It’s a thrill to “discover” talented performers and watch them as their careers
take flight. I first saw Andrew Chappelle in a high school production of Grease in
2004.  Not just any high school; this was LACHSA, the Los Angeles County High
School for the Arts, where some of the most talented kids in the L.A. area
prepare for future careers in showbiz. The cast of Grease included Corbin Bleu,
who has since gone on to teen stardom as one of the High School Musical kids.  
More importantly, Grease also starred Andrew Chappelle, a young man whose
own Broadway fame is just a few years away.  Chappelle riveted audiences the
following year in his scene-stealing performance as James Thunder Early in
Dreamgirls.  Following his 2005 graduation, Andrew headed off to CCM, the
University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, a school whose
Broadway/TV star alumni include Vicki Lewis, Randy Harrison, and Faith Prince,
among many others.

Now in his third year at CCM, Chappelle has returned to L.A. for winter break, and
what better way to entertain his family, friends, and fans that by starring in his own
one-night-only cabaret, which he entitled The Pieces of Me. A daunting
undertaking, but one which Chappelle, backed up by a trio of talented friends and
a pair of equally talented musicians (Graham Jackson on piano and Max Wrightson
on drums), succeeded at magnificently to a standing room only crowd (which
included CCM grad and Broadway star Shoshanna Bean) on December 22 at the
Unknown Theater in Hollywood.

Andrew Chappelle is what is known as a triple threat performer.  He acts, he sings,
he dances, and in The Pieces of Me he put them all together in a thoroughly winning
and professional performance which showcased his musical theater ready baritone,
his fancy footwork, and a charmingly self-revelatory humor.

Chappelle opened the evening with a cleverly rewritten “What Am I Doin’?” (from
Maltby and Shire’s Closer Than Ever) in which he wondered out loud what he was
doing undertaking something as intimidating as putting on his very own cabaret.  

The audience soon found out what Chappelle was doing.  He was putting on an
entertaining hour of song, dance, and laughter, and a look back at the people and
things that have made him into the young man he is today.  He recalled being a
chubby child (with photographic proof) who enrolled in all the sports his school
offered, despite never being particularly good at them.  Clearly, if fame was to
occur, it would have to be through a different route than professional athletics.  

Later, as a student in a private Catholic school, young Andrew stuck out as different
from the get-go. (How many of his fellow classmates would end up worshiping at
the altar of Whitney Houston, diva extraordinaire?) And in Stephen Sondheim’s “Live
Alone And Like It” Chappelle sang the anthem of a boy who truly enjoyed being by

Chappelle’s favorite show, Bacharach and David’s Promises Promises contributed
two of the evening’s best selections.  In “Half As Big As Life” Andrew sang “I’ve got
lots of dreams and my dreams will take me far,” something which his audience could
certainly attest to. “Wanting Things” struck a similar chord. “Why must I keep
wanting things, needing things, when I have so much?”  That’s called ambition,
something particularly important in a world where, in the words of Mr. Sondheim
(and another of the cabaret’s highlights), “Everybody Says Don’t.” (“Can’t” is
certainly not a part of Chappelle’s vocabulary.)

Sitting in the audience was Chappelle’s beautiful (and beaming) mother Karen,
whose request was for a Sinatra song.  “My Way” being rather inappropriate for
someone of Andrew’s young age, Andrew ended up choosing “That’s Life,” for
which he brought up Mom for an onstage serenade. Next, he was joined by his
“sister,” the lovely and talented Gabby McClinton for “Baby It’s Cold Outside,”
something which Chappelle (at the CCM) and McClinton (at Carnegie Mellon) will
doubtless be saying once they get back to school in January.

Chappelle’s former LACHSA classmate and Grease/Dreamgirls costar James Fowler
(who possesses a rich bass-baritone voice) joined him for “Worlds Apart,” a song
about two close (but very different) friends.  Perky Miss Gavin Turek, another future
music star, gave Andrew a breather taking center stage to sing a moving “Be A
Lion” (from The Wiz), in which she was joined by “Lion” Chappelle after a costume

Apparently, one of the questions Chappelle gets asked a lot is “What are you?” 
Turns out he’s 75% Cherokee and 25% African American. This discussion of race led to
one of the evening’s high points, “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” from Avenue Q, in
which Andrew, Gabby, James, and Gavin sang about…racism, in an amusing but
also insightful way.,

Chappelle closed the evening with Peter Allen’s “Not The Boy Next Door,” which
may well be true about Andrew, but “boy next door” or not, this guy has looks,
charisma, charm, wit, a fantastic voice, and “boy next door” likeability.

As I left the theater, an older woman seated by the door said to me, “We’ve
witnessed history tonight.”  Someday, in the not so distant future, audience
members at Andrew Chappelle cabaret will be able to look back and think, “I knew
him, I saw him in concert before his name was up in lights on Broadway, I discovered
him.”  The best is yet to come.

–Steven Stanley
December 22, 2007

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