From Mozart to Pop Chart at Flat Rock Playhouse
There’s no word for the phenomenon that is Nat Zegree. Actor, singer, musician, performer — all true but far from sufficient. The old-fashioned “showman” comes to mind, but that sounds more like he’d be wearing a tux and top hat rather than the tails of many colors and headband he first appears in for Nat Zegree: From Mozart to Pop Chart, the remarkably entertaining show he’s starring in this weekend only at Flat Rock Playhouse.
We’ll have to settle on “entertainer” with a series of adjectives: dynamic, madcap, improvisational, personable, and the flat but oh-so-true “extremely talented.”
Mozart is essentially a one-man musical revue with orchestra (members of the Hendersonville Symphony) and band (members of Flat Rock’s house rock outfit) sharing the stage. The title — a running joke is that it’s “From Mozart to Pop Tarts” — describes the show’s diverse mix of classical favorites and pop hits. The stated objective is for Zegree to hold forth enthusiastically on how music of all eras shares roots, rhythms and even melodic moments, but the real agenda is to let Zegree perform his wildly delightful versions of familiar works, this time with symphonic backing.
This is, by my count, Zegree’s sixth appearance at the Rock, and it’s an expansion of ideas he introduced in 2017 in One Nat Only, a raucous one-night, one-man show during his run performing the title role in Amadeus (a rare production in which Mozart played his music live onstage). He was first seen at Flat Rock stealing the show as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet in May 2016 and also performed more-or-less solo evenings at Christmas 2017 and for the Playhouse’s Dark Night Revue fundraiser last year.
This five-performance run is a special treat, though, because of the collaborating symphony and rock musicians, ably supporting Zegree as he segues, for example, from Aaron Copland’s bouncy ballet classic “Hoedown” into the Emerson, Lake and Palmer progressive-rock reinterpretation of the same piece — or, rather, into Zegree’s reinterpretation of the ELP reinterpretation.
The music is wonderful throughout, focusing on the classics in the first act — the greatest hits of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and others — and leaning toward classic pop in the second — expect a “piano man” or two, and a moonwalker. Zegree’s patter about musical history and theory is casual, funny and informative, clearly more from the heart than from a script. He’s also a natural improviser, turning his torn pants (“on my left cheek”) at Friday’s show into an ongoing gag. A bit with a volunteer page-turner is also hilarious and no doubt different at every performance.
Zegree is not a subtle performer, in either his vocals (he has a passionate pop-rock voice) or his piano playing, in which drama and emotion are always the driving forces. But he is boundlessly engaging, and he puts his full heart into every chord and lyric. The admirable symphony and band players seem energized by his leadership, and by the rare opportunity to play such an eclectic lineup of tunes.
The show may be best experienced without consulting the song list in advance, so I’ll avoid naming any other titles, but I will note that the extended finale is entirely worthy to close out this thrilling evening of music in the charming company of Nat with a Z.
Seats are available for the final three performances this weekend (at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and at 8 p.m. Saturday), and you’ll want to scoot over to the Rock whether you’ve seen Zegree before or not. Every encounter will leave you buzzed and smiling. Visit flatrockplayhouse.org for details and tickets.
(Photo: Nat Zegree in Million Dollar Quartet at Flat Rock Playhouse in 2016, courtesy of the Playhouse)