By Edward Kliszus
Debbie Gibson at 54 Below performed her “Out of the Blue” 35th Anniversary Event. The show began with video clips of Gibson performing in past concerts and scenes. The videos set the stage for tonight’s nostalgic biographical journey through Gibson’s star-studded career.
Gibson arrived, looking fabulous in a glittering sequin vest, short black dress, and spiked black heels. After welcoming her audience, Gibson sat at the piano and played the intro to her new album’s title track, “Out of the Blue.” She accompanied herself and sang, opening in an intimate, personalized fashion that tonight would evolve into a rockin’ music venue.
After the opening song, Gibson noted how wonderfully some fans dressed and expressed her appreciation for the great 54 Below team. This began a delightful pattern of playful banter and engagement with the audience. She introduced her sister Karen sitting stage left, and noted her affection for 54 Below’s mac n’ cheese entree. She later introduced Chrissie Clark, who sang on her first album. Still setting a celebratory tone for this evening’s event, Gibson segued into Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” explaining that there may be surprises tonight since she speaks her mind.
Gibson reminisced about her Broadway song favorites and performed “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line. She opened her time-tested book of audition materials and sang “I Honestly Love You” as a tribute to the recently departed Olivia Newton-John. These audition materials were to inspire many more moments this evening.
Madonna’s “Over the Borderline” followed, and we viewed a video snippet of the song “Fallen Angel” from Gibson’s 1987 album “Out of the Blue.” Gibson accompanied herself by singing “Fallen Angel” before demonstrating samples of songs from the past that didn’t make the cut for the “Out of the Blue” album. She recalled her sense of growth in artistry and craft as a lyricist.
For the “Play the Field,” singers Ronda Reese and Devon Marie joined Gibson on stage to add harmonies. Gibson featured a new contemporized verse for “Play the Field” before exclaiming, “It’s warm in here!” removing her vest and kicking off the spiked heels.
Alto saxophonist and percussionist Adam Tese arrived on stage as Gibson engaged with the audience. Her pal and fellow luminary Orfeh joined her to chat a bit and sing “Foolish Beat,” a favorite of Orfeh’s. The song opened up with piano and Tese’s powerful alto sax solo. The distinctive 80’s pop sound came alive!
The duo checked out the audition book to find another song as guitarist Jameison Ledonio arrived to complete the ensemble.
“Out of the Blue” was inspired by a boy who surprised Gibson with a gift in high school. This led to more video clips from the 80s and interviews about her songwriting.
“Only in My Dreams” featured the entire ensemble with another classic alto saxophone solo by Tese. The audience sang along as Gibson moved about the stage, leading her to walk through the audience to engage gleeful volunteer singers, including her sister Karen.
Gibson invited to the stage the Bookend Baldies, Eddie Bennett and Buddy Casimano. Gibson and Casimano had attended high school together and spoke of their history before the ensemble danced and sang “Shake Your Love.”
Another high school inspiration drawn from naps in Social Studies resulted in the song “Wake Up to Love.”
It was another soundtrack and Gibson’s recording of “Red Hot” set in a medium swing. Gibson wrapped herself in blue boa and climbed to sit on the edge of the piano lid. In an admittedly Broadway mood, Gibson sang the pensive, hopeful song “Maybe This Time” by John Kander and Fred Ebb from the 1972 film Cabaret. She left her teen pop persona with this song to demonstrate the gravitas, romance, and presence to deliver the American songbook!
Gibson referred to “Between the Lines,” another song inspired by her high school times. The music began with a classic ’80s soundtrack, segueing to Orfeh and Gibson thumbing through the audition book. “You Light Up My Life” was an outstanding result.
Gibson invited audience members from her original tour to come up and perform the “Out of the Blue” finale with its original soundtrack. This resulted in a full-stage and well-earned extended ovation.
The appearance of treasures recently rediscovered by Gibson in her garage helped prepare for tonight. From the archives, for example, a background recording emerged from the song “Double Take Baby,” which never made the cut. Tonight, a contemporized, energetic performance of the song reminded us of Gibson’s talent as a stage artist who commands the stage through her singing, dancing, and audience engagement.
Gibson’s way with fellow artists is like a group of family members singing at a piano in their home during the holidays. We learned that Gibson grew up in a house where music was a constant and heard of joyous scenes of her aunt dancing the Lindy hop to the family’s delight. She reminisced about her and her three sisters accompanying each other for auditions. Gibson was personable, fun, and clearly enjoyed engaging with the audience. She’s charming, self-deprecating, and pulled out all the stops tonight to celebrate and honor a career and life on stage. She proved she could both reminisce on her teenage stardom and deliver the American songbook to us.
For Debbie Gibson
Percussion/Saxophone Adam Tese
Guitar Jameison Ledonio
Background Vocalists Devon Marie and Ronda Reese
Sound Production Doreonne Stramler
Special Guest Vocalist Orfeh
Special Appearance Buddy Casimano and Eddie Bennett
For 54 Below
Livestream Director Becky Morris
Creative & Programming Director Jennifer Ashley Tepper
Lighting Director KJ Hardy
Sound Supervisor Amanda Raymond
Executive Producers Steve Baruch, Richard Frankel and Tom Viertel
254 W 54th St. Cellar, NYC 10019
Tickets & Info: (646) 476-3551