Jesse Luttrell With the Fred Barton Broadway Band Raise the Roof at Feinstein’s/54 Below
by: Lisa Reitman-Dobi
Feinstein’s/54 Below is a theater aficionado’s dream. New York’s top performers and excellent food for under $80? I’ve seen Tony nominated shows in Broadway theaters and left feeling as though someone had just mugged me, albeit in the most glittery and tuneful way.
New York’s favorite nightclub brings you Broadway’s best. In keeping with that standard, on Friday, January 29, Jesse Luttrell made his solo debut.
Reviewing the best should be a piece of cake, or so I thought. Jesse Luttrell gave a performance so outstanding, I’m searching for superlatives that exceed my lexicon. In brief, to say that Jesse Luttrell is a brilliant performer is akin to describing a Maserati as a fairly decent car.
Fred Barton’s band kicked off the show, and with his signature flair, Jesse made a striking off-stage entrance singing “Hey There Good Times.” From the opening notes, it was clear that this is a gifted, charismatic performer and Broadway caliber orchestration.
New York has the best in cabaret. Anyone reading this believes they have seen the entertainer who sets the bar. Anyone who sees Jesse Luttrell will understand why I quote J.D. Salinger: “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.” The bar has just skyrocketed.
Jesse’s extraordinary voice has a range and force that captivates. Tall and slender, he is an animated, expressive performer with first-rate choreography. Energetic, creative, Jesse’s performance is anything but static. Spinning on a heel, gliding across the stage, his grace and timing is impeccable. It takes enormous work combined with prodigious talent to make every gesture, every stride, seamless. When a man of Jesse’s stature virtually floats onto the piano, you know you’re watching a rare combination of youthful vigor and seasoned expertise.
Jesse Luttrell has a silver-screen presence and a platinum voice.
“Make Someone Happy” was followed by a powerhouse performance of “Live Till I Die,” with a last note of astonishing duration in –as always- perfect pitch. The first part of the set included an enchanting “When October Goes,” followed by “The Boy Next Door.” If Jesse Luttrell had been the boy next door, I would never have moved away from home.
Jesse’s superb renditions of “Continental American” and “Only in New York,” closed the first part of the set. To list every song seems far less important than to state that Jesse’s performance of each number is distinctive. There are times when a singer’s repertoire succumbs to his or her signature leitmotif; everything begins to sound bewilderingly similar.
Instead, the essence of each composition comes through with splendid originality. Whether “Life of the Party” or “Two a Day,” Jesse delivers every number with complete authenticity. He doesn’t explain or filter compositions through his personal interpretation. These songs need no interpretation. They need exactly what Jesse gives them: a dynamic performance, a superlative voice and sensitivity to the temperament of each piece. Rather than tell, he shows. And this is showmanship at its best.
Much to the audience’s delight, Broadway performer Karen Murphy made an appearance and sang “Stairway to Paradise,” and “Whistle.” This special guest added yet another urbane touch to an expansive evening.
The Fred Barton’s Broadway Band features eight of New York’s top musicians: drums, Tony Tedesco; sax, Tom Murray and Alejandro Aviles; bass, Tom Hubbard; trumpets, Brian Pareschi and Jeremy Miloszowiscz; trombone, Nate Mayland; piano, Fred Barton. Such an ensemble offers lushness, depth and variation. The addition of the solo tone creates a sound reminiscent of the dance halls that were popular from the ‘20s through the ‘50s. For a performer who strives for authentic arrangement, conductor Fred Barton can be nothing short of an utterly cherished colleague. The production was handsomely mounted with Amanda Raymond on soundboard and KS Hardy’s lighting.
A top tier performer such as Jesse Luttrell backed by the rich, unrivaled sound of the Fred Barton Band evokes New York nightlife in the 1950s: the Stork Club, the Copacabana. Full bands and fully immersed singers did more than present a show; they created a sensational atmosphere. With dashing vivacity and glamour, Jesse revivifies that Golden Age of Cabaret.
Photos: Credit Christopher Boudewyns