Jerry Conn, The Westlake Picayune

Gary Powell is a singer, an instrumentalist, a poet, a composer and an all-around fun guy, loaded with a casual charm, talent and an inclination to relate and communicate.

So what kind of Z-Cabaret show would Gary Powell do? The answer: a very unusual show. Like no show you have ever seen. Probably like to show Gary Powell has ever done. And the opening night of Mr. Powell’s weekend in Zachary Scott Theater’s Z-Cabaret Series last Friday was a shot of Gary Powell’s essence into the hearts and minds of his audience. Many present were friends, several of whom played moving parts in the show by reading sections of Mr. Powell’s poetry to his accompaniment on piano or conga drums.

Mr. Powell was full of fun and contradictions in his humor and his work and, first of all, in his appearance. He said he’s 46, looks more youthful and fit except for white hair which he flaunts by wearing it longish and floating. A denim shirt, tail out whether sport coat or not, signaled his casual style. But mostly it’s his easygoing, ambling, sans souse approach to his show.

He sings his own songs, which range from serious, searching and even religious, to novelty songs and song expressing irritation with social convention with a few flavored sprinkles of the profane. And there is at least one song (my favorite) that potentially and symbolically combined all these qualities: “When I Pee on the Continental Divide.” A song born from his occasional trips by motorcycle to the Colorado Rockies to clear the static and cobwebs.

His songs do have some left-handed flavors of Randy Newman and also some of the quirky humor and poignancy of Roger Miller. His voice is flexible and his singing style has a contemporary style that takes slides and liberties associated with black blues singers. Indeed, on segment of this show dealt with a time when he was a choir director for female inmates at a state prison in Huntsville. He played a tape of one black lady singing and said she really taught him how to sing.

Amazing and fascinating is that Mr. Powell put together this show in an autobiographical format, that, in less talented and accomplished and people-sensitive hands, would right with a resounding thud.
But he drew well from an extensive career in music. Presently, he is composing, arranging, designing and demonstrating musical projects for various clients, including the Walt Disney Corporation. He also alluded to adventures, musical and otherwise, working on a cruise ship, singing church gigs while in college, teaching at U.T., and writing a church musical from which he performed a number. A recurring theme, in both song lyrics and poetry, was the coming to his own terms with society’s view of success, “turning out,” and the meaning of “making it.” Another was the coming to terms with those he had loved, girlfriends, as well as his father.

In this presenting of his personal life, Mr. Powell’s show was a sort of expansion of the Spaulding Gray monologues, but ad lib and with music, and with a little lovable help from his friends.

~ Jerry Conn, A&E Review from the Westlake Picayune