Triple-threat Melvin Robert fulfilled a childhood dream when in 2009 he dazzled audiences as Tom Collins in the Los Angeles Regional Premiere of Jonathan Larson’s Rent, a performance about which I wrote: “His rendition of the ‘I’ll Cover You’ reprise [is] one of the evening’s most gut-wrenching and beautifully performed moments.” Robert won an Outstanding Featured Performance Scenie for his powerful work opposite Jai Rodriguez in that production, and a second for Best Ensemble Cast for the Moonlight Stages production of Miss Saigon the following year.

Robert now takes time to reminisce about his career’s First Act in his deeply personal, endlessly entertaining one-man-show, appropriately titled The Second Act, playing for two more Sundays at West Hollywood’s Marilyn Monroe Theatre.

Backed by vocalists Anthony M. Braithwaite and Olivia-Diane Joseph, dancers Kylie Jefferson and Taylour Paige, and a fabulous four-piece band under the expert musical direction of Christy Crowl, Robert gets things started with the high-energy “Let’s Get It Started,” followed by a song that holds particular meaning for him, Britney Spears “Circus.”

“There’s only two types of people in the world,” go the lyrics. “The ones that entertain and the ones that observe. Well baby, I’m a put-on-a-show kind of girl.”

Robert has been a put-on-a-show kind of guy since childhood, though it hasn’t always been easy to take the harder of two routes. Parents who insist that their boy learn to play every sport in the book may not know what to make of a child who hears music, even on a soccer field, and who likes the uniforms he gets to wear a good deal more than the sports themselves.

Boy Bands were at the height of their popularity when twelve-year-old Melvin wrote ‘N Sync a letter proposing himself as their sixth member, and as his infectious rendition of “Tearin’ Up My Heart” makes abundantly clear, he was ready for the spotlight, even if ‘N Sync never did respond to his letter.

Though Boy Band stardom wasn’t in the cards for young Melvin, musical theater was. After all, just like Mike in A Chorus Line, Robert took one look at Justin Timberlake’s dance moves and realized (song cue) that “I Can Do That.”

And do that he did, at the age of sixteen, when he nabbed the role of Will Parker in his high school’s production of Oklahoma! To paraphrase Steve Allen, this was only the start of something big.

Melvin had just graduated from high school when he came to a life-changing realization, the acknowledgement of which earns The Second Act an A+ for honesty, integrity, and guts. A maiden visit to West Hollywood’s The Abbey may have terrified young Melvin, but as his joyous rendition of Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed A Boy” makes perfectly clear, not only did he do that.  He liked it!

Following a sudden attack of fear, a panic that sent him back to the classroom, this time in the role of teacher, “Fabulous Baby” (from Broadway’s Sister Act) describes how Robert felt when he auditioned for Debbie Allen and “reclaimed the entertainer” in him, an artistic rebirth that led to Rent, and Robert’s deeply moving “I’ll Cover You,” which he reprises here.

Willow Smith’s “Whip My Hair,” Maroon 5’s “Harder To Breathe,” Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter,” Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine,” and an encore performances of The Beatles’ “Let It Be” complete Robert’s sensational song set.

Among the evening’s many personal revelations is the one that comes last, and hardest, since it is so recent—a disappointing (though hardly definitive) career disappointment.

The Second Act gives Robert the chance to once again reclaim the entertainer he was born to be, and as he awaits that sure-to-come phone call informing hin that the gig he so longs for is his, Robert’s sizzling solo show demonstrates incontrovertibly that this is a performer to be reckoned with.

Braithwaite and Joseph provide awesome vocal support, while dancers Jefferson and Paige perform Ferly Prado’s electric choreography with abundant energy and sex-appeal. Robert’s band couldn’t be better, with Crowl on keyboard, Justin Smith on guitar, Steve Bringelson on bass, and Jack Kelly on drums.

Robert co-directs The Second Act with Walter Wolfe, and has assembled a bang-up design team: Eric Hermanson (lighting), and Alex Mackyol (Sound), Lauren Rodriguez (costumes).

Christian Rodarte is marketing producer, Chris Tye-Walker producer, and Daniel Perez stage management.

Looks, physique, voice, dance moves, acting chops, and the charisma of a star…Melvin Robert has them all, and then some. If The Second Act is any indication of what’s in store for Robert in his career, then in the immortal words of Al Jolson, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” Robert’s second act has only just begun.

Marilyn Monroe Theatre at the Lee Strasberg Institute, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
July 15, 2012

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