As I mentioned in my most recent Rapid Fire 20 Q interview, Chambers Stevens, who grew up in nearby Hendersonville, Tennessee, has been touring the country with his one-man show, “It’s Who You Know”, wrapping the current leg of the tour right here in Nashville with performances throughout Saturday, January 9 at TPAC’s Johnson Hall.
Even before the show begins, as the audience enters TPAC’s most intimate venue, they”re privy to a blank stage littered with white cards with famous names printed on them. When Chambers enters the stage, he explains that the concept for “It’s Who You Know” came from a show the late actor/writer/humorist Spalding Gray. Gray, who’s probably best-remembered for his autobiographic monologues, did a show in which he have names of plays he had been associated with in a box. He would draw a name and tell antidotes about that show. For Chambers’ version, think of it as ‘six-degrees of Chambers Stevens’, as he shares stories about his interactions with celebs, musicians, actors and the like.
Admittedly, the concept isn’t exactly new. Heck, TPAC even hosted drag comedian Bianca Del Rio’s seemingly Spalding Gray-inspired “Rolodex of Hate” back in the spring, in which she pulls names fro her rolodex and proceeds to gab. What makes Stevens’ show different is his stories are personal, not tabloid fodder, not mean-spirited, and as he himself admits, ‘100% true, as far as he remembers’.
While Del Rio’s show is snarky and gossipy, trashing her fellow contestants from “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, Stevens, while often hilarious, presents stories that are equally balanced with touching memories that allow him to introduce the audience not only to some of Hollywood’s biggest movers and shakers, but also to family members and friends he’s met along his incredibly true-story life. My personal favorite from opening night in Nashville involved Gwyneth Paltrow, Stevens’ best friend and a pizza.
When we chatted, Stevens promised special guests at each performance. If opening night’s surprise appearance by country singer Lari White, who wowed the audience with a gorgeous rendition of “Amazing Grace”, is any indication, the remaining shows will be just as much fun.
Now, I could tell you details about his stories from opening night. Stories that included remembrances of a teenage Stevens swimming with country/variety show stars Louise and Irlene Mandrell; his father’s besting Elvis Presley while in the army; Stevens’ New York City Ballet debut under the direction of the legendary George Balanchine; or how he ‘slept’ with Chaka Khan on a first-class flight, but it just wouldn’t be the same. Especially since each night’s performance of “It’s Who You Know” is different, depending on which names Stevens draws from the box.
At the risk of being like the book reviewer who caused a sensation with one of Stevens’ books for young actors by giving a little bad press, I must admit I’d have preferred Stevens to dress up a little more for his hometown crowd. The black t-shirt and comfy jeans just didn’t cut it. Also, while I’m not totally convinced the names in the box aren’t at least a bit pre-planned, it totally works. Stevens captures the audience from the first story and holds them with every word until the lights dim. Then again, that’s what you’d expect as Stevens points out early on in the show, he does indeed come from a long time of Southern storytellers. If there’s anything we southerners know how to do, it’s weave a great tale. Sprinkle those stories with personal celebrity asides and you’ve got a formula that just can’t miss.
Chambers Stevens’ “It’s Who You Know” continues its three-night run at TPAC’s Johnson Hall now thru Saturday, January 9 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Click Here for tickets. For more about the show, Click Here or follow “It’s Who You Know” on Facebook. You can also follow Chambers on Twitter.
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