Saturday, February 12, 2000
Rosemont Theatre, Rosemont
Over the past 10 years, Styx lead singer Dennis DeYoung has matured from idealistic rocker to theatrical maestro. In between the two Styx albums of the '90s, he recorded a solo album of classic showtunes (10 On Broadway), played Pontius Pilate in the touring company of Jesus Christ Superstar, and penned some of the sweetest songs of his career for his own musical, an adaptation of The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. So in hindsight, it's not surprising that while Styx is off touring Japan, he should have appeared on Valentine's Day weekend with a 50-piece orchestra to play a sold-out Rosemont Theatre show.
Opening with a grand overture of Styx songs, DeYoung finally took the stage in black suit and grey-white hair looking perfectly the part of rock "maestro." But throughout the crashing pomp of a splendorous "The Grand Illusion" and wide orchestral expansion of "Suite Madame Blue," as well as an unexpected run-through of "Mr. Roboto," DeYoung proved he is still an energetic stageman, aping guitar solos and miming dramatic moments with a singular ease and humor. While the draw of the show for many was to see Styx hits like "Best Of Times," "Babe," and "Don't Let It End" fleshed out by an orchestra, the crowning moments of the show didn't feature Styx at all and barely featured the singer.
A three-song section in the second half of the show was dedicated to DeYoung's Hunchback musical. Mike Eldred, who played Quasimodo in the Nashville production of the show, and Dawn Marie, DeYoung's sister-in-law who performed on the album, served as the background singers for the entire show and performed solo for two of the songs from Hunchback. After their songs, DeYoung joined them for the musical's most intense selection, "With Every Heartbeat," which ended with all three singing together and elicited one of several standing ovations of the night. The trio combined again for another show highlight: an a capella rendition of Styx's "Show Me The Way," a song which hardly seems suited to dropping its hymn-like backing instrumentals, but the audience approved anyway.
DeYoung himself seemed more at ease and less rehearsed on stage than he ever is with Styx, taking the time to tell stories about nearly every song, including the background of his first solo hit "Desert Moon" and the working man's ode "Harry's Hands." He took special delight in singing two Gershwin songs from his 10 On Broadway disc, "Someone To Watch Over Me" and "Summertime," noting that he's always felt himself a "melody man born in a rhythm age." Fans learned a thing or two from his monologues: that the Broadway album (not The Grand Illusion or Paradise Theatre) stands as his favorite from among his recordings, and that "Clair De Lune," which he recorded in 1976 as a prelude on Styx's Crystal Ball album, was a favorite song of his father's, who was stationed overseas in World War II. When the orchestra played it following DeYoung's personal introduction, the quiet beauty of the song was almost chilling.
In the end, pairing the Styx singer with an orchestra made for a brilliantly conceptualized show and a warm homecoming for DeYoung, who hasn't performed solo in years, but promised that this won't be the last. Let's hope not.