Cuccioli cabaret

After five seasons of wowing Pittsburgh CLO audiences in such robust leading man parts as Sky in "Guys and Dolls" and Sid in "The Pajama Game," Robert Cuccioli showed Friday night that he could wow them also in the more sensitive, intimate arena of cabaret.

The setting was the Renaissance Hotel, in the long handsome Symphony Room looking out on the Allegheny, home for the Cabaret Pittsburgh Riverview Series produced by Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre and subsidized by a gift from Richard E. Rauh.

Cuccioli called his program "Heroes," and you wouldn't call it cabaret in the usual sense, where an artist concentrates on massaging each song. Instead, this was more of a thematic revue, proposing and then evolving Cuccioli's idea of heroism.

In his first song, he posited a hero "larger than life," strong, fast and "fresh from the fight," and I feared we were in for Ayn Rand hero worship.

But as his idea developed, it expanded and refined itself. Moving from Don Quixote to the self-mockery of Sir Lancelot, from movie swashbucklers to the swagger of Elvis, from societal heroes (such as Martin Luther King Jr., John Kennedy and John Lennon) to more personal heroes (such as Christopher Reeve and Cuccioli's three supportive sisters).

In sum, the theme was a way to present a caring man who can trumpet forth an anthem with the best of them but also likes to croon a love song. After a generous 75 minutes, he offered a single encore, gratifying his fans (some of whom had come from far away, a Cuccioli solo show being a rare event) with "This Is the Moment" from his signature Broadway hit, "Jekyll & Hyde."

Among his fans Friday was Paige Davis, his co-star from the CLO's recent "Sound of Music." Cuccioli was superbly supported by a trio led by musical director Jan Rosenberg. Obviously, he has the skills and the charisma to flourish in this mode.

-- Review by Christopher Rawson,
Post-Gazette drama critic