeans and sneakers, suggested Friday night that the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater was “too hoity-toity a venue for me.” His introspective 70-minute set — more lite rock and jazz than Broadway — seemed primed for a moody late-night bar scene even before the singer belched midway through a tricky rendition of “Maria” from “West Side Story.”
“If my mother had been in the house, she’d have slapped me,” Pascal semi-apologized after the number.
Pascal chafes at the label “Broadway rock guy,” which he earned for good as the original Roger in “Rent.” He’s thrilled, he said, to be appearing as Billy Flynn in the eternal Broadway production of “Chicago,” and he credited a stint as the Emcee in “Cabaret” with making him feel accepted as a singer-actor with range.
That thought led to one of the most atmospheric musical mash-ups of the brief evening, the frosty Kander and Ebb waltz “I Don’t Care Much” with the brooding “Rocket Man.” Pascal easily caressed the melodic rise and fall of the Elton John hit, his voice light and sure through both alienated, melancholy tunes.
Pascal, accompanied by Larry Edoff on piano and Gary Seligson on drums, played electric bass as he sang that and most of the evening’s selections. He began on acoustic-electric guitar and opened with a gripping solo piece, strumming exotic chords that could have been anything but turned out to be “Memory” from “Cats.”
There it was, the fabulous Pascal instrument: a powerful, roughed-up rocker’s growl with uncommon clarity and control. A lot of the performance occupied a bland middle ground, reflective but vague, so when Stephen Sondheim’s “Not a Day Goes By” came out sounding like something by Billy Joel, it was intriguing but not an obvious triumph. On the other hand, when Pascal finally put his guitars down and soulfully tore into U2’s “Red Hill Mining Town,” the singer’s clarion authority was irresistible.
Pressley is a freelance writer.