Two of the activities I've missed the most over the past 18-odd months were spending the evening socializing at a friend's house and enjoying an intimate musical performance in an indoor venue. Last Tuesday, June 15, I killed two pandemic-era birds with one stone by attending a cabaret concert by local crooner Kevin Kelly and his brand-new jazz trio, the Mood Swings, at the Timucua Arts Foundation.
For more than two decades, former Cirque du Soleil music director Benoit Glazer and his wife, Elaine Corriveau, have been inviting Orlando arts patrons into their home for live performances and literary events. Over the years, they've poured more than $2.5 million dollars of their own money (or, as Glazer says, "all of it") into the world-class 100-seat concert venue that forms the heart of their big white SoDo house. The space was recently upgraded with a state-of-the art Acoustic Control Systems sound system, a marvel of engineering that can replicate the acoustics of a concert hall, a cathedral or a castle.
All that made Timucua the perfect place for Kelly to debut his new combo in a free concert for friends and supporters — including city commissioner Patty Sheehan — which doubled as a promotional shoot for this fresh act, which he hopes to take on the road. Clad in a sparkling turquoise retro tuxedo jacket created by producer-designer Skip Stewart, Kelly commanded the stage with a careful balance of charismatic charm and self-deprecating humor.
After an ebullient opening rendition of "The Best Is Yet to Come," Kelly welcomed his audience with an anecdote about his unfortunate early career playing piano in a shopping mall food court, then launched into a loving tribute to Lena Horne and Harold Arlen.
The first half-hour of Kelly's Timucua comeback concentrated on Frank Sinatra standards and other Rat Pack favorites, with a swinging sing-along rendition of "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" that nearly brought down the roof. In the second section, Kelly and crew shifted seasons to present a sample of his new Swinging Christmas Party show, featuring Louis Armstrong's "Have a Yule That's Cool" and other mod mistletoe melodies. Between songs, Kelly bantered comfortably with the band and audience, unveiling embarrassing family stories and unleashing an avalanche of groan-worthy dad jokes.
Putting together the Mood Swings, which Kelly calls a "dream child," has been the culmination of a two-year process that Stewart pushed him into pursuing. The shows were written during the pandemic with a focus on "keeping them up and swinging and fun, trying to do a new spin on all the old chestnuts that we've done."
Aside from a handful of live performances last holiday season, Kelly has spent much of the past year moving his private performance coaching business online at kevinkellyteachesyou.com, as well as building up theconnectedperformer.com, a nationwide audition-coaching service he operates with fellow local singer Natalie Cordone.
"We help young actors who have recently graduated and just dropped into the workforce and don't know how to be an actor professionally," Kelly explains. "We actually set up the model on Zoom before the pandemic [when] nobody knew how to use it, and now suddenly everybody does, which is really good for us."
Kevin Kelly Sings at the White House was a one-night-only affair, but if you missed it you can catch him in July at the Villages' Savannah Center as Nathan Detroit in Guys & Dolls, a role he says he's "wanted to do for a long time, so I'm really psyched about." Immediately after that, Kelly will star in the concert revival of [title of show] at the Abbey, reuniting under director Kenny Howard with most of the cast that appeared in Orlando's acclaimed 2020 production. (The remounting had originally been scheduled for February, but was postponed due to COVID.)
"It's good to be back on the stage," Kelly told me after the performance, admitting that he "got a little choked up" being able to perform for a maskless full-capacity crowd again.
Watching my seatmates wipe away a tear or two as Kelly wrapped up his joyful Christmas in June with a little "Winter Wonderland," I can say for certain that he wasn't the only emotional one in the house.