Jesse Luttrell Pays Tribute to '60s Pop Icons with 'Showstoppers'

by John Amodeo

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday November 10, 2019

What next career move would a young college freshman with an incredible singing voice take to get up the next rungs of the show business ladder? Why he goes into ballet of course. That may sound like a dubious route to take toward a successful solo singing career, yet that is just what the now successful Jesse Luttrell did some decades earlier, en route to becoming a musical theater actor, ensemble revue performer and solo performer on tour and on some of New York City's hottest stages.

"I have such a weird trajectory," Luttrell grants. "I left Pennsylvania and high school at 16 to be in a production of "'Meet Me in St. Louis,'" and the director loved me so much, he wrote a little part for me. I went to college for a year in Philadelphia, at the College of the Arts, studying acting and ballet. And my ballet teacher told me I could do acting at any time in my life, but I could only do ballet as a young person. So, I went into ballet for four years professionally in companies, which got me to New York.

"But I didn't love it. I was in the back row lifting girls. I wanted to be up front telling a story. So, I had to leave and do theater. If you don't do what you love you won't be happy no matter what job it is."

Pursuing His Passion

That kind of drive moved Luttrell to follow his passion. In a single year, he played two of his dream roles back to back, Dr. Frankenfurter ("The Rocky Horror Show") and the Emcee ("Cabaret"). He channeled that passion into his own burlesque revue "Bawdy," which he performed during a six-year period at such high profile boîtes as Manhattan's Triad and the Ice Palace in Fire Island's Cherry Grove, all the while working as a singing waiter in Manhattan's fabled basement piano bars.

But wait, if you think that's where it ends, think again. His piano bar experience is exactly what gave him his big start, where he was introduced to Fred Barton who cast him in his star-studded revue "American Showstoppers," which appears at New York's Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts and on tour. He parlayed that, with Fred Barton's top-drawer musical direction and big band arrangements, into his now long-running one-man show, "Showstopper," which has played New York, and toured nationally and internationally. John McDonald and JMProductions will bring Luttrell, making his Boston-area debut, to The Common Market, in Quincy, MA on Thursday,11/14 for a Luncheon Matinees shows on Thursday, November 14 and Friday, November 15 at 11:30 AM, and that evening at 8 PM with a specially tailored variation of that show, "Showstoppers: Elvis, Tom, Frankie, and Company."

(For more information, visit The Common Market website.)

Lives in the Song

With his theater background and yen for the spotlight, he has created an arc of a show around a series of star turns by some of the mid and late 20th century's most iconic singers, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Franke Valli, and others. Rather than imitate, he takes their songs, and infuses them with his own theatricality. "I do talk about the icons. The singers themselves are what leads me to the song, and then I look at their catalog," explains Luttrell. "I love Elvis's style and charisma. And then I look at his songs, and I evaluate them, to see if I can live in the song. For instance, 'There Ain't Nothing But a Hound Dog,' I don't see myself in that movie. But 'Bridge Over Troubled Water,' which he performed, I do and there is so much imagery you can use in performing that song." Imagery is important to Luttrell, who needs to be able to immerse himself into the story of the song, embody the lyrics, and picture himself in the movie of the song where he is the central character, a conceit he learned as a student of the great Stella Adler, who also taught Liza Minnelli, a performer with whom Luttrell is often compared. "The greatest lyrics provide imagery," proclaims Luttrell. "With Tom Jones, and 'I Who Have Nothing,' you can see the movie happening as he sings the song."

As a fan of American standards, Luttrell finds a special place in his show for that. "I frame the show with two Bobby Darin songs. I come from the world of Big Band and the Great American Songbook, so I frame the show with that, but the core of the show is Elvis, Tom Jones, Frankie Valli and I do two songs from each of them," Luttrell discloses. "The song I'll be doing for the first time in Quincy, is 'Oh, What A Night,' where you can see the whole movie in the lyrics."

