By Tulis McCall

John O’Hurley @ Café Carlyle; Photo by David Andrako

You cannot get any more Irish thank John O’Hurley.  Just cannot do it.  He was born, he says, at a very young age in Kittery Maine.  On Saturday nights his parents would get dolled up (after his mother had her hair “done”) and go out to their favorite restaurant where they would eat and drink and dance cheek to cheek.  It was a time not only of standard music, it was a time when people had standards.  Luck no longer looks like a lady.  We no longer sing of the splendors of love.  Instead we just say “My life would suck without you.”  And the way we relate to each other is through FB which if you go six friends in you will find Kevin Bacon.  So the premise of his show, john O’Hurley, A Man With Standards, we are told, is to look back over his shoulder at the past that gave him so much as a child and the career that has served him very well in deed.  Between soap operas and sit coms he has done himself proud and made his dreams come true.

Memoir cabaret shows, however, are difficult to pull off.  Even the extraordinary Judy Collins loses a bit of luster as she drops one gigantic name after another,  I don’t know if it is because the performer believes we will be as enamored of every detail as s/he is or that they came up short with the musical list of songs.  Either way, a cabaret that is heavy on storytelling and short on musical numbers doesn’t work so very well.

Mr. Hurley has musical panache a-plenty when he swings and lets himself relax.  His first three numbers are rich and lush Mr. Clown (Hugo Peretti), Times Of Your Life, (Roger Nichols, Bill Lane), Beyond The Sea / Let There Be Love (Charles Tenet, Jack Lawrence / Lionel Rand, Ian Grant). And his trio is remarkably robust: Steve Rawlins – Musical Director, Pianistm  Ron Vincent – Drums and Rusty Holloway – Bass .

Instead of staying in the musical arena where he excels, O’Hurley instead begins the narrative of his childhood, complete with his favorite Dachshund Taffy, who listened but never spoke.  He frog leaps to Sinatra’s influence on him when he returned with Old Blue Eyes is Back.  O’Hurley gives a catalogue of his own work.  Dr. Granger on The Young and The Restless was actually the Grim Reaper for both characters and actors.  We are let in on the genesis of the first season of Dancing With The Stars in 2005.  O’Hurley reminisces about the role of J. Peterman on Seinfeld and his full page farewell ad in Variety.  Finally we hear about his successful run in Chicago where he appeared in 1500 performances.  We take a dip into a very obscure movie by Anthony Newley – Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? – which was an x-rated musical that flopped – because O’Hurley loves a couple of songs from it.  This is how we find out about the wonderful birth of his son.  This leads us to his marriage which is pretty swell.The stories go on and on and on.  Where a phrase would do, O’Hurley sinks  his Irish heels into the ground and uses entire paragraphs.  There seems to be more talking than songs in this evening, and that is too bad.

Here is how this shakes out for me – I don’t care about any of that chatter.  What I care about is the vibrant funny man standing on the stage ready to fly without a net.  What is, perhaps, the most touching musical number of the evening is a song Hurley wrote for his wife – The Greatest Love The World Has Known.  The piece is musically intriguing and it is delivered without an iota of explanation other than the simple facts.  It is tender and wrenching in the way that all good love songs are.  It is the real deal, and proof of Hurley’s talent.

John O’Hurley has Irish Charisma, pipes, chops, and the ability to tell a good story.  What he needs now is someone who can jump into the pool with him and help him shape the evening he deserves.  Not just a musical director – someone who will pull out the nuggets and let O’Hurley see his path through a new set of eyes.

O’Hurley is a very funny man who could step up his musical content, his sarcasm and his bite, trim down the narrative and let loose.  Let go of being careful and fly into the face of absurdity.

Surprise us as he prays to surprise himself.

JOHN O’HURLEY A MAN WITH STANDARDS: Performances will take place Tuesday – Saturday at 8:45pm and Saturday at 10:45pm. Reservations made by phone at 212.744.1600 are $85 ($135 for premium seating, $75 for bar seating) Tuesday – Thursday & Saturday late show; $110 ($160 for premium seating, $85 for bar seating) on Friday and Saturday. Reservations can also be made online via Ticketweb. Café Carlyle is located in The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel (35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue).