CEDAR RAPIDS – If you weren’t one of the 1,700 screaming fans in tuxes and cocktail dresses greeting Harry Connick Jr. in the gorgeous Paramount Theatre on Saturday night, never fear.
You may just get another chance.
He may be back.
“You know, we talked about that,” Orchestra Iowa CEO Robert Massey said after the gala reopening of the historic downtown Cedar Rapids venue, heavily damaged in the Floods of 2008.
“He’s in the works to sometime in the near future record a new album, release a new album. When that happens, he’ll likely tour, and when an artist is on tour, it’s much easier – (Connick’s people) now know where we are, know who we are, and we’ll see.”
No doubt it helps that Cedar Rapids rolled out the red carpet to welcome singer/songwriter/conductor/actor and Hollywood heartthrob Connick – and the Paramount Theatre -- all dressed to the nines.
“Seventeen hundred people on their feet, screaming at the top of their lungs, that’s a nice way to open a hall,” said Massey, who moved to Cedar Rapids right as the floods hit. This was the first concert he’d heard in the building.
“It was worth the four-year wait,” he said.
The concert “exceeded expectations,” he declared. “It was absolutely stunning.”
Judging by the buzz before, during and afterward, it’s safe to say the other 1,699 of us filling the hall to the rafters agree, wholeheartedly.
Everyone I spoke with after the concert said the same thing: It seemed like Harry was singing just to them. I heard that last week at a Halloween party, too, when a guest said that during her poor college student days, she sat in the far reaches of the campus auditorium – and felt like he was singing just to her.
The man simply drips with charisma and charm, casting his spell over the crowd from the very first strains of “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey.”
We came home in style. Walking down the first floor before the show, it felt like we were just here yesterday. Four years just melted away. But of course, we’re all too aware of how far the building and the city have come since the floods wiped out homes, businesses and performing arts venues in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
After singing and swaying through “The Way You Look Tonight,” the crooner who picked up Sinatra’s torch, told us all, “You look pretty good,” adding through the light swing of flute and strings, “that’s your orchestra.”
More than 30 Orchestra Iowa musicians joined Connick and part of his big band onstage for the full two hours. “They are astonishingly great,” he said later in the show.
He didn’t take long to make his feelings known. After the second song, he flashed that megawatt smile, heating up an already pumped and primed full house.
“This is a really big deal,” he said. “Theaters are my favorite places to play, and there’s not that many left. Intimate venues sound the best. Most of the time, the backstage area at these theaters is not nice, just old. This backstage is just as nice as it is out here.
“As for 2008, I so get it,” he said.
He spoke about the devastation and recovery efforts here and in his hometown of New Orleans, and now it’s all hit close to home again.
“My heart goes out to people on the East Coast,” he said. “My wife and kids are sitting in the dark.”
Then with a nod to Paramount perseverance and preservation, he said: “For you guys to do this – it’s so amazing that you would choose to do this. It says a lot about you and a lot about your community. The fellas and I are honored to be here, so sit back and let us entertain you for a while.”
“Entertain” hardly begins to describe the magic and love he spread throughout the historic hall.
He took us on a sentimental journey through big band, swing and jazz favorites, tossing in lots and lots of New Orleans and Dixieland celebrations.
The beauty of Connick’s genius is the way he takes something familiar and adds something peculiar or totally unexpected to make old songs spring anew, revitalized and rejuvenated.
He takes the gentle, sultry sway of Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners” and changes it up with a swingy bossa nova and injects a blistering trumpet solo from his band into “Smile.”
He shared glimpses of his personal life throughout, taking even the most sentimental moment and spinning it into something hilarious.
“I didn’t even understand The Beatles until five years ago,” he said. “I was born in 1967. I was more into Kansas and Queen. My sister is on a plane to Kosovo. She’s a psychiatrist and a doctor of internal medicine. I’m the dumb one in the family who plays love songs. Here’s one of the greatest love songs of all time. If you’re with someone you love, it’s a great time to snuggle. If not, you’re going to be a little uncomfortable for a few minutes.”
With that, he launched tenderly into the Fab Four’s “And I Love Her,” then gave it a twist with a swingy tenor sax solo from his bandmate Jerry Weldon.
Orchestra Iowa’s musicians were stellar throughout, getting a taste of playing in their “new” home’s perfect new acoustics, before their Homecoming concert next Saturday, Nov. 10. The strings provided the yin to Connick’s yang all night long. I especially loved the way they spread lush warmth behind hot tenor sax and Connick’s smooth as silk baritone on “When I Fall in Love.”
Connick is equally hip and cool at the keyboards, adding stride piano and boogie beats of his native New Orleans where you least expected them -- as well as where they’ve been from the beginning, like in his original, bouncy “Come By Me,” the title cut from his 1999 album.
A high-stepping, high-strutting trombone solo added a lively shade of blue to the deep, dark sounds of “St. James Infirmary,” made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1928. The dirge took on lots of sass, as Connick played piano with his right hand, snapped with his left and stomped his right foot before grabbing a shiny trumpet and strutting across the stage with his trombone player extraordinaire, Lucien Barbarin.
Then Connick invited his entire band to the front of the stage for a good old-fashioned Dixieland jam, bringing everyone in the audience to their feet clapping and shouting for more. He and his band delivered, with a wild rendition of “Sheik of Araby,” striking a gusher of gold with an already cheering crowd.
The gushing continued into the night, as the electrified audience filed out, giddy with delight, declaring this concert the perfect way to reopen the beloved Paramount Theatre.
Keep it coming.