A Tony Award winning singer returns to his Brazilian roots with a detour to Broadway


By Joel Benjamin


Paulo Szot, the charismatic operatic baritone—and Tony winner—returned for a fourth time to 54 Below in a show that paid tribute to two pop music icons: Antônio Carlos Jobim and Frank Sinatra who made a series of historic recordings in the Sixties that combined Jobim’s bossa nova masterpieces and the pre-eminent pop star, Sinatra’s in depth interpretations. These recordings became the guide posts for a program of beautifully sung Brazilian songs with a dash of American Musical Theater tossed in for good measure.

These bossa nova songs were written around the sonority, rhythm and colloquial meaning of Brazilian Portuguese, even though there are genuinely fine English translations. Mr. Szot went between the two languages, his face and voice warming up as he wrapped himself around his home tongue. It was great to hear the usual songs, such as “Girl from Ipanema,” “One Note Samba” and “Triste (Sad)” sung with such power, totally unlike either Jobim and Sinatra. His interpretations showed that bossa nova needn’t be sensually genteel hip sawyers, but come out fresh when a big voice is let loose on them. There were a few rarities: “Wave,” about letting love in and “The Song of Sabia,” a paean to the melodic Brazilian national bird. All these songs sounded fresh, sexy and witty, helped by Klaus Mueller’s piano playing and his terrific arrangements for the expert band, Yotam Silberstein on guitar, Rogerio Boccato on drums and David Finck on bass, allowing each musician a chance to shine. Mr. Szot, himself, sat at the keyboard and acquitted himself quite nicely in a honey-toned “I Concentrate on You” (Cole Porter).

From Finian’s Rainbow he sang the Burton Lane/E.Y. Harburg ballad, “Old Devil Moon” giving it sex appeal. His “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” from Kismet (Wright/Forrest/Borodin) mashed together with “Bali Hai” (Rodgers & Hammerstein) had a jazzy lilt. It was “This Nearly Was Mine” (Rodgers & Hammerstein) that served as a breathtaking encore. He took it at a casual, intimate pace, backed by Mr. Silberstein’s guitar, slowly building to a heartbreaking crescendo of emotion.

Punctuated by charming reminiscences of his upbringing and education, this show was a revealing portrait of a performer who clearly loves what he does, be it pop, bossa nova or grand opera.

Paulo Szot – February 24-28, 2015

54 Below 254 West 54th St. (between 8th Avenue and Broadway) New York, NY

Reservations: 646-476-3551 or www.54below.com

More Information: www.paoloszot.com

*Worthy of a second review!