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BWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch

BWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch

You've lived in New York how long without seeing the Empire State Building? You've never done the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, you say? And you've never had a meal at Katz's Deli? Well, then, WHAT are you WAITING for?

There are plenty of New York adventures that everyone should experience at least once. Wonderful pockets of history and tradition are hidden around the city, like those easter egg features you used to find on your DVDs. Manhattan is populated by Museums, eateries, experiences cultural and pop-cultural that crave the attention of the people who walk the streets of New York. Those hot spots may be considered touristy, but please take the word of this writer, a transplant who wouldn't dream of leaving after 25 years of residency: New York is not just for tourists anymore.

So get up, get out, and get your tickets to A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS. Make 2019 the year that you got on the cool train and found out what all the fuss is about, fuss that has A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS in its tenth year, hopefully with many to follow. Not only that...

This year they have a companion CD.

A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS is (in alphabetical order) Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso, Steve Doyle, Daniel Glass, and Billy Stritch, all of whom appear on the CD CHRISTMAS AT BIRDLAND. Over the years the exact show itself has changed to keep it fresh, but the quality has never been anything but stellar. This jazzy, festive, melodious show is one of the finger-snappingest, toe-tappingest, laugh-riotous shows this writer saw this season (and it's been three weeks of Christmas shows, so trust me when I say it). Some not in the know might be intimidated by the title of the show because let's face it, not everyone wants to hear jazz arrangements of their favorite Christmas songs, but those with preconceived notions about what they will hear at this show should throw them out the window. Yes, Birdland is a historical part of the New York City club scene that is dedicated to the art of jazz, but these days one can find Broadway singers belting show tunes, crooners crooning standards, and singers from various corridors of the music industry entertaining audiences with music that suits their own individual wishes. Mr. Stritch is, indeed, one of the great jazz musicians and has created arrangements for some of these tunes that are bona fide jazz; he is also accomplished in the areas of music that give him the opportunity to work with singers who don't care to jazz it up, making him the perfect person to create music around the personal gifts of Ms. Blackhurst and Mr. Caruso. That's what makes this trio so exciting to watch: they are each different. All three of these artists bring something individual to the stage when they show up for work (is this work? Because it feels like one big playground from where this writer sits).

Klea Blackhurst is a musical comedy actress with a Broadway belt. She is famous for her Ethel Merman show but she has done musicals around the country ranging from Herman to Hammerstein with a little ABBA thrown in. So her musical comedy training and comic sensibilities are perfect for "He's Stuck in the Chimney Again." But it takes a great actress to flip the narrative and deliver one of the sweetest, purest, loveliest versions of "A Child is Born" one will ever hear. The sound of the inimitable Blackhurst voice singing this quiet, lovely ballad is not only a sound like none you've ever heard before, it is positively haunting, worth the ticket to the show or the purchase of the CD, or both. Each note from the Blackhurst music box rings clearly into the night like a crystal bell on a cold winter's eve, calling you to her heart. With her performance in A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS, Blackhurst reminds everyone why she is an actress of such great demand... and she even has a surprise or two for her audiences that make one fall even more in love with her.. If that is possible.

Jim Caruso has spent his entire adult life as a lounge singer, belting out comedy numbers and swinging uptempos for crowds grateful for the energy and enthusiasm that he brings to all of his stage appearances, but his nights hosting Cast Party just aren't enough anymore. When this time of year rolls around, getting an hour of seeing Caruso on stage performing is like a holiday gift (and the sport coat he wears in the show is the perfect wrapping paper). It's more than just his natural showmanship and impeccable musical technique, though, that makes him such a boon to the nightclub going patrons. Mr. Caruso's level of joy, when engaged in the act of singing, is not to be contained. He loves it so much that it is fully exposed and gorgeous in its' humanity. To see an artist this in love with their craft is a treat not to be taken for granted. And Jim Caruso is funny. Like, he could be doing stand up comedy funny. Fast on his feet, quick as a whip, Caruso opens his mouth and, like a slot machine hitting a jackpot, hilarity spills out. The only thing that could be better than Jim Caruso singing "Winter Weather/Winter Night" is the story he tells before the song that leaves the audience wiping tears away from their eyes. Birdland needs a solid evening of Caruso, but fast. Soon, very, very soon.

