Photo credit: Matty Baker
If Liberace had had a son—a son who said, “Dad, you’re embarrassing me, can’t you be more dignified?”—that son would be Dorian Woodruff.
Impeccably musical, impeccably groomed, and with impeccable vocal technique, in Welcome Home: Everybody Has A Story, Mr. Woodruff presented glimpses of his own backstory and the origin of his “love affair with opulence” through a series of vignettes about the people in his past, mostly neighbors and associates of his redoubtable grandmother, a former Ziegfeld girl. I was sometimes mystified as to the connection between a story and the song that followed it, but the set itself was a dessert buffet of standard ballads (Moonglow [DeLange/Hudson/Mills], Lazy Afternoon [Moross/Latouche) and melodious pop (Welcome Home [Manilow/Sterling/Arkin]), made more delicious by the sensuous piano work of musical director and co-arranger Rick Jensen.
Mr. Woodruff is a beautiful singer, sweet-toned, nuanced, and tasteful, and he takes his singing seriously. His set list included some surprises: the thematic opener, Everybody Has A Story (Ackles), Justin James’ quiet country ballad A Beautiful Life, and two excellent choices from the contemporary cabaret songbook: Steven Lutvak’s cheeky I Just Wanted You To Know (unfortunately truncated), and Steve Sieck’s My Side of Town, which served as a confident and jazzy punctuation mark between two towering ballads (Lazy Afternoon and Jimmy Webb’s hymn-like If These Walls Could Talk).
There seem to have been rather a lot of elderly grownups with swanky pads in Dorian’s past. Perhaps it is his personal reserve that led Mr. Woodruff to focus on the eccentric neighbors and their possessions, rather than on his own relationships with said neighbors, but I found some of the between-song vignettes to be at best just passingly amusing. Other stories resonated: Mr. Woodruff’s slow-dawning discovery that his uncle and “kilted ginger” roommate, who shared a 6-room Scottish castle, were life partners; and his memory of the opulent brownstone with an indoor pool where his grandmother’s friend lived with her artist son—with whom the teenage Woodruff used to skinny-dip. This story moved seamlessly into an edge-of-the-seat performance of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On, Come On, a stellar example of cabaret story-telling in which all the elements were provided for the listener to infer—or remember—the ravishment of an adolescent’s first sexual experience.
Mr. Woodruff also dropped his reserve in two shiver-inducing dramatic ballads, You and I (Bricusse) and Fifty Percent (Bergman/Bergman/Goldenberg). When he harnessed real feeling to his formidable musicality and golden instrument, Mr. Woodruff blazed as bright as his red velvet blazer.
Woodruff rarely makes a false move on stage, but when he and Mr. Jensen started My Man (Yvain/Willemetz/Willemetz/Pollack) in different keys, his chagrin was unexpectedly charming. It provided the briefest of glimpses of a more private Dorian, sweet, abashed, and giggly, the boy behind the mask (an antique, peacock-feathered Venetian eye-mask with jewel-encrusted detailing, that is).
Like Woodruff, Liberace was a serious musician with a serious coif who gloried in spectacular outfits and the trappings of luxury; but unlike Woodruff, Liberace had a playful joy in his own obsessions, and was never above mining them for laughs. Woodruff may have been trying to embrace his own inner Liberace with Hot Wheels and Taffeta (Clark/Winkler), but this rocker about a couple of pre-adolescent cross-dressers struck an off note for me: after all, Dorian was already wearing the aforementioned red blazer, whose backstory I really wanted to know. I wanted to see more of that boy behind the mask playing with his expensive toys, and enjoy his joy–not hear him sing about it.
But my critique was assuaged by the show’s closing moments, when Mr. Woodruff left the mic on the piano and moved through the living-room-like space, delivering Lew Spence, Marilyn Keith, and Alan Bergman’s Sleep Warm to each audience member individually. It was as intimate as cabaret gets, the sweetest of marriages between voice, music, and lyric—magical.