Back home: Robin, Ben and Dan bring music to town
We've all heard the saying "local boy makes good." Last Friday, this was true in triplicate, and then some.
Two young men from Norwalk and Wilton and one from Darien came to the Crystal Theatre in Norwalk, (which, by the way, is a lovely small performance space) and regaled a large audience with an evening of wonderful music.
Before we go on, let me say that I have known all three of them, and watched them grow from teenagers who loved music and theater and wanted to be part of it, to young adults who have gone out there and done it. Each one of them has something special to offer, and we all saw it, and let them know it.
Norwalker Robin de Jesus is a two-time Tony Award nominee, for "Rent" and "In the Heights." He is a tenor, classically trained, and a "graduate" of Crystal Theatre, who with talent, training and determination, is already carving out a distinguished career. From Wilton, Ben Simpson, a natural comedian, recently graduated from Boston Conservatory and is already under management in New York, working hard to break into, while continuing to perform in, evenings like this one. Recalling his work in his pre-college years, it shouldn't be long at all before that happens. Dan Micchiche, who grew up in Darien, was a bright light in Theatre 308 during his high school years. After his graduation, also from Boston Conservatory, his career took off. He was on Broadway and on tour, including China, with "Chicago," in which he played "Mary Sunshine," but his emphasis has changed. He is an extraordinary pianist, musical director, and coach, who has come to the attention of Adam Guettel, the composer of "A Light in the Piazza." In a brief conversation before the show, he said that this seems to be the way he is meant to go. His support of Robin and Ben was not just that of an accompanist, but that of an artistic and musical equal, contributing to and directing their work with enthusiasm and obvious relish and enjoyment.
The show appeared informal, with a lot of banter and laughter and fun. It wasn't. The concentration in every single moment was absolute. The discipline, the frame and the program were there, and within that, the three of them had a wonderful time. There were no printed programs, and song was announced with some background. They opened with "It's Today" from "Mame" and went on from there, with pieces from "A Chorus Line," "Pippin" and "The Wiz." Some of the selections were unfamiliar, (admittedly, to me) like the witty "You're Nothing Without Me," "Live Out Loud," and the really touching "My Name is Archy." They sang two very special medleys of songs from shows by Cheryl Kemeny, who was a mentor and teacher of both Ben and Robin when they began as performers.
The entire evening was warm, funny, but also heart-satisfying for those who have taught and supported these young men as they set out on what is a difficult road. They were willing to achieve a solid foundation, to work hard and learn their craft, and it has paid off for all of them. We can all say with pride, "we knew them when..."
Dan Micchiche was assisted by an excellent drummer, Russ Nyberg, and in a charming moment, Ben and Robin were joined by Betsy Simpson, a lovely soprano (and Ben's sister) in the trio, "Old Friends," from Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along."