A newly minted American citizen takes the Broadway repertoire to Brazil and back.
By Joel Benjamin
Paulo Szot’s Salute to Broadway was as close to perfect as a cabaret act can be. This newly minted American citizen sang a generous set of Broadway songs, taking them to Brazil and back, overlaying them with Latin charm. Add in a duet with the exquisite Rebecca Luker and musical direction by the brilliantly savvy Billy Stritch and it was almost too much to take in one evening.
After a rollicking instrumental arrangement of “I Hear Music” (Lane/Loesser), Szot, as is his habit established in his six previous appearances at Feinstein’s/54 Below, began with a stroll through the audience singing two Burton Lane/Alan Jay Lerner songs, “On a Clear Day” and “Come Back to Me,” the latter with a few updated references. Continuing with his mini Burton Lane tribute, “You’re All the World To Me,” the song to which Fred Astaire famously danced on the ceiling in Royal Wedding, was a backhanded way of extolling the virtues of touring.
His “Being Alive” (Sondheim) was deeply felt to the point that made a point of not being able to sing the title words until he was ready to do so. “Change Partners” (Berlin) was suavely sung, and an Evita medley (Lloyd Webber/Rice) was great, but his South Pacific mix, which oddly began with “Baubles, Bangles and Beads” from Kismet (Borodin/Wright/Forrest), consisted of all the leading ladies’ songs. Szot ran with them with humor and a wink.
His duet with Rebecca Luker, “Too Many Mornings” (Sondheim) was simply amazing and deeply moving, the two making it clear that they really have to do a musical together—and soon!
He further confirmed his leading man status with a Cole Porter Medley with Stritch’s witty Brazilian-inflected arrangements, but a selection of songs from Kismet brought memories of that finest of leading men, Alfred Drake. Szot brought “Stranger In Paradise” and “And This is My Beloved” to the status of art songs, where they belong.
“Will the Music Come Again,” written by an old friend of Szot’s, Bruce Zemsky, examined the songwriter’s anxieties about whether his songwriting would be good. Zemsky needn’t have worried. As sung by Szot, this song had complexity and depth.
Of course, Szot had to sing “This Nearly Was Mine” (Rodgers & Hammerstein) from South Pacific, his first New York musical for which he won a Tony Award. This opera star turned it into an aria of Puccini-like dimensions, building to a climax that brought tears to many eyes.
Brought back to the stage by a big standing ovation, he treated us to “The Sweetest Sounds” (Rodgers) and “Make Someone Happy” from Do Re Mi (Styne/Comden/Green), both optimistic and both making for a terrific end to a spectacular show.
The two extraordinary musicians who completed the on stage trio were Itaiguara Brandao on bass and David Meade on drums who made the most of Stritch’s colorful arrangements.
Paulo Szot: Salute to Broadway (June 6 – 10, 2017)
254 West 54th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue
New York, NY
For reservations and information, call 646-476-3551 or visit www.54Below.com