Get Out There and Perform

Luttrell's upbringing in rural Hershey, PA is what got him into this style of music. "My grandmother was very musical, and she would visit a lot and wake everyone up by playing big band music really loud on the radio," recalls Luttrell. "She loved showtunes and Broadway. She loved to dance, and she and I were always dancing around the house. She was an Italian woman, loud passionate. She used to always tell me, 'You are going to be something big someday.'" Though not a religious person, Luttrell says that it was the Church that got him his start in singing at the age of eight. "I was raised Roman Catholic, and they had a boys choir at a nearby church, and my parents wanted to give me something to do so they signed me up," confesses Luttrell. "And the director could tell I could sing and told me I had a talent, so my parents signed me up for lessons. I was a boy soprano and I studied classically for four years. Then my voice changed, and we couldn't find a great voice teacher where we lived for my new voice, so I just listened to other singers like Judy, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin, and learned that way. I didn't start taking lessons again until a couple of years ago."

Still, how does a ballet dancer, chorus boy and piano bar singing waiter launch into the spotlight with one of New York's most sought after musical directors, conductors, arrangers and performers Fred Barton? The old-fashioned way. He was discovered. "I used to work at Marie's Crisis; hardest job I ever had," declares Luttrell. "It was loud and crowded, and I had to sing really big and loud to be heard over the crowd. And Fred Barton walked in after being at another bar next door, and he said, 'Kid, you have to stop performing in basements and get out there and perform and record.'"

Barton took Luttrell under his wing and cast him in his own production "American Showstoppers: Classic Show Tunes In Concert with the Fred Barton Orchestra," which included performers Barton culled from the Broadway stages, such as Beth Leavel ("Drowsy Chaperone," "The Prom"), Christiane Noll ("Jekyll & Hyde," "Ragtime"), and the person Luttrell refers to as his spirit animal, Lee Roy Reams ("Hello, Dolly!", "42nd Street"). "We also performed with Terri White ('Chicago,' 'Finian's Rainbow'). She worked the piano bars, too, and was my old drinking buddy [at Marie's Crisis] on Grove Street."

Singing Big and Loud

If singing really big and really loud got him noticed by Barton, it has also become his stock in trade as a solo performer. In a 2018 interview with "Call Me Adam" by Adam Rothenberg, Barton elaborates, "I happened into Marie's Crisis next door, where I hadn't been in years, and shortly before 4 AM, I happened to see this kid singing a big solo with the most incredible voice I'd heard in years, and with that old-time showbiz thing you just don't see much anymore. I felt like James Mason in 'A Star Is Born,' standing in the back of a crappy club watching Esther Blodgett toss off a little tune called 'The Man That Got Away' as if it were nuthin'."

Magda Katx of Times Square Chronicles said last year of Luttrell's solo show at Feinstein's/54 Below, "It is difficult to describe Jesse Luttrell's show because one has to experience it. He takes you back to the golden age of 'The Showman.' His song choices such as 'I'm Gonna Live Till I Die' (Walter Kent & Al Hoffmann & Manny Kurtz) and Bobby Darin's 'The Curtain Falls' have seldom been performed since the great night clubs of New York shut their doors." And Theater Scene, NY gushes "This multi-talented performer, known for glitzy, razzle dazzle performances, has people taking notice of a dynamo who isn't afraid to break a few rules. If you're a fan of showstopping performers from the school of Sammy Davis, Jr., Anthony Newley, or Peter Allen, Jesse Luttrell is your guy."

And just what are those rules that he is breaking? Luttrell bristles at such rules as "Don't hold the mic stand, don't do this, don't do that," and other such unwelcome pearls of wisdom from so-called mentors and colleagues. "I don't come from a place of don't but a place of do," counters Luttrell. "As long as you are living the song, and the audience goes with you, then you are doing your job. As far as rules, goes, I'm more focused on telling the story. People want something to move them. They don't want to just snap their fingers to music. It's my acting training that helps me see my own movie in the song."

Jesse Luttrell will perform "Showstopper: Elvis, Tom, Frankie and Company" on Thursday, 11/14,11:30 am, and Friday, 11/15, 11:30 am and 8 pm at The Common Market, 97 Willard Street, Quincy MA 02169. Tickets are $25 (show only) and $39 (lunch/dinner and show). For tickets, call 617.9532 or visit:

John Amodeo is a free lance writer living in the Boston streetcar suburb of Dorchester with his husband of 23 years. He has covered cabaret for Bay Windows and, and is the Boston correspondent for Cabaret Scenes Magazine.

Comments on Facebook