Linda Lavin: Starting Over

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Linda Lavin

Starting Over

54 Below, NYC, June 4, 2015

Reviewed by Joel Benjamin for Cabaret Scenes

Photo: Bill Westmoreland
Photo: Bill Westmoreland

Linda Lavin’s singing voice has always been an expressive extension of her speaking voice, probably more so than other singers. She manipulates with panache her slight, but pleasant rasp and the multiple layers in that voice. Her Starting Over at 54 Below was her way of telling her story, a tale of constant reinvention.

Appropriately, “New Sun in the Sky” (Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz) was in the opening medley. She visited two musicals that helped shape her career. From The Mad Show, she sang the word-twisting, bossa nova take-off “The Boy from…” (Mary Rodgers/Stephen Sondheim) with all the verve and winking good humor she had in the original. From It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, “You’ve Got Possibilities” (Charles Strouse/Lee Adams) was delightful and fresh.

One of her “new beginnings” was her marriage to drummer Steve Bakunas, who was right there on stage in the band led by the inimitable Billy Stritch. To her hubby she sang “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” (Cole Porter) and “I’m Glad There Is You (In This World of Ordinary People)” (Jimmy Dorsey/Paul Madeira), her pleasure palpable.

Stritch took the Willard Robison/Larry Conley standard, “A Cottage for Sale,” and mined all its wistful, end-of-romance emotions.

She celebrated Bobby Short’s influence with a medley of “Hooray for Love” (Harold Arlen/Leo Robin), “You’ve Got That Thing” (Porter) and “I Like the Likes of You” (Vernon Duke/E.Y. “Yip” Harburg), mentioning how listening to Short got her through a certain period in her life, opening her up to the meaning of songs.

Guest Aaron Weinstein, the witty, young jazz violinist, played around with “There’s a Small Hotel” (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart) and joined Lavin in “After You’ve Gone” (Turner Layton/Henry Creamer), which had a charming improvisational feel.

In her early days in NYC she used the Lerner & Loewe “Almost Like Being in Love” as an audition piece, but she claimed she never got to sing it through. Well, this was her show and—dammit—she was going to sing it uninterrupted, which she did with great joy.

Her encore was a finger-snapping, jazzy “How High the Moon” (Morgan Lewis/Nancy Hamilton). This was Linda Lavin at the top of her form.

The other members of the band were the ubiquitous Tom Hubbard on bass and the good-humored Ron Affif on guitar.

Joel Benjamin

A native New Yorker, Joel was always fascinated by musical theater. Luckily, he was able to be a part of seven Broadway musicals before the age of 14, quitting to pursue a pre-med degree, which led no where except back to performing in the guise of directing a touring ballet troupe. Always interested in writing, he wrote a short play in high school that was actually performed, leading to a hiatus of nearly 40 years before he returned to writing as a reviewer. Writing for Cabaret Scenes has kept him in touch with world filled with brilliance.