BWW Reviews: NORM LEWIS in Concert at Bay Area Cabaret
Norm Lewis' amiable charm immediately makes him the best friend, next-door neighbor type. As he opened an evening of song at Sunday's Bay Area Cabaret concert, the Tony Award nominated performer endeared himself to his audience with appropriate selections of "The Best is Yet To Come" and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco."
After coming in and out of the city for 14 years, Lewis made his Bay Area concert debut in the Venetian Room of the San Francisco Fairmont Hotel, a gorgeous, high-scale venue with a laid back feel and various bar offerings. The singer defined San Francisco as "crunchy granola meets sophistication" and described his first visit when his expectations of a "sunny California" were met with cold fog and steep hills. Two things worth investing in, he remarked, include sweatshirts and transmission and breaks.
The friendly humor continued as Lewis took off his jacket for a bit, mixed among the audience, "trotted" about, put out a shameless plug for his new CD and even made fun of his "fake out" leave before returning for one final number. After a fabulous "Fever" tribute to Venetian Room performer Peggy Lee, Lewis spent the majority of the concert taking his listeners on a brief tour through his life. With a light heart, he switched between spiritual songs and upbeat tunes, playing out the contrast between his boyhood participation in church and other more important things like deciding what candy to buy. Outside of church, Johnny Mathes and Tom Jones, the man "mommy has to concentrate on," also played a large role in Lewis' musical influences.
As he entered high school and college, Lewis discovered musical theatre, including the African-American inspired "The Wiz," from which he performed a beautiful, soulful rendition of "Be A Lion" Sunday evening. Although Lewis majored in business and graduated to work in advertising, Broadway eventually caught up with him. The star got his professional start on a cruise ship, moved to New York and chose an audition song normally sung by a female.
More recently, Lewis became a Broadway household name for his turn at the role of Javert in "Les Miserables" and for his Tony nomination for his part next to Audra McDonald in the revival of "Porgy and Bess." Lewis treated the audience to selections from both these epic musicals, including a role-switching "Bring Him Home." Other songs came from "Miss Saigon," "Hello Dolly," "South Pacific" and "Company." Lewis closed with a call to be kind to others and with a lovely group of romantic songs, during which he bantered with his talented pianist and musical director, Darius Frowner.
Listeners gladly gave standing ovations throughout the just under two hours long concert. Although Lewis had a few pitch problems, no one seemed to notice or carE. Lewis has an incredibly unique voice that fits the many songs and roles he performs, but always with an interesting flavor. His voice is smooth as butter, particularly on his dazzling high notes, and his smile is contagious. This is a man you want for your best friend, and not just because he is famous.
Bay Area Cabaret's remaining season includes a group of equally appealing performers. The list includes pianist Jim Brickman in November, Grammy nominated jazz guitarist and Broadway/jazz vocalist John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey in January, entertainment icon Chitra Rivera in February, jazz vocalist Stacey Kent in March, Broadway's Morgan James in April and Karen Mason in May.