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Billy Stritch: Lucky to Be Me

| November 28, 2017

Billy Stritch

Lucky to Be Me

Birdland, NYC, November 25, 2017

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Billy Stritch
Photo: Steve Friedman

Billy Stritch’s show Lucky to Be Me is, he tells us, acknowledgment of having “a charmed life, being in the right place at the right time.” The artist’s feelings are shared by an audience packing Birdland to its rafters. It should be noted, however, that formidable talent and versatility had something to do with securing this artist’s place in the cabaret pantheon. Fans are so accustomed to seeing the results of Stritch’s symbiotic MD abilities and accompaniment (with an occasional duet), CDs aside, they often forget how accomplished a performer he is in his own right.

“Lucky to Be Me” (Comden & Green/Leonard Bernstein) bookends “They Didn’t Believe Me” (Jerome Kern/Herbert Reynolds). Impeccable phrasing transitions from long to short lyric lines. There’s never stress or self-consciousness in a Stritch performance. Like a magician who’s privately practiced thousands of hours, he delivers with no-fuss ease. Swing here is gauzy, as if there’s air in the notes. He chuckles before “…and I’m certainly going to tell them.”

Also coupled are Oscar Hammerstein II/Kern’s “All in Fun” and Ira Gershwin/Yip Harburg/Harold Arlen’s “Fun to Be Fooled.” These have the graceful, lighthearted sweep of Cyd Charisse dancing in flats. Stritch utilizes lilt like few vocalists. A finely honed “Let Me Down Easy” (Carolyn Leigh/Cy Coleman) “…write me a letter to read when it’s over…” exudes tenderness.

Songs about his favorite city at his favorite time of year include “Autumn in New York” (Vernon Duke) and the lesser-known “Autumn Nocturne” (Kim Gannon/Josef Myrow), which he practically sighs. You could lie in the curve of the pillowy, melodic arm. Vibrato seems to come from the front part of Stritch’s throat, making it readily accessible. The performer imbues neither of these songs with accustomed melancholy.

The vintage hip part of his persona emerges with Hoagy Carmichael’s “Hong Kong Blues,” conjuring the cinematic black-and-white setting of a smoky bar. Piano arrives emphatic with substance and sass. Stritch’s vocal fans out brighter, more expansive. An unexpected “My Dog Loves Your Dog,” here “dawg” (Jack Yellen/Irving Caesar/Ray Henderson) is bouncy, adorable.

Latin-colored numbers written by him with Lindy Robbins and Jay Condioti could easily be have been authored by native Portuguese. “…Have you ever been caressed by a summer wind?/That’s the way she wants to be kissed…” sings the first undulating selection. The second arrives infectious, rolling-down-a-hill happy. We’re a sea of bobbing heads.

A superb rendition of “Comes Love” (Lew Brown/Sammy Stept/Charles Tobias) begins almost a cappella with bass and finger snaps. Jazzy, shoulder-shrugging piano adds texture, not tune. Though associated with swing, fewer people think of Stritch in terms of jazz. I’d conjecture that’s because his take is melodic. The vocalist seems to revel in these particular lyrics: “…Comes  a heat wave, you can hurry to the shore/Comes a summons, you can hide behind the door/Comes love, nothing can be done…” Attitude is mischievous. He might be a cupid watching the effect of well-aimed arrows.

This essentially upbeat evening closes with Johnny Mercer/Carmichael’s “I Walk with Music.” He certainly does. This is the 20th anniversary of Billy Stritch’s first appearance at Birdland. Here’s to many more.

Additional shows December 2nd and 9th.

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

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