Jeff Harnar: I Know Things Now: Jeff Harnar Sings Sondheim

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Jeff Harnar

I Know Things Now: Jeff Harnar Sings Sondheim
Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, November 10, 2021

Reviewed by Alix Cohen

Jeff Harnar
Photo: David Goodman

Further exploring Stephen Sondheim, Jeff Harnar, contemporary prospector of the Master’s oeuvre, makes his solo Feinstein’s/54Below debut with a resolutely different approach. Tonight’s unique arrangements are complex and jazz oriented. Songs are woven together, sometimes switching back and forth, often with intermittent insider references to other musicals. “Words and music are Stephen Sondheim, but the story is mine,” he tells us.

Harnar is a great communicator, zeroing in on individuals in the audience. He has full command of the stage. A warm, cottony “Old Friends” (Merrily We Roll Along) is directed at first to MD/pianist Jon Weber; then, “Damn, we’ve got company!” he directs to the rest of the room. Highlights include the following:

A tandem “Loving You” (Passion), sequentially committed, grateful, astonished, and delivered in what’s almost a stage whisper, segues into “Losing My Mind” (Follies): “Sometimes I stand in the middle of the floor” (he laughs, bemused) “not going left, not going right.” Emotion swells as the singer realizes the extent of his involvement. What begins as inclusively traversing the stage becomes pacing. “I would live or die for you (Passion) or am I losing my mind!?” (Follies). It’s a fluent, sympathetic blend.

“Can That Boy Foxtrot!” (cut from Follies) emerges with animated eyebrows, the artist’s growl/laugh, and a dash of Mae West. It’s about time a man sang this about a man. “The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened” (Road Show) and “What Can You Lose?” (Dick Tracy) are straight-from-the-hip, understated, credible: “Don’t even begin/With so much to win/There’s too much to lose.”

A smidgen of “The Little Things You Do Together?” launches into “(Not) Getting Married Today” (both from Company) making Harnar the first man to perform the song, even before its imminent turnaround arrival on Broadway. Every acrobatic word is precise. The “Little Things” lyric keeps poking through “Getting Married,” perhaps indicating unasked-for advice or an internal battle: “Don’t tell Paul, but I’m not, It’s not so hard to be married, and Jesus Christ—is it fun?!” His panic is palpable.

Excerpts from “Now You Know” (Merrily We Roll Along), “I Know Things Now” (Into the Woods), and “More” (Dick Tracy), create a conversation with himself. These erupt into a rendition of “Being Alive” (Company) rife with poignant longing. Were it a cartoon, Harnar’s heart would leap in and out of his chest.

This evening’s encore, “Sondheim Oklahoma,” is extremely clever—allusive writing performed by a stage full of characters (all Harnar). Transitioning on a dime, he makes the number a theatrical delight. (Music and lyrics by Rick Crom). 

I admit to not following the vocalist’s ostensible story, but he just keeps getting better. His range and control are a seemingly effortless marvel. Signature Jimmy Durante makes a playful appearance. His focus is complete, sincerity is a given. Jeff Harnar is unquestionably one of our best.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.