Review by Joe Regan Jr.
Paulo Szot, the Brazilian baritone who won a Tony for his performance in the “South Pacific” revival a few years ago and has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera House in “Don Giovanni,” “The Nose,” and “Die Fledermaus,” returned to 54 Below for the fourth time this week. It is a very special program discussing the songs and lives of two of his singing idols, Frank Sinatra, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Szot takes his cue from the great Sinatra/Jobim album in 1967 which lost the Grammy to the Beatles, and Jobim’s classic “The Girl (Boy) From Ipanema” lost Song of the Year to “Yesterday.”
Szot’s show is superbly directed by Joe Langwort again (who was the Assistant Director on “South Pacific”) and with great musicians on stage: Klaus Mueller, his music director/pianist/arranger who not only accompanies but also uses his keyboard to comment cleverly on Szot’s patter during the act, David Finck on bass, Roberto Boccati on drums and percussion, and Yoram Silberstein on guitar.
The new show is a superb selection of Jobim and Sinatra songs, sung in Portuguese and English (the English lyrics are by Norman Gimbel, Gene Lees, and Ray Gilbert who was Joanne Gilbert’s father and one of Janis Paige’s husbands). The musicians open with an instrumental of “Agua De Beber” and Szot enters from the audience singing “This Happy Madness (Estrada Branca).” During the selections, Szot discusses the similarities in the two men’s lives, their troubled love lives, and Jobim’s use of his native land and the people he knew who inspired his songs. He actually tells us the true story of the woman who inspired “The Girl From Ipanema.” He also relates how Jobim was sitting on the beach when he got an international phone call from Sinatra.
Most of Jobim’s songs are about love and the phases of it: searching for it, finding it, the loss of it, and the reconciliation of remembering. Most of these songs we know and Szot sings great renditions (in English and Portuguese) giving insight into what each song meant to Jobim: “One Note Samba,” “Sad,” “Wave,” “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (“Corcovado,”) “Dindi,” “Off Key (Desafinado,)” “Once I Loved,” “How Insensitive (Insensatez”) and the wonderful “Song of the Sabia,” which is about a Brazilian bird and is sung with great percussion from Boccati and Silberstein. He sings the rarely sung verses, and his dramatic presentation of “How Insensitive” is a great one act play, sung in in pin spot.
Szot also interweaves some other songs that Sinatra sang: a beautiful (complete with great Finck solo) “Change Partners,” a stunning “I Concentrate on You,” and especially a swinging “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” which leads into a rhythmic mash up of songs he did not sing from “South Pacific:” “Bali Hai,” “Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair,” “Cockeyed Optimist,” “Wonderful Guy,” always bouncing back to “Baubles, Bangles and Beads.” It’s an inspired medley and demonstrates Szot’s taste and love of music. One should mention that Szot knows his vocal instrument so well he knows when to belt a high note and then switch to a gentle tender tone without a vocal break. The band really rocks on this medley and later on Sinatra‘s big hit, “Fly Me To the Moon,“ dancing all over the stage.
His encores were the same from his previous shows. The first was “Old Devil Moon,” without the scat this time, and, in a different staging, his trademark “This Nearly Was Mine.” This time he sang it sitting on a stool in the crook of the piano, with heart-breaking pathos, at one point his voice actually broke from his emotional feelings. He took center stage and did a tender finish driven by that emotional break. Szot is a great artist who knows his music and his act should not be missed.
Paulo Szot repeats at 54 Below February 26, 27, and 28 at 7 PM and there is another show Saturday night, February 28 at 9:30 PM Go to www.54Below.com to reserve.