Harry Connick Jr. acknowledged that “the potential for failure is high” prior to one of several entertaining musical stunts he attempted Wednesday at the Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland.
He needn’t have worried. Almost all of his gambles elicited cheers of appreciation from the sold-out audience of more than 2,000.
For almost two hours, Connick, 51, acted as the host of a delightfully quaint variety show. While he’s widely known as an in-demand television personality and film star, his A New Orleans Tricentennial Celebration presentation focused on music and dance.
Connick reminded his admirers that he rose to fame as a child prodigy in New Orleans by playing a snippet of a version of the Joe “King” Oliver classic “Doctor Jazz” that was recorded when he was developing his formidable talents as a pianist and vocalist.
He admitted: “I did not know the song was about a drug dealer when I was 10.”
He’s since become a renowned ambassador of New Orleans, but on Wednesday, he allowed himself to be upstaged by a cabaret artist from Kansas City.
Midway through the show, Connick introduced Marilyn Maye as “the greatest living singer” and confessed that “nothing I will have done will be as good as” her appearance.
Maye, 90, serenaded the surprised audience with a sublime reading of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as she sat next to Connick on his piano bench. Maye wasn’t the evening’s only showstopper.
Jonathan Dubose Jr., a guitarist and vocalist Connick praised as “my favorite gospel musician in the whole world,” possessed the dynamic energy of the rock icon Bo Diddley. Dubose, of Connecticut, exchanged wildly inventive licks with Connick before leading the nine-piece band in a rapturous reading of “How Great Thou Art.”
The fancy footwork of New York-based tap dancer Luke Hawkins was as transfixing as a percussive magic trick. After exhibiting his moves, Hawkins led a New Orleans-style funeral procession through the audience as the band played “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Connick beamed with pride as he unveiled an unwieldy one-man-band contraption on which he played the opening stanza of the New Orleans party anthem “Big Chief,” but a significant portion of fans were on hand to hear him croon standards.
He indulged them with sly interpretations of “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “It Had To Be You” and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”
The perfect balance of uncompromising jazz, jubilant gospel, crossover pop and stellar showmanship made Connick’s concert an unqualified success.