by Joel Leggett
published Monday, September 24, 2018 on TheaterJones.com
FORT WORTH, Texas — Most people associate cabaret with standards, songs that have withstood the test of time. Michael Cunio certainly brings the songs that have lasted, they just happen to be serious rock ’n’ roll. The actor/singer, who’s playing two weekends at the Reid Cabaret Theater at Casa Mañana in Fort Worth, started the night with the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” with the power and slickness the song demands. Michael sings like a true rock star: confident, sexy and with incredible power.
He moved effortlessly from power rock songs from the 1960s and ’70s to “Roxanne” by The Police and “Creep” by Radiohead. You might recognize Michael Cunio from his appearance as a singer with Postmodern Jukebox on PBS; or seen him on Broadway in Hairspray or in regional theater productions of rock operas like Jesus Christ Superstar. Make no mistake, this isn’t a night of rock songs made into another genre; it’s a show of pure rock ’n’ roll in a cabaret setting. Cunio has a legitimate high-tenor rock voice that I can only compare to greats with similar voices, like Robert Plant, Mick Jagger and Adam Lambert. He hits high notes that are superhuman. Hear him sing and you will understand why he should be fronting a rock band. His voice and presence could fill a stadium, so it is wild to see it in such an intimate setting.
The new Reid Cabaret Theater that opened this year at Casa Mañana is a true asset to the organization. Seating is at cocktail tables and the drink service is fast without being intrusive. There is a small dance floor in front of the stage and Michael and the band had the ladies dancing to Ike & Tina Turner, among others.
Cunio is backed up by some terrific local musicians; he and Dan Peters on guitar were great together, with fun solos and improvisation. As the evening progressed, highlights included “Comfortably Numb” by Pink Floyd, which had audience members holding up the candles from their tables in the air; and “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zepplin, sung with pure bravado. The night closed with the Aerosmith anthem “Dream On.”
Michael Cunio at the Reid Cabaret Theater is a rare chance to see a master perform with a great band who could hold the attention of a stadium up close and personal. It was an unconventional choice for a night of cabaret, but Casa Mañana chose wisely.
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