Billy Stritch is that rare thing: a treasure. A diamond on a piano bench, Mr. Stritch can arrange a song in ways the songwriters never even dreamed possible, keeping it simple, making it intricate, but always honoring the melody and the story, as well as the singer and the audience. He leads without demanding, he connects without overpowering, and he is a team player, always protecting his fellow musicians and the singers out in the spotlight, by never, not once, taking his eye off of all four of them. And then he sings, and it's over. Get out your smelling salts and let them awaken you after the swoon - but don't faint until AFTER "Manhattan in December" because you don't want to miss one glorious, perfect note. If one is really lucky, they are given a table from which can be seen Billy Stritch's feet, for watching the Ography created on the piano pedals during certain numbers is akin to seeing a great illusionist or a glassblower at work. Mesmerized, a person could quite mad trying to keep up with the flurry of thrilling, graceful activity under the piano.

So how do a Broadway belter, a lounge singer, and a jazz master mix when singing together? Like your best brandy poured over the richest chocolate cake and served with the most delicate ice cream, or your 300 thread count sheets, softest pillows, and prettiest playmate on a winter night. These three voices are creating harmonies so unbelievable that my companion for the night, a highly respected jazz vocalist, could be heard sighing during the songs and murmuring "The HARMONIES!" during the applause. The threesome openly admits that their rehearsal time for the show has been limited, but that's not what it looks like when they are singing -- which is either proof positive that they actually HAVE rehearsed quite a bit, or their natural talents and innate connection with one another have risen to the occasion to create musical mastery to melt the heart and blow the mind. With every group number they perform and each solo song they sing, Ms. Blackhurst and Misters Caruso and Stritch are a walking, talking, living, breathing organism of melodic genius. They are, quite simply, magnificent in every way, as is this Christmas show, still packing them in ten years later... oh, and yes, Birdland was at capacity last night, and that's a big room, kids.

The crowds at every SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS will have the most fun during the group numbers because these three mischiefs are in full bloom, with two of them racing around the stage to the glorious sounds of Stritch on the piano, Steve Doyle on bass, and Daniel Glass on drums, lifting all up on a cloud of musical mirth. The "Sun Valley Serenade/Snow" number brings down the house, as do the numerous versions of "Jingle Bells" which will leave one stunned with satisfaction. But the most fun comes with their unshakably fun personalities and the onslaught of irreverent humor provided by all three (a section on inappropriate or odd Christmas music causes gales of laughter), with Caruso leading the way with that twinkle in his eye - well, the eye that isn't winking at the audience.

All five of the artists in A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS are winking at the audience. They are winking at the audience because they know that everyone sitting out there in the dark has come to see this very modern-day version of the time-honored variety show do this exact thing solely for their entertainment. And it is entertainment so grand and glorious, so festive and funny, so musical and marvelous. Watching Blackhurst, Caruso, and Stritch in A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS is like going back in time to see Rob Petrie, Sally Rogers and Buddy Sorrell in action, doing the best Televised Christmas Special every done.

I think we can all agree that that is a trip well worth taking.

A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS plays Birdland December 22 through December 25. For information and tickets please visit the Birdland Website

Find Klea Blackhurst online at her Website

Find Jim Caruso online at his Website

Find Billy Stritch online at his Website

Find Steve Doyle online at his Website

Find Daniel Glass online at his Website

BWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchDaniel Glass

BWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchSteve Doyle

BWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchBWW Review: A SWINGING BIRDLAND CHRISTMAS Gives Audiences Life at Birdland with Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy StritchPhotos by Stephen Mosher




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