Since his Broadway debut in 2002 originating the role of the young salesman Jimmy Smith in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Gavin Creel has transformed into a litany of memorable characters who have recently inhabited the Great White Way—from Claude, the charismatic leader of the “tribe” in “Hair,” to golden boy missionary Elder Kevin Price in “The Book of Mormon,” to the charming and naive clerk Cornelius Hackl in “Hello, Dolly!” Yet, contends the Tony Award-winning actor, his favorite part is when he plays himself.
“Some of my friends are chameleons. They like shape-shifting. When they step into a role, they are fearless, daring. I’m the opposite,” says Creel. “I am lucky to have been cast and employed doing characters, but I never feel more joy or more powerful than when I stand and be myself.”
And that he'll do — in full force — in his performance on Nov. 1 at the Tilles Center in Brookville. Accustomed to playing for packed houses, the 43-year-old musical theater star will deliver hits from his own stage repertoire along with other gems thoughtfully chosen from the Great American Songbook.
“I enjoy taking a song out of context and bending it to be my own story,” says Creel, pointing to “Another Hundred People” from the 1970 musical “Company” as an example. A small-town kid from Ohio who set out to make it in the big city, his performance of the Stephen Sondheim song, delivered in the Broadway show by a female character, acquires particular resonance here. “It’s a sequence. I sing and then I talk about my first time coming to New York City, and then sing, and then talk some more,” he says.
Other favorites include “What Do I Need With Love,” a solo reprise from his breakout role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and “Talent,” from Sondheim’s 2009 “Road Show” (previously known as “Bounce”). “I examine the lyrics and decide what is it that I want to say,” Creel notes of his ever-evolving playlist, which also often includes cuts from his three original album releases. One critic has described Creel’s show as “a staged singing of an autobiographical musical, replete with Bette Midler stories and pantomimed bicycle rides.”
Accompanying the singer on the Tilles stage is his longtime collaborator, Broadway music director and pianist Mary-Mitchell Campbell. For this gig, however, there are no costumes, no sets. “I’m finding that there is nothing more true than how music makes you feel,” says Creel. “It’s as if we were in a living room — just two friends sharing songs, making music together."
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WHO Gavin Creel
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Nov. 1, Krasnoff Theater at Tilles Center, 720 Northern Blvd., Brookville
INFO $69; 516-299-3100, tillescenter.org