Noted Brazilian operatic baritone Paulo Szot triumphs at Feinstein’s 54 Below in his sensational show, “A Salute to Broadway”
by Linda Amiel Burns
Paulo Szot is a Brazilian operatic baritone singer and actor who is best known to New York audiences for his Tony Award winning performance in Lincoln Center’s acclaimed revival of South Pacific in 2008. However, he made his opera debut in 1997, and his international career has included performances with the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala di Milano, Opera de Paris, Bayerische Staatsoper, Opera Australia, Liceo de Barcelona, among many others.
Very rarely do I ever say that a show is perfect, but that is just the way I felt watching Paulo in his Salute to Broadway at Feinstein’s 54 Below.
I had seen one of his early cabaret shows at the Cafe Carlyle six years ago and although his voice was glorious, he was reading some of his lyrics and didn’t seem entirely comfortable in that small venue. Well, I can certainly say that he has now become the ultimate showman, and every moment of this new show was sensational. None of this happens alone and Paulo had a first rate band and arrangements led by the great Billy Stritch at the piano, Steve Doyle on bass and David Meade on drums. The band opened up with a lively instrumental of “I Hear Music” (Lane & Loesser) to set the tone for the evening. Then from the Bar area a spotlight appeared on the handsome Paulo as his splendid voice began singing “Once in a Lifetime” (Bricusse & Newley) as he walked through the audience and up to the stage.
Not always can a classically trained opera singer cross over so easily into the musical theater repetoire, but Paulo not only has a remarkable voice but his wonderful phrasing and fine acting enhanced every song. Paulo put his personal touch on “Old Devil Moon” (Lane & Harburg) and also sang a terrific medley of the touching “Long Ago and Far Away” (Gershwin) with “I Have Dreamed” (Rodgers and Hammerstein). “This is the Moment” from Jekyll & Hyde (Wildhorn & Bricusse) was absolutely thrilling, and then he contrasted that with the melancholy “Lonely Town” from On The Town (Bernstein, Comden & Green).
There were so many highlights in this fabulous show, and each and every song was well chosen and performed beautifully. Each night Paulo had a different guest artist join him for a duet: Laura Osnes, Liz Callaway and the night I attended, the renowned opera star Patricia Racette. They recently starred together in Teatro Real’s Street Scene in Madrid. They sang Cole Porter’s haunting “So In Love” that was so exceptional that it gave me goosebumps.
I have heard Sondheim’s “Being Alive” performed by many singers but I don’t remember ever hearing the lyrics expressed in the same way and being so moved by the song. Paolo mentioned that his parents were celebrating 63 years of marriage and that it was easy for some and not easy for others. All these conflicts and sentiments were expressed in his rendition of this dramatic song.
Paulo treated us to the flamboyant song about the Spanish city, “Granada” (Augustin Lara), a song that couldn’t be more suited to his gorgeous voice. He is so versatile and could go from singing “Once I Loved” (O Amor em Paz/Desfinado) in Portuguese, to Sondheim’s
Losing My Mind” from Follies to Yeston’s “Guido’s Song” from Nine, to a swinging “Lover, Come Back to Me” (Romberg & Hammerstein) and it all worked to perfection. He will be in Australia this summer performing the role of Juan Peron in Hal Prince’s revival of Evita and his medley from that show made me want to fly to Oz to see it.
Paulo talked about his late manager Bruce Zemsky who believed in him early on and wrote this special song “Give Me Just One Day (When Everything Goes Right).” The lyrics and meaning to this lovely song seem to be needed in today’s divisive world.
In addition to performing the classic “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific, he sang an exciting medley of songs from that show bookended by “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” (Wright & Forrest) from Kismet. The show was a full 90 minutes long and the packed house didn’t want it to end. Thankfully, Paulo came back for an encore singing the romantic “Besame Mucho” in Spanish that capped a sublime evening of song and an outstanding show. Am sure that when his schedule permits, Paulo will return to Feinstein’s/54 Below for another booking and know that you wouldn’t want to miss it.
Photos: Maryann Lopinto
Visit: www.PauloSzot.com for more info and his schedule.
Feinstein’s 54 Below: Broadway’s Supper Club
254 West 54th Street. www.54Below.com/Feinsteins.