Billy Stritch: Billy Stritch’s Big Birdland Birthday Bash

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Billy Stritch

Billy Stritch’s Big Birdland Birthday Bash

Birdland Theater, NYC, February 10, 2022

Reviewed by Ron Forman

Billy Stritch
Photo: Bill Westmoreland

Billy Stritch celebrated the last three days of his 50s with five shows over three nights at the Birdland Theater. The remarkably young-looking Stritch had different guest stars at each performance; on opening night they were Max von Essen and Jim Caruso. Stritch’s big smile made me feel very happy to be a part of his birthday celebration. He swings with the best of them, but he’s also capable of putting over a soft, romantic ballad, and his work on piano is always superb. Facial expressions are an important part of each of his numbers, so although he was always seated at the piano, watching him is a visual delight. He introduced each number with interesting and often amusing comments about its songwriters or the singers who performed the song. He is backed by two wonderful musicians—Tom Hubbard (bass) and Eric Halverson (drums)—who were an integral part of the show. The group works wonderfully together as they have performed together for many years at Jim Caruso’s Cast Party upstairs at Birdland.

Stritch opened with a jazzy “Old Devil Moon” that established the party atmosphere of the show. He continued swinging with the prescient “The Best Is Yet to Come.” He offered a soft and slow “I Can Dream Can’t I” that included a lovely performance of the verse. After telling a story about hearing Cy Coleman perform at a party in Liza Minnelli’s apartment, Stritch softly sang Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s “Let Me Down Easy. He performed a bluesy “Since You Left New York” which he wrote with Sandy Knox.

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That was followed by a Stephen Sondheim medley of “I’ve Got You to Lean On” and “With So Little to Be Sure Of.
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” He closed the first portion of the show with a wonderful five-minute medley of songs from Singing in the Rain that included funny comments about the songs and stars of that wonderful MGM musical.

Jim Caruso came on stage and had the audience laughing hysterically with “What Did You Do to Your Face,” a song about plastic surgery. Stritch joined him singing “The Doodling Song.” Max von Essen opened his set with “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love, Baby” featuring some remarkable work on piano by Stritch, followed by a lively, very kinetic “She Loves Me.”

Stritch’s last three numbers began with what has become his signature song, “Mountain Greenery,” displaying his ability to skat, followed by “I’ll Always Leave the Door Open.” He closed this vastly entertaining 90-minute Birthday Bash with a very lively medley of “I’ve Got the World on a String” and “I Got Rhythm.”

Ron Forman

Ron Forman has been a Mathematics Professor at Kingsborough Community College for 45 years. In that time, he has managed to branch out in many different areas. From 1977 to 1994 he was co-owner of Comics Unlimited, the third largest comic book distribution company in the USA. In 1999,after a lifetime of secretly wanting to do a radio program, he began his weekly Sweet Sounds program on WKRB 90.3 FM, dedicated to keeping the music of the Great American Songbook alive and accessible. This introduced him to the world of cabaret, which led to his position as a reviewer for Cabaret Scenes.