Posted by: Nancy | March 19, 2011

KC’s Best?

I saw an amazing performance this week — a kind of profound spirit that magnified the audience’s joy, and was magical enough to diminish burdens anyone came in with.

It was the McFadden Brothers, performing to an intimate crowd at Oak Room at the Intercontinental Hotel on the Country Club Plaza.

It began with Lonnie McFadden alone, and his irrepressible grin, telling stories and promising us a good time. From the first notes of “The Girl from Ipanema,”  through “Under the Boardwalk” and a cover of a Rev. Al Green sultry song, he owned the music. It was part of him, swingy, playful, joyous and just brimming over with something wonderful.  It was all punctuated with his trumpet and occasionally,with his delightful dancing.

Joyous. Then, in the second set, his brother Ronald joined him on the tiny, taped-down hardwood stage over the carpeted lounge floor. Energy doubled.

The two perform knowing each other’s every move. They tease each other a bit, riff on each other’s comments, tell stories about growing up in a performing household (their father was “Smilin’ Jimmy McFadden,” who performed with Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Jay McShann and other legends).

Seeing the two brothers dance, side by side, and then alternating in increasingly difficult and showy steps, I was reminded of the comparisons between Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire.  In this duo, Lonnie is like Gene Kelly, with playful in his movements, while Ronald is like Fred Astaire,  the essence of pure elegance. (Lonnie even broke the tap off his shoe!)

There was more. Lonnie’s daughter Gina was up next with a solo performance; followed by her younger sister Chloe with a searing cover of an Etta James blues song.  It sent shivers down my spine, and I’ll admit, made me cry. Then the two girls sang together; the kind of song that leaves one breathless. There was a touching moment when their dad turned to wipe away a tear.

The brothers came back to finish off the show with flourish and panache. They always do “Mister BoJangles” and this was no different. Except the moment that stuck was at the very end, as the two were closing the song, arms outstretched, slowing rising — the backs of their hands touch. Linger a moment. Sharing something for a moment.

The hands don’t clasp. They’re just together, intently, a subtle reach by both, to touch. It wasn’t just a too-small stage. It was a tender collaboration, an affirmation, a moment of deep connection.

We were privileged. I left thinking, “Was this the best performance I’ve ever seen?”

I’m not a professional reviewer. I don’t know if there might have been a better arrangement or sound levels might have been mixed differently or if the choreography was compromised by the tiny tap stage. Maybe so. All I know is that I recognized something profoundly powerful and joyous.

Go experience it for yourself.

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