Norm Lewis: Wishes You a Swingin’ Christmas

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Norm Lewis

Wishes You a Swingin’ Christmas 

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, December 23, 2015

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Norm-Lewis-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Armed with loads of charisma and a million-dollar smile, Norm Lewis made a triumphal Feinstein’s/54 Below debut, thoroughly filling up the room with festive, high-octane energy. The opening number, “My Favorite Things,” set the tone for a sumptuous feast of music and remembrance to come. “This is a party!” Lewis effused, and so it was, complete with gifts (a small rum cake and little candy canes for each table).

The gesture typified Lewis’ total generosity as a performer. As the affable host (who happens to possess a glorious, nonpareil baritone), Lewis’ ease and charm drew everyone in for a good time.

What fun to hear him sing “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and “The Christmas Song,” as well as an earthy rendition of “Fever” and a reprise of his Porgy with “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’.”

Remembrance of absent friends was also on offer, without being mawkish or maudlin. “The Little Drummer Boy” gave a nod to the late Whitney Houston, while the tragic death of the talented Kyle Jean-Baptiste was acknowledged by one of the late singer’s triumphs, “Bring Him Home.” The encore, “Thank You for Your Love,” was not only a personal message to all, but tipped the hat to the late Laurie Beechman.

The spiritual side of Lewis shone in the Franz Schubert “Ave Maria” combined with “O Holy Night.” This mini-medley was the perfect showcase for Lewis’ vocal talents: he has a wide range (with an impossibly rich, warm timbre), impeccable breath control and phrasing, and enunciation that’s crisp without being obvious. Those qualities, plus an ability to get inside a lyric, made “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” sound like a personal invitation. “Birthday of a King” was sung with special guest (and cousin) Pastor Bobby Lewis.

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A serio-comic turn, a musical remembrance of childhood, was addressed in “All Alone in the World,” while the penultimate song “Let There Be Peace on Earth” was sung as a socially-conscious prayer.

Director Richard Jay-Alexander and Lewis put together a neatly paced show – the emotional journey as seamlessly balanced as the variety of the songs presented.

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Lush piano and musical direction was provided by Joseph Joubert, with a solid, reliable rhythm section in Perry Cavari on percussion and George Farmer on upright bass and bass guitar.

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.