Passionate and … antiseptic?
Odd how a show titled Soul2Soul pours heart into the music but leaves a hole where the soul should be.
Launching their 40-show residency at the Venetian Theatre (formerly the Phantom Theatre) on Dec. 7-8, cutie-pie country couple Faith Hill and Tim McGraw attempt to refashion their Soul2Soul touring brand into a big-bang Vegas show. Mission: Unaccomplished—though not for lack of bang. Fans will lap up every note and twang, expecting little more. Speaking for the casual showgoer …
Strictly as a concert, Soul2Soul is aces, a slick, greatest-hits compendium, stylishly pulled off by two pros. Can’t quibble with the heat of their performances or the completeness of their repertoire, as they rotate solo sets and pair-ups. Want Hill’s “This Kiss,” “Piece of My Heart,” “Let Me Let Go,” “Cry” and “Breathe”? Check. Want McGraw’s “Real Good Man,” “Cowboy in Me,” “One of Those Nights” and “Live Like You Were Dying”? Check. Want duets on “It’s Your Love,” “Like We Never Loved at All” and “I Need You”? Check-a-rooney.
Reads like a checklist? Plays that way.
Ergo, the problem: Hill and McGraw play to the crowd, but rarely with the crowd. They perform for us, but don’t connect to us. Strangely, the disappointment is more acute given the personal engagement promised, as they enter from the audience, greeting whipped-up fans en route to the stage. After reaching it, though—belting “Let’s Go to Vegas”—the setlist unspools dutifully, the pair accepting applause and moving on.
Finally at mid-show, they settle into chairs for some chitchat. After some sexual innuendo (“Wow, that dress looks great,” McGraw tells his wife, “and it will look great on the floor later”), they tick off musical influences, the segment resembling a clichéd E! interview. Classy and sexy, Hill’s nonetheless a rather static stage presence, while her husband’s body language at least conveys enjoyment, svelte frame swiveling throughout. Only once does the emotional veil lift, when he kneels toward a young fan, handing her an autographed guitar, provoking an audience “awww.”
Visually, Soul2Soul is likewise accomplished but distancing. Glowing, horseshoe-shaped lights encircle the stage and the 10-piece band but feel blocky, choking off an airy atmosphere, while innocuous video patterns—swirls, bubbles, stars, fireflies—shift behind them. Crossbeams of white light goose the look a little.
Concluding quietly, Hill and McGraw, seated opposite each other and sharing an old-style radio microphone, trade lyrics to “I Need You,” the show’s most poignant moment. Naggingly, as they exit through the audience, it feels like we’ve eavesdropped on a personal moment, rather than shared it, a result of a show on emotional autopilot.
Soul2Soul flows smoothly. So does running water. That doesn’t make it interesting to watch.
STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Opening later this month: Stripped the Play. Imported from off-Broadway to the Saxe Theater, it’s the story of an ex-cop male stripper who finds that quitting isn’t as easy as just leaving your trousers zipped. Sex-centric show with an actual plot? We’re tempted to call it a show with meat in it … almost.