Friday, March 29, 2019 | 2 a.m.
When I spoke to New York City-born musician and actor Donnie Kehr earlier this month about “The Greatest Piano Men,” the show he co-created and opened at the Flamingo’s showroom Tuesday night, he was confident this energetic, greatest hits-style musical revue would be a nonstop whirlwind of sing-along fun.
“I don’t want it to be a typical tribute show and it’s not an impersonator show. It’s three piano players and a seven-piece band backing us up and we’re honoring these legends, these piano icons,” Kehr said. “It’s all hits. The music is it. It’s very precisely staged and entertaining, just rock-and-roll fun. We just have a blast.”
I couldn’t have described it better myself. You would normally expect a few hiccups on opening night of any show on the Las Vegas Strip, but I don’t recall any such mishaps during “The Greatest Piano Men,” which easily lived up to Kehr’s description.
Sensationally stacked with the music of Billy Joel, Elton John, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and others, the show blasted through its 90-minute debut without stopping for a breath. The slower songs proved poignant and memorable but as soon as the final chords were played, the energy level bounced back up again.
A great example of this roller coaster effect occurs in the second half of the show when Kehr and Greg Ransom trade ballads by John and Joel; “Your Song” melts into “She’s Always a Woman,” then “Tiny Dancer” precedes “New York State of Mind.” The two entertainers sound a lot like the legends but also put their own stylish spin on each song, and when the sequence is over, Peter Peterkin returns to the stage to play some Little Richard songs and suddenly everyone’s dancing.
Peterkin also handles the music of Charles and Wonder, including a gospel-infused version of Stevie’s “Superstition” and an exhilarating rendition of “For Once in My Life,” producing one of the night’s highest highs. Kehr anchors the production and keeps things moving with a soulful appreciation of the material, and Stephen “Hoops” Snyder opens the show with a classical piano tour de force before sliding to the back of the stage to serve as a sort of secondary bandleader.
If you dig dueling pianos or celebrity impersonation shows, you’ll love “The Greatest Piano Men,” but it shouldn’t be directly compared to those types of familiar Vegas entertainment. This show is its own thing, an affectionate appreciation for our consensus favorite songs and artists, and these proud performers do justice to the music.
“The Greatest Piano Men” is performed at 7:30 or 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (with an additional 4 p.m. show on Saturdays) at the Donny & Marie Showroom at the Flamingo (3555 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702-777-2782) and more information can be found at caesars.com.