Gavin Creel returns to the Cabaret

Submitted photo Gavin Creel will return to Columbus at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Cabaret at The Commons, 300 Washington St.

Tony-Award-winning actor Gavin Creel and his accompanist did far more than play songs the last time he appeared at the popular Cabaret at The Commons series in 2019. Creel played the crowd, circulating among tables of concertgoers and chatting as if he were visiting old friends.

He aims to be at least just as loose and unscripted in some manner when he returns to the cabaret at 7:30 p.m. Thursday with seasoned pianist Chris Kong.

“I like to keep things pretty mobile,” he said, adding that about one-fourth of his setlist will be originals, including works from his own 2022 show, “Walk On Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice.” The program is about his newfound exploration of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which he had never visited after 20 years in New York.

Though some particularly tough critics dismissed some of his creation as less than art — “one review was just plain mean” — ticket buyers gushed about it online, and shows sold out.

“What I did was raise my head up and say “Well, look — I’m here (at the museum) now, and this is blowing my mind,” he said. “And I also thought to myself, ‘I’m the majority of the country on this issue. So, chill out.’”

Cabaret organizers are hoping for that same kind of fan response tomorrow. About 300 of the Cabaret venue’s 400 total tickets had been sold by a few days ago, according to the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. Two shows slated for Indianapolis sold out some time ago.

As the Ohio native spoke from his New York City home, he was hours away from performing for a benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, for which he is a board member. And he was weighing future projects with something of an adventuresome spirit.

“I’m very comfortable just being myself in front of people,” Creel said. “I make mistakes, maybe sometimes I might forget my lyrics. But I am done obsessing about any approximation toward perfection, because perfection never exists. Furthermore, it’s poison to everyone’s creative process.”

His creative process is well-documented through a myriad of roles.

Creel earned a Tony Award for his performance as Cornelius Hackl in “Hello, Dolly!” starring Bette Midler. After making his Broadway debut originating the role of Jimmy Smith in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” for which he received his first Tony Award nomination, Creel went on to star in the Broadway productions of “Hair” (another nomination), “La Cage Aux Folles,” “She Loves Me,” “The Book of Mormon,” and “Waitress” with Sara Bareilles.

On television, Creel starred as Troy in Ryan Murphy’s anthology series “American Horror Stories” and played Bill alongside Julie Andrews in “Eloise at the Plaza” and “Eloise at Christmastime.”

Despite all his stardom, he acknowledged that there may have been some past concertgoers perhaps nudged by friends to attend performances against their will. And he never has sweated the possibility.

“I love finding a way to engage people — even hecklers,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Oh — you’re not having a great time? Really? Wait — I understand. I’m sometimes bored by me, too.’”

These days, the pooch lover escapes any downtime boredom partly with Nina, his 5-year-old American bulldog rescue that he adopted.

“She’s filling my life with so much joy,” Creel said. “I’ve often been saying to people lately that things have been really still, and that’s been really hard.

“It’s tough because I am an extrovert, and I really do love collaboration. And I love sharing music and theater and writing.

“But there are times when I am just exhausted and don’t have anything in the tank. So, at the moment, I’m simply trying to be easy and graceful with myself.

“And I’m trying to be still and to be quiet — and listen for where the world or where art might be able to use me next.”

Somewhere amid the crowd.

About the concert

Who: Broadway and TV star Gavin Creel at the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s Cabaret at The Commons.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Where: The Commons, 300 Washington St. in downtown Columbus.