A brilliant, intimate look at a giant of modern pop songwriting.
By Joel Benjamin
Anyone attending Scott Siegel’s thorough-going tribute to Billy Joel—even those who formerly either took him for granted or disliked the songs—had to leave 54 Sings Billy Joel with an admiration and respect for Joel’s terrific output, if not outright devotion to this witty, moving and musically sophisticated batch of brilliantly incisive songs.
Siegel, ever the inexhaustible and knowledgeable host, brought his thorough acquaintanceship with Joel’s life to the show with biographical tidbits, treating each song like the gem it was, beginning with Maxine Linehan’s bluesy, yet soothing “New York State of Mind” (actually conceived on the “Hudson River Line”).
From that point, the songs rolled out in a series of illuminating interpretations by some of Siegel’s stalwart performers.
Ms. Linehan, who was at peak power, also sang “You May Be Right” as the sardonic message it is and, with her husband Andrew Koss on guitar, a truly heavenly “Goodnight, My Angel,” Joel’s darkly haunting lullaby.
Booth Daniels, who sang as casually as most of us speak, also displayed several facets of his interpretative powers with a lovely “She’s Got A Way” (a song which Joel thought cloying and difficult to sing!) and a wonderfully jittery and believable “I Go To Extremes.”
Jeremy Kushnier was given—and shed light on—two lesser-known Joel songs: “Where’s the Orchestra,” Joel’s message of frustration and the lyrical “Summer, Highland Falls” which glowingly musicalized his love of his quiet upstate New York home.
“Vienna,” Joel’s meditation on meeting his long-gone classical pianist father in that city, was given to the young, bespectacled Willie Demyan who pushed a bit too much a first, but settled into a colorful interpretation, his bright voice lifting the words skyward.
Ross Patterson, Siegel’s longtime musical director, played his arrangements for all the singers mentioned above while two chose to accompany themselves.
The charismatic, tall Bob Stillman took charge of the room with his first song, “And So It Goes,” written, according to Siegel, in iambic-tetrameter (!) as a way of coping with his breakup with Elle MacPherson and returned later with a roof-raising “Honesty.”
The show ended with Cooper Grodin at the piano singing Joel’s clearly autobiographical “Piano Man” with an air somewhere between world-weariness and glee.
54 Sings Billy Joel (November 14, 2017)
254 West 54th Street (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue)
New York, NY
For reservations, call 646-476-3551or visit www.54below.com