Tony Yazbeck and Friends

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Tony Yazbeck and Friends

Birdland Theater, NYC, December 13, 2018

Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes

Tony Yazbeck

A thrilling performer to appear anywhere in contemporary theater, Tony Yazbeck proved his chops as a singer and dancer on the Birdland Theater stage in an otherwise low-key holiday celebration. The stage, with minimal holiday decorations except for Santa hats, deceptively lulled us into thinking that Yazbeck might not have a few tricks up his sleeve. In addition to the usual talented guest stars, Yazbeck and Friend’s killer dance routines and tap moves surprised and amazed us and made the show great.

When David Elder joined Yazbeck for an incredible dance number while singing a medley of “Happy Holiday” and “Let Yourself Go” (Irving Berlin), we knew we would see and hear extraordinary performerss showcase some of the best Christmas songs that the holiday has to offer. Yazbeck and Elder were incredible, spinning and tapping in unison. Individually, they performed, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (Edward Pola/George Wyle) and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” (Berlin) to open the show with a bang.

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They were followed by an equally, if not more impressive rendition of “The Christmas Song” (Bob Wells/Mel Tormé) by Alysha Umphress, whose milky, sweet voice lingered long after she left the stage.

Among the other notables were the husband-and-wife duo of Robyn Hurder and Clyde Alves. Their confident chemistry brought warmth to the show as they shifted through a trio of Christmas classics, old and new.

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One of the best was “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” (Frank Loesser), which has been stuck in my head ever since. Yazbeck also invited his wife, Katie Huff, to join him for a medley of songs from the Charlie Brown Christmas special. As that familiar piano riff of “Linus and Lucy” (Vince Guaraldi) began, Huff began dancing like the Charlie Brown characters, pulling Yazbeck into character before a duet of “Christmas Time Is Here” (Lee Mendelson/Guaraldi).

The finale of the evening was an epic jam-session style performance with cellists Dave Eggar and Peter Sachon being accompanied by tap specialist Andrew Nemr. The cellists traded off bits with Nemr before launching into an improvised “Jingle Bells” (James Lord Pierpont). As the music gripped the trio, their energy wandered off the stage and grabbed Yazbeck (who brought his tap shoes), Alves (who brought his guitar), and others to join in a phenomenal, spontaneous musical moment. Musical director/pianist for the show was Fred Lassen.

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see