BWW Reviews: Tony Yazbeck's THE FLOOR ABOVE ME at 54 Below is Spellbinding
Last night Tony Yazbeck (On The Town, Gypsy, Little Me, Chicago, White Christmas, A Chorus Line, Oklahoma!, Never Gonna Dance) returned to 54 Below with The Floor Above Me, his tap filled cabaret show that won audiences over in August 2014. Co-written and Co-directed by Yazbeck and Howard Emanuel, it explores the charismatic performers love for dance, his road to Broadway, and his career. Performing in the intimate venue of 54 Below, Yazbeck unleashes his larger-than-life charm and talent, gifting audiences with a spellbinding performance that is unlike anything we have previously seen in the venue.
The first thing regulars of the venue will notice is that the drum set is not on the stage itself. This peculiar choice becomes completely clear once Yazbeck fills the stage with decadent tap technique. With grace and astounding amounts of energy he turns 54 Below into his tap studio, tapping and dancing on the stage, chairs, and in the aisles and walkways. Talking of falling under the spell of Fred Astaire when he was four-years-old, Yazbeck skillfully transports audiences back in time to the era of big MGM Musicals. His dance infused performances of "All I Need Is the Girl" (Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim), "Moses Supposes" (Nacio Herb Brown), his splashy dance tune medley, "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You" (Russ Morgan, Larry Stock, James Cavanaugh), and "Slap That Bass" (George & Ira Gershwin) are technically amazing, spirited, and simply mind-blowing in the cozy venue.
Additionally, Yazbeck showcases the versatility of his vocal instrument. His opening medley, comprised of "Let Yourself Go" (Irving Berlin), "Fancy Free" (Leonard Bernstein), "Fascinatin' Rhythm" (George & Ira Gershwin), and "Can't You See It?" (Charles Strouse, Lee Adams), is sung with that stereotypical jazzy, cabaret swing. Yazbeck lights up the room with a decidedly Sinatra at The Sands feel. Then, he transitions into a gloriously full-bodied Broadway voice that includes a hearty belt. His warm, brightly-colored instrument sparkles on tunes like "Pure Imagination" (Leslie Bricusse, Anthony Newley) and "Lucky To Be Me" (Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green).
The only weakness I found in the show was that in his iterations of the jazzy "Nothing I Do" and "Where Did I Go Wrong?" Yazbeck was unable to fully convince us of the heartache of the songs. His voice was just too bright to convey the pain of the tunes. Yet, once he transitioned into "Both Sides Now" (Joni Mitchell), he was able to downplay the natural shimmer of his vocal timbre and really let the emotionality of these rich lyrics to sink in the way they should.
As with other showcases at 54 Below, Yazbeck doesn't take the stage alone. Joining him on the stage, Clyde Alves (On The Town, Oklahoma!, The Music Man) and Melinda Sullivan (So You Think You Can Dance, Glee) captivate the audience with their own charming dance moves and vocal performances on numbers like "Moses Supposes," "I Won't Dance" (Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II), and Cheek to Cheek (Irving Berlin). His wife, Katie Huff, makes a surprise appearance and offers specular backup vocals on "Hello, My Old Heart" (Tyler and Maggie Heath), which also featured Alves on guitar.
Backing up Yazbeck with incredible musicianship and rich tonality, his band fills the performance with passion and drive. Music Director Jerome Korman leads the band on piano, often standing to ensure that they all stay together and give Yazbeck the best musical backdrop possible. Thomas Hubbard on bass and Tony Lewis on drums give the show toe-tapping rhythms. Mark McGowan on trumpet injects the music with heart and soul, especially on his featured solos.
Yazbeck is set to give another encore performance of The Floor Above Me on March 23, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. For reservations and more information, please click here or call 54 Below at (646) 476-3551.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride