The Music Man: John McDaniel’s Broadway Comes to the Post Office Cabaret

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Review by Steve Desroches

John McDaniel has always loved Broadway. Growing up in St. Louis, his home was always filled with the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Debussy as his mother was a piano teacher. But when he was in the sixth grade, he appeared in his school’s production of The Music Man, and he was hooked on the American musical tradition of the Great White Way. He’d visit the Kirkwood Public Library weekly and take out multiple LPs of Broadway cast recordings. It all changed his life, says McDaniel, who has gone on to a stellar career as a composer, pianist, and conductor. That access to Broadway, even though he was far away from New York City, is when music became part of his DNA.

“I’ve loved Broadway all my life,” says McDaniel. “I love Broadway folks and I love Broadway music. I love it all.”

The famed piano man is bringing his love of Broadway to Provincetown with a new mini-series at the Post Office Cabaret over three weekends in late September and early October. McDaniel first visited Provincetown over a decade ago, but made his debut in 2014 with a revival of Four Girls Four, a production originally starring Rosemary Clooney, Helen O’Connell, Rose Marie, and Margaret Whiting. McDaniel’s production, which played at the Crown and Anchor starred Andrea McArdle, Faith Prince, Donna McKechnie, and Maureen McGovern.

“I remember flying to Provincetown on that tiny plane, one of those Cape Air planes, with Donna McKechnie, and I had to sit in the co-pilot’s seat,” says McDaniel. “I don’t know how to fly a plane. I kept thinking I’d have to land the plane if something happened to the pilot. Donna must have sensed, or shared, my anxiety because she said, ‘Hey John, you know what to do if you have to take the controls, right?’ I laughed, but inside was nervous. Seeing Provincetown as we approached calmed me down a bit as it’s so beautiful. But I was very happy to land.”

He came back, by ferry, the following year, when he accompanied Academy Award winner Shirley Jones, who was performing at the Crown and Anchor. He returned last year to accompany Grammy Award winner Melissa Manchester for a run of shows at the Post Office Cabaret. That engagement led to Cabaret owners Jack Kelly and Paul Melanson inviting McDaniel to create a Broadway series of his own as the two, who also own Tin Pan Alley, continually look for fresh new shows and collaborations, especially when it comes to music.

The result is John McDaniel’s Broadway in which each weekend he appears with a different guest star from Broadway. Kicking off the series is Hugh Panaro, who has portrayed the Phantom of the Opera over 2,000 times and also appeared in productions of Les Misérables and Side Show. Next is Eden Espinosa, who is best known for her turn as Elphaba in Wicked, as well as appearing in Broadway runs of Brooklyn the Musical, Flora the Red Menace, and Rent. And closing out the series is Lee Roy Reams, the famed song and dance man who starred in The Producers, 42nd Street, La Cage aux Folles, Oklahoma!, Hello, Dolly!, Sweet Charity, and more over his illustrious career. For his Provincetown appearances Reams will focus on the work of his late friend, the legendary composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, the man behind such shows as Mame, Hello, Dolly!, and La Cage aux Folles, who died in December of 2019 at the age of 88.

Tying this new addition to the Provincetown music scene all together is of course McDaniel. A Grammy and an Emmy award winner, McDaniel first worked on Broadway in the 1994 revival of Grease, starring Sam Harris, Billy Porter, Megan Mullally, and Rosie O’Donnell. That three-and-a-half-year gig proved monumental for McDaniel as starting in 1996 he would begin a six-year run as musical producer and composer on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, the smash hit television talk show, whose host also loved Broadway as much as McDaniel.

During and after his time on daytime television McDaniel would also work on shows like Annie Get Your Gun and Taboo, the musical about the New Romantic scene of London in the 1970s and 1980s that propelled Australian artist Leigh Bowery and Boy George, in particular, to fame. McDaniel also collaborated with Broadway legend Patti LuPone on her 1993 live show and subsequent recording. Still very much creating and in-demand, McDaniel now lives in Fort Lauderdale and recently finished performing on a Broadway on the Mediterranean cruise from Rome to Barcelona organized by Playbill Travel, a subsidiary of the famed Playbill magazine, with Broadway stars and fellow Provincetown performing alumni, Audra McDonald, Liz Callaway, Tommy Tune, Gavin Creel, Will Swensen, and Bryan Batt, among others. Despite cruising around the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea, McDaniel is already thinking of Provincetown.

“It’s just so beautiful,” says McDaniel, ashore in Barcelona. “I’m never not overwhelmed by how beautiful Provincetown is. And to get to play music with good friends…even better.”

John McDaniel’s Broadway is at the Post Office Cabaret, 303 Commercial St., Provincetown, beginning with Thursday, September 22 – Saturday, September 24 with Hugh Panaro; Thursday, September 29 – Saturday, October 1 with Eden Espinosa; and Thursday, October 6 – Saturday, October 8 with Lee Roy Reams, all at 6 p.m. Tickets ($45/$65) are available at the box office and online at postofficecafe.net. For more information call 508.487.0087.