Jeff Harnar: Easy to Love

| August 8, 2017

Jeff Harnar

Easy to Love

Beach Café, NYC, August 3, 2017

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Jeff Harnar
Photo: Seth Cashman

Easy to Love is Easy to Enjoy.

“I’m full of the old paprika…” Jeff Harnar sings, brows raised like parachutes. He certainly is.

The Panama Hattie song emerges much like the artist, vivacious and filled with anticipation. Acknowledging original lyrics are period-specific, he even adds his own, extremely clever, updated verses, listing those invited and media alerted: …“But OMG, the RSVP…LOL as-if…” (“I’m Throwing a Ball Tonight”). Let festivities begin!

Next comes a sincere, rather resigned “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Harnar is among those elite vocalists whose delivery doesn’t waver when it softens. He also has the savvy not to make an eleven o’clock number out of a tender ballad. “In the Still of The Night” rides undulating piano. The vocal caresses. “…Or will this dream of mine, fade out of sight,” he sings shaking his head “no” as if unconsciously objecting. Listen for the high tenor, like airbrushing.

A symbiotic coupling of 1956’s “True Love” (Porter’s single gold record) and 1936’s “Easy to Love” showcases Harnar’s finesse with honest, unfussy sentiment. Taking his time, he savors feeling, even during an instrumental bridge. “…You’d be – (sigh) – so easy to love…” is like listening to the boy next door. There’s so much unadulterated joy in “I Happen to Like New York,” I half expect him to spontaneously combust.

Equally adept at sophistication (though I don’t think I’d buy his being jaded), Harnar’s rendition of “It’s De-Lovely” arrives with the lighthearted engagement of a dancing  Fred Astaire. It’s infectiously smiley. “I Am in Love” is a worldly tango. “Begin the Beguine” swirls like dinner-jackets-and-chiffon. The singer seems enthralled. “What Is This Thing Called Love?,” accompanied by stealth piano, conjures Cyd Charisse whose long legs finally grow still leaning against the back alley wall of a club. Evocation is not just attributable to melody or arrangement. A Porter song by Harnar is vocally choreographed. Lyrics have movement, often surfacing with their own key lights.

Two medleys are featured in this show. The first, from Porter’s Carnegie Hall Centennial Gala, offers a romantic arc. We start with a bright, bouncy version of “You Do Something to Me,” wistfully segue to “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” quarrel, and finally make up with “From This Moment On.” Harnar turns to take in the room, nourished by intimacy other performers fear. He was born for this. Later, a “Friendship” duo with M.D./pianist Christopher Denny ranges from “Well, Did You Evah?” to a braiding of “Cherry Pies Ought to Be You” and “You’re the Top” one can only call prickly.

The lush “Night and Day” finds Harnar weaving through tables, acknowledging old friends and new. When he sings, “Let me spend my life making love to you,” he means us, the audience. Pleasure and gratitude are palpable. “Can-Can” is thoroughly winning. Bubbly, almost giggly, it swells as if adding euphoric dancers. Each of many verses is treated just a bit differently, making the song a series of connected vignettes. Elocution is spot on. Exuberance fills every corner of the room. (All arrangements by Alex Rybeck.)

Outside, New York streets take on cinematic shimmer.

Note: My first visit to the Beach Café as a performance venue finds it welcoming and well run. I sat two-thirds of the way back with an unimpeded view. The sound system is excellent. Service is quick and quiet.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, New York City, New York City Cabaret Pick of The Week, Regional

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