Nicolas King

| January 16, 2017

Nicolas King

Birdland, NYC, January 15, 2017

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Nicolas King Photo: Maryann Lopinto

Nicolas King
Photo: Maryann Lopinto

Nicolas King earned his wings in musical theater as a child actor. When he began to perform cabaret, the young man was already at ease in the spotlight. Since then, we’ve watched him “fine-tune” solo appearances, exploring the genre. King knows what his excellent voice can do, has honed its finesse, and understands the vicissitudes of a microphone and the span of a stage as well as any veteran. The vocalist owns his territory.

With the splendid Tedd Firth on piano, Alan Bernstein on bass, and Ray Marchica on drums, this Birdland show was a mélange of material from the American Songbook, pop, and swing. Several numbers will be featured on an upcoming, for the present unnamed, CD.

Sam Coslow’s “(If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)” began longlined, with short, sharp scat winking its way between verses, then expanded into real swing. King makes it look easy. Breathing is almost indiscernible. Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” was prefaced by the warm reflection of Firth’s piano. This, too, changed tempo midstream as brushes and bass came in. The performer patted his chest, snapped his fingers, bounced. He often looks as if he’s about to break into dance steps—which would be fine.

From his trunk, King reprised the tandem “I Won’t Grow Up” (Carolyn Leigh/Moose Charlap from Peter Pan)/ “I’ve Got No Strings” (Leigh Harline/Ned Washington from Pinocchio). I first heard him sing these many years ago. Wisely, he’s adjusted arrangements to reflect maturity. The first is now bass-centric, the second evidences jazz phrasing.

Of several lovely, straight-from-the-hip ballads, my favorite was “The Way She (He) Makes Me Feel” (Alan and Marilyn Bergman/Michel Legrand from Yentl). King took his time as if savoring sensation. “On Second Thought” (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh) is a beautiful, rarely performed heartbreaker. Judy Garland once made Sylvia Syms sing it 16 times at a New Year’s Eve party, but would never record it. The vocalist kept it simple so as not to clutter the message.

“Here’s That Rainy Day” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Burke) followed. King’s arms aptly dropped to his sides. Firth’s piano on these was as rich as fur. Nicolas King is, at least at this point, more concerned with music than lyrics—curious for someone with theater training. He climbs inside music but not character.

From out of the audience, the great Marilyn Maye joined King for Lerner and Loewe’s  “On the Street Where You Live”—an icon and a new torch-bearer. The two sent lyrics back and forth with brio, scatting—each with her/his own style—like a couple of playful instruments. Maye continues robust and masterful, not dropping a stitch, always a pleasure. (She’s currently at the Metropolitan Room.)

Later, King introduced his supportive grandmother, Angela Bacari, herself a professional vocalist. With encouragement from the audience (this one was unrehearsed), the two sang “Teach Me Tonight.” Bacari has a fine, come-hither, back-end vibrato with eeeazee phrasing and right-on inflection. Clearly they perform at family events. This was swell.

A pop “Sunday Morning” (Jesse Carmichael/Adam Levine) with terrific percussion, skibbled, slid, twirled and somersaulted. Scat was confident, tight. King’s arm and hand moved like a trombone. Call this infectiously exuberant. We were now primed for a Duke Ellington medley including pristine a cappella and some nifty instrumental turns. Songs stop and start with next-to-no musical connection. Of these, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” shone particularly bright (lyrics: Irving Mills).

King encores with a brief, tender rendition of “You Must Believe in Spring” (Bergmans/Legrand), sending us out with a sigh. This is an entertainer to his toes.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, New York City, New York City Cabaret Reviews, Regional

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