An artist’s growth can be a painful reminder of what growth really means. It means realizing the best next steps to take by failing. It means having multiple rejections and powering through the constant humiliation of everyday living. It’s taking risks that could transform you, both in a positive and negative way. It means re-inventing yourself constantly while trying to keep the best you had from the previous versions. Growing as an artist, in other words, is the pits. Only the most dedicated would go through with it. But it is also a thing of complete beauty. The maturity that comes with it, the reward of seeing your work recognized and out there, the constant inspiration you get from just sitting down and taking it in. All those traits make it worth it, and as I sat down at the gorgeous 54 Below I witnessed this process right before my eyes. Christian De Gré exposed his growing pains and delighted us with his growth on a night celebrating the last 15 years of his career.
“Twisted Operettas” had every step of De Gré’s evolution as a musical writer. From his early days creating more traditional fantasy musicals to the discoveries of his dark sound, everything is there and it’s obvious, which I thought was a brilliant way of showcasing his portfolio. His songs from the first musical he did “Spellbound” are not as interesting as the ones from his new musical “Jack of Hearts.” There’s an untrained playfulness in “Spellbound” that you can see reach its potential with “Fatty Fatty No Friends.” Consequently, this is what he refers as the second stage of his career and where the title of this concert comes from. As the playfulness finally finds its steps, the interesting part is seeing where his plotlines start moving towards. A more darker affair than “Spellbound” and his earlier work, “Fatty Fatty No Friends” kick starts the Burton-esque aesthetic of his work and the music to fit it. They are funny and heartbreaking, dark and light hearted, old school yet completely modern. His work reached a whole new level by the time “Beware the Chupacabra” had opened, but polished by “Whiskey Pants: The Mayor of Williamsburg,” the musical he did in between the other stand outs. These works show why he went from unknown to a staple of the NYC Fringe Festival and independent theater scene.
As impressive as the collection of songs were, it was the last third that caught my attention the most. Songs from his new work “Jack of Hearts” gives us a peek into an artist who is fully aware of his talents and ready to put it on display. It seems like the playfulness from his other works has been toned down, and the darkness will take his work into more dramatic territory. His maturity is now seeping as we get teased for his next production. Then a few songs from a musical he started working on got played, and the journey was complete. We had seen a man go from dreamer to a doer in the span of ninety minutes and we were the better for it.
I became a fan of Christian’s work last year when I reviewed two of his shows. I will be there when “Jack of Hearts” opens. Christian De Gré is not just someone to keep an eye open for, no, this artist is deserving of your support. Show that you appreciate good art and follow him.
Out of 4 stars: