by Matt Smith
“This is not a show. This is a party. We’re just here to have a good time.” Such are the words proclaimed by Norm Lewis, the golden-voiced singer-actor late of Les Miz, The Little Mermaid and Phantom, who plays his second holiday residency at Feinstein’s/54 Below. From the moment he first steps onstage and confidently launches into his set, you know “a party” is exactly what you’re gonna get!” With a relaxed, lighthearted vibe stemming from Lewis’ natural sense of wit and charm, the evening brilliantly fuses traditional holiday classics with a selection Lewis refers to as “Norm’s Greatest Hits” – with a sprinkling of songs “just because” thrown in between.
Lewis himself is delightful from start to finish, hitting all the right notes — literally and figuratively — with aplomb. Whether he’s belting out a big, Broadway 11-o’clock number, such as Man of La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream” (or my personal favorite, “I’ve Got Plenty of Nuttin’,” from his Tony-nominated turn as Porgy in 2012’s The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess), or crooning a Christmas classic, like “The Christmas Song” or “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?,” he commands the room with his booming baritone and…. let’s be honest, he opens his mouth and you just can’t help but melt. (On that note, too, I have to also mention his incredible rendition of “Music of the Night” from his history-making run as Phantom…. such natural ease and flair! Seriously…. how does he do it?!)
Set list aside, however, what really makes the evening fun, and gives it that playful, “party” feel, is his consistent (and encouraged) back-and-forth with the audience. It’s that connection — lively banter, paired with the distribution of prizes (will you be a lucky winner?) and his own quick-witted, off-the-cuff remarks — that really gives the show that personal touch… that makes it different (in a good way), and uniquely Norm’s.
For example: “Are y’all enjoying yourselves tonight?” he asks, to an uproarious crowd, before retracting: “I have to stop asking that question, ‘cause there could be one person who just says, “Hell, no!” Another gem? When a waiter accidentally drops a fork and shatters a glass, creating a rather raucous background noise, he quips, without missing a beat, “And stay out!” to equally raucous laughter from the crowd.
He rounds out the musical festivities with an eclectic array of special guests, which change with every performance; depending on when you attend, you’ll see anyone from Vanessa Williams to Jason Robert Brown to Pastor Bobby Lewis. The guest on my night was Julie James (of Sirius XM’s “Broadway Names”), who delivered in spades, stopping the show not only in her sublime duet with Lewis, but in an additional solo number that showed off her impressive operatic skill. Major shout-out, too, to the incredible trio of jazz musicians who accompany the man of the hour, including Perry Cavari (Drums), George Farmer (Bass), and the incomparable Joseph Joubert (Musical Director/Piano).
Ever humble, even they, with their incredible musical talent, along with James, in all her lilted glory, don’t shy away from acknowledging that they’re there to support the “dreamboat” main attraction that is Norm Lewis (“And can we all agree,” James adds, on the subject, “that everyone believes he’s singing ‘Fever’ about them?”). But they all do work together as a team, seamlessly blending music and vocals with the unmatched vocal prowess of our main man.
Truly, this man is something special, and this show is a real treat. Let those jingle bells ring! There’s simply no doubt about it: Norm’s home for Christmas… and we’re all the better for it.
Norm Lewis: I’ll Be Home for Christmas plays Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) December 19-24; Richard Jay-Alexander directs. For more information, please visit www.54below.com.