“People hear enough about American politics today,” says NPR’s Ari Shapiro, speaking from LA where he’s hosting All Things Considered. “They don’t need to go to a night at the theater to hear more about the same political stories that they’re hearing about on the news today. I hope that my show gives people kind of a break from that.”
We’re not discussing Shapiro’s public radio ventures, but a solo cabaret performance, Homeward, that he’ll be bringing to Portland, the city he grew up in, for three nights this fall. Given Shapiro’s political bona fides—he covered the Romney campaign in 2012 and is typically the most levelheaded, well-spoken talking head on any given panel—I assumed his one-man show would include some discussion of the current, unfortunate president. But when I ask if there’s any mention of Trump, he quickly says no. I am delighted to hear this.
So what will it include? “It tells stories of places that I’ve been around the world, people that I’ve met, events that I’ve covered as a journalist, threading music through it and taking music from [other] countries, in other languages, from other times, drawing out themes about what we have in common and what we all go through,” Shapiro says.
It’s easy to think of Shapiro as a (very smart) disembodied voice in your earbuds, but over the phone, with his friendly cadence and animated music-nerd talk, he has less in common with his gravitas-laden radio persona. Instead, he reminds me of the boys I went to theater camp with as a kid, or the news editor I once worked for who would burst into song when he wasn’t barking at city council members over the phone.
“I hope that my show gives people kind of a break.”
Here’s the thing about Shapiro, if it’s somehow unclear: He is almost rudely talented. Blessed with a voice made for radio and a face made for television, he’s the kind of host and reporter you can rely on for nuanced, intelligent coverage and commentary in a media landscape dominated by hot takes and shouting matches. Next to the bathtub-shallow coverage that dominated the discourse surrounding the 2016 presidential campaign, Shapiro is a welcome voice of reason. It’s somehow not surprising to discover that he is also a very good singer.
Good enough to attract the attention of Portland’s Pink Martini, who he’s sung with since a fateful run-in at a sing-along party in DC in 2008. Shapiro appears on four of the band’s albums, and even tours with them when his NPR schedule allows. He says he likes having excuses to come back to Portland. Pink Martini is one of his local connections. His parents also still live here. And after performing his show in DC and New York, Portland will be Shapiro’s third market for it. That’s by design.
“Of all the places that I could do this, I am especially excited to bring it to Portland,” he says. “Because it’s the city that I’ve always called home even though I haven’t lived there for a while. The fact that I get to do it for a few nights with a hometown audience just makes me really happy.”