Broadway and concert star Daniel Reichard, best known for having originated the role of Bob Gaudio in the Tony- and Grammy-winning musical Jersey Boys, made his return to Birdland Jazz Club on Monday, July 31, for the first time as a headliner since December 2021, and his ninth time at the legendary club, with his intimate new one-night-only cabaret show It’s You I Like. In it, he revisited, from his current adult perspective, the life-lessons learned from the songs of guidance by the beloved children’s TV host, writer, and Presbyterian minister Mister Rogers. It was a touching theme, delivered with openness and heart and interspersed with personal stories of his own family and relationships, thoughts and sentiments, audience interaction and bits of humor (including the incident that made him decide to develop the current show), which charmed and affected everyone in the house.
The nostalgic set list consisted of seventeen numbers selected from the 200 Rogers composed for his iconic PBS show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, opening with a lively jazz arrangement of “This Is Just the Day,” to start things off on a happy note. It was followed by two songs of encouragement that are relatable for kids and adults alike, “You’ve Got to Do This” and “Are You Brave?” – both recognizing the common fear of failing and, when frightened, being courageous enough to get through it without even knowing it.
Of course, no concert inspired by the kind and loving words of Mister Rogers would be complete without his signature theme song “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” For that, the kind and loving Reichard paid homage by changing on stage from his initial tweed jacket and loafers to a cardigan and sneakers, exactly as Rogers did in every episode of his show. He then sang the simple song of friendship in the relaxed manner of the original, later noting how poised, steady, and level-headed the TV host always was when imparting his wisdom, leading him to wonder, whenever he’s faced with a challenge, “What would Mister Rogers do?”
Accompanied by a top-notch four-piece band and guest cellist, led by musical director Micha Gilad on piano (who also provided the expressive arrangements), Reichard actively moved around the stage and on and off a stool, as he brought the lyrics to life and made them all relatable. Directly addressing the audience with the inherent issues of self-esteem and motivation, curiosity and uncertainty, communication, love, and camaraderie, and enhancing them with anecdotes about his own experiences, he suited the tempos and moves of his performance to the content, shifting from a fast beat to slow-motion pacing in “I Like to Take My Time” and comical gestures and movements for “The Clown in Me.” He also joked about following up the “why section” of the concert with the “what,” as he brought a childlike sensibility to the “why, why, why” questions of “Some Things I Don’t Understand” and the silliness and energy of “What Would You Like to Do Today?”
Other highlights featured Reichard accompanying himself on piano for the emotional “Just for Once/Please Don’t Think It’s Funny,” which he dedicated to his husband Patrick and expressed his sometimes longing to be away from cell phones to focus on each other; “It’s a Lonely Kind of Thing,” which he personalized with his “cringe story,” lamenting the loss of a close friendship on a bad-mood day when he shouldn’t have answered the phone; “Sometimes People Are Good/Sometimes Isn’t Always,” in which he decries labeling each other and ourselves because nobody is any one thing all the time; and the moving “I’m Taking Care of You,” which he introduced by tracing his early years of being cared for by his parents and older sister, to him caring for his dog Bosco for eleven years, to the 45-year-old Reichard now taking care of his parents – a song made even more poignant by its exquisite cello accompaniment.
Rounding out the show were an increasingly fast-paced audience singalong to the bathtub song “You Can Never Go Down the Drain,” Reichard snapping along to the bass solo and down tempo of “I Like to Be Told,” and exuberantly referencing the gay community in “Many Ways to Say I Love You.” He closed with two more meaningful numbers – the titular “It’s You I Like,” again beautifully accompanied on cello and focused on the journey to understand and to love ourselves so we can others; and the upbeat “It’s Such a Good Feeling,” quoting Rogers’ observation that “Every day is special because you’re a part of it.” I can add that it was a very special evening at Birdland because Daniel Reichard was a part of it.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes, without intermission.
It’s You I Like played on Monday, July 31, 2023, at Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, NYC.