Elaborating his aims for his debut album, Great to Be Here, Liam Forde gets right to the point. “I want to spread romance around,” says the singer-songwriter of his sparkly collection of original songs blending jazz, pop, and swingin’ sixties influences from Burt Bacharach to Michel Legrand.
“I was only able to really write all of this music when I embraced the fact that I am hugely sentimental. I love melody. I love poetry and tenderness. And then the other part of it is, I just wanted to do something that felt like it was me, as fully as possible, and then just kind of see what happens, because I couldn’t ever begin to control that.”
Forde embraces that tenderness and spontaneity in his live act, which he will bring to the Ainslie Arts Center on Friday, July 22, for a one-night-only, cabaret-style concert presented by Monumental Theatre.
Familiar to D.C. audiences from acclaimed roles in Studio Theatre’s Jumpers for Goalposts and the potty-mouthed puppet hit Hand to God, the latter of which earned him a Helen Hayes Award for Lead Actor in a Play, Forde finds a special sense of freedom forging an intimate connection with concert audiences.
“When you’re doing a cabaret, it feels like you’re hosting a very grand party,” he says.
An ardent dinner-party entertainer — “I’m hosting one tonight,” he says during a recent Zoom call, showing off a shelf full of fresh veggies — Forde says he simply loves to nourish and take care of people.
“I like that aspect of cabaret,” he says. “I like holding that responsibility of making sure that everybody feels comfortable, everybody feels relaxed, we’re all having a good time.”
Forde spreads joy, romance, and hints of melancholy throughout the ten tracks on Great to Be Here. He describes the album, for which he composed all the music and lyrics, as a deeply personal window into “what it feels like when I feel attractive and alive and confident. When I’m feeling grateful. When I’m feeling nostalgic, wistful, sympathetic. Heartbroken.”
Largely written and recorded during the pandemic, the songs draw from various moments during those months of uncertainty.
“I felt like I had all this music that I wanted to release, and I wanted to get my aesthetic out boldly,” he recalls. “And I was just wondering, what is keeping me from doing it? I think one of the answers is time. And so I finally had all this time on my hands. I certainly wasn’t getting auditions. None of us were. So I buckled down, and I did it.”
The songs spin lively stories of romantic summer nights, or strolling all day through the streets of Paris, or, in the curious “Mrs. Dudley,” of a retired garden slug who travels and bakes cannabis cookies. The plaintive “Geraniums,” Forde wrote “when I was deeply lonely, in the trenches of isolation in February during the shutdown.”
“Plaza Hotel,” Forde’s zesty ode to the storied Manhattan landmark, derived from more upbeat inspiration — the late, great Kay Thompson, who resided at the Plaza, and immortalized the place in her Eloise books.
“Talk about a renaissance person,” Forde marvels. “She wrote songs. She was a vocal arranger. She was a voice coach. She was a movie star. She was a radio star. She was a children’s author. I think she directed fashion shows. She was a ghostwriter. Not to mention, quite the eccentric.”
And, to Forde, she was a beacon. “I do all of those things. You know, my bread and butter is mostly as a voice teacher. I’m a vocal arranger. A composer, singer, actor. So I felt very inspired by her. And she had this wacky sophistication that… It just felt like that was running through my blood as well.”
In addition to “Plaza Hotel,” Forde will evoke Thompson in concert by performing her signature arrangement of an Irving Berlin song.
Accompanied by his Great to Be Here producer-drummer Zack Eldridge, and other musicians who played on the album, he’ll run through all his originals and selections from the Great American Songbook, along with a few other surprises.
“I’m going to sing a song by Michel Legrand,” he says. “I’m going to do a Beach Boys song.” And then, of course, he’ll be chatting, unscripted. “I just think it’s going to feel like a big party where everyone’s invited, and I can’t wait.”
“Liam Forde in Concert” is Friday, July 22, at the Ainsley Arts Center, Episcopal High School campus, 3900 W. Braddock Rd., in Alexandria. Tickets are $50. Visit www.monumentaltheatre.org.
Great to Be Here is available on all music streaming services. Visit www.liam-forde.com.
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