Beckie Menzie and Tom Michael
Davenport’s, Chicago, IL, April 8, 2016
Reviewed by Carla Gordon for Cabaret Scenes
In the patter of Piano Men, Beckie Menzie explains—on behalf of Chicago’s über-popular Menzie and Michael duo—that, while a duo they may be, they acknowledge a third “partner” onstage—and that’s the piano. In that light, Piano Men is especially meaningful because Menzie and her musical partner Tom Michael salute their three favorite singing and piano playing gents: Michael Feinstein, Billy Joel, and Barry Manilow. Opening with a parody of Joel’s “Piano Man,” the duo tweaks the salutees. For example, Manilow’s talent is as big as his nose. Menzie smartasses how she would let any of these “ivory ticklers” tickle her personally. Show highlights include Manilow’s hit “Weekend in New England” (Randy Edelman) sung by Michael and delivered with vocal grace and heartfelt longing, but not a nanosecond of sappiness. His offering of “I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow,” about how misery loves a hefty dose of sugary Manilow schmaltz, took Michael into the goofball territory that he is beginning to navigate well. Another highlight is Menzie’s presentation of “Me and My Baby Grand,” which was written for Michael Feinstein by David Zippel and Jonathan Sheffer. This sweet comedy song laments the plight of the piano player who is welcome everywhere with his/her piano, but less welcome without. Having taught at Feinstein’s Songbook Academy, Menzie has a warm relationship with this particular piano man, which leads well into the song. Saluting Feinstein provides the opportunity to bring some of the Great American Songbook to Piano Men, including Irving Berlin’s “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” in which the duo conjures up a touch of Al Jolson. Irwin Berkowitz provided supportive percussion. Drums in Davenport’s cozy space can be overwhelming at times, but he knew just how much percussion was right in the moment. Kudos also to Erik Strebig who used smart sound engineering to balance the singers and instruments. Clearly narrowing down to three piano men wasn’t an easy task because a nidge (to use a Menzieism) of Stevie Wonder made for an engaging closing.