Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr.
Nov. 6, 2013
When Brazilian baritone Paulo Szot made his New York cabaret debut in August at 54 Below I summed up his act “This is unquestionably the cabaret show that will win every award in its category of Major Male Artist.” After appearances at the Metropolitan Opera in “The Nose” (telecast in High Definition at local movie theaters two weeks ago) and “Don Giovanni,” Szot has returned to 54 Below with his great act (with a few changes). Again he is supported by an outstanding musical team: young Matthew Aucoin on piano and responsible for most of the arrangements (Aucoin is one of the special composers that has a commission with the Metropolitan Opera ), David Finck on bass and David Ratajczak on drums and percussion.
Instead of “Rhapsody in Blue,” Aucoin’s overture is now a wild instrumental version of “Besame Mucho” and Szot comes through the audience singing “Old Devil Moon,” generously greeting and touching men and women as he passes by them.
Again, the highlights of the show are the great medley sets. The first is a samba medley with Szot singing in Portuguese but you sure don’t have to know the language to know what the sexy man is singing to you about! The second, and one of the best reasons to see this show, is the Broadway medley which includes a series of selections from Broadway shows culled from a book he bought at the old Colony Music Store “Broadway Songs for Non-English Speaking Singers.” In this set, Szot rips into sensational renditions in character of the songs of Tevya, the King from “King and I,” a hysterically funny “A Boy Like That” from “West Side Story,” and especially “I Am I, Don Quixote” from “Man of La Mancha.” Later in the act, there is a great Jobim medley including “Sad” in English, and a perfectly understandable “Desafinado.”
Szot repeats his complete “Were Thine That Special Face” and “What Kind of Fool Am I,” the latter especially thrilling with the way he takes the last high note! Szot repeats his sensitive rendition of “Nature Boy” with Aucoin skillfully playing behind the first chorus. Finck then takes his bow and plays a gorgeous solo before Szot returns to finish the song beautifully.
Szot also repeats Sondheim’s complete “Too Many Mornings,” and it’s even better this time, so warmly sung and heartbreaking in its emotional impact. New to the show is “Lover Come Back To Me.” Szot sings the verse and then swings the familiar chorus lyrics in full jazz throttle, giving solos to each member of the band and finishing on a big high note.
There’s a very funny story about how the four did the act first at the Spoleto Festival and where they were housed in that small town. He also tells the back story of the Mexican woman who wrote “Besame Mucho” and really rocks when he sings it! His tribute to Sinatra is a great “Fly Me To the Moon.”
Of course, his penultimate number is “This Nearly Was Mine” from his Tony Award winning performance in “South Pacific.” The audience stood and cheered spontaneously when he went for that heart-breaking last note! And his encore, again, was a complete (with French intro) “If Ever I Would Leave You,” spreading love all through the audience.
Szot’s next Metropolitan Opera appearance will be New Year’s Eve in ’Die Fledermaus.” In the meantime, rush to see this great opera singer giving us a magnificent performance in a great cabaret act directed by one of his assistant directors on “South Pacific,” Joe Langworth. Both men and women in the audience were visibly moved during his songs, holding hands and embracing each other.
Paulo Szot repeats at 54 Below Thursday, November 14 at 7 PM, Friday, November 15 at 8 PM, and Saturday, November 16 at 8 PM. Reservations are absolutely necessary. Go to www.54below.com or call 646-478-3551.