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Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom

A working cabaret artist redefines himself as a cabaret star in just one performance.

Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom

There never was and there never will be an artist who knows their self and commits that self to the creation of musical storytelling in quite the same way as Ari Axelrod.

Mr. Axelrod, a cabaret artist whose popularity has been on the rise for a few short years, presented his new club act ARI'S ARIAS last night at The Birdland Theater to a sold-out house filled with luminaries of the club and concert community. Merely looking around the room, one could not help but be impressed by the guest list, one powerful enough to be intimidating and one impressive enough to warm the heart with the tacit testament of community... and acknowledgment of the position of respect Axelrod maintains within that community. It is respect well-earned and richly deserved.

Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom An Aria, Mr. Axelrod explains after his opening number, is when mere confabulation will no longer serve to express, and music becomes the next natural progression in communication. During his generous eighty-minute show, Axelrod's behavior and performances give rise to the supposition that he must spend every day singing. Live music patrons planning on seeing Mr. Axelrod in action should be advised that, if uncomfortable around unbridled emotion, they will need to stiffen their resolve, shake off that propensity, and get to the same place as Axelrod because it is, indeed, a rare thing to see this brand of openness and vulnerability on a nightclub stage. Clubs, cabarets, and concerts are a place where artists usually dress up in their finest outfits and present a version of themself that is informed by a script crafted with their director and musical director, and though many have tread the boards of these performance spaces, sharing their true selves with their audiences, it would be difficult to begin to list artists who have gone to the lengths achieved by Axelrod last night. How else could he, so audaciously, spend the major portion of his show in his stocking feet? Who else would bring their (notoriously) beloved dog onto the stage in order to sing a Sondheim lullaby to the pooch, as the dog caressed his brain-surgery scar with his paw? How often does a man stand on the stage of an intimate venue, weeping, while performing not one, not two, but some four or five different songs, all of them so emotionally informed that an audience member feels like they have just witnessed a private moment between a man and his friend?

Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Well, that is exactly what took place last night at Birdland Theater - and the private moment witnessed was between Ari and the story. Let there be no mistaking: Axelrod was there for the audience - his connection to the crowd was off the charts, especially every time that he spotted someone special to him in the theater, at times stopping his performance to share with them, and then to share them with the remaining audience. However, even with his more than palpable connection to the room full of people, Ari Axelrod acts in service of the stories being told, at all times. There is a main story in ARI'S ARIAS, and it is his own; there are a handful of vignettes in which the young artist tells the tales of Tevye, Lorenz Hart, an Israeli Jean Valjean, and every single one of the other hundred people who just got off of the train ... but those vignettes, those characters, those living, breathing, visible, visceral people are all a part of Ari, as he is a part of them. The man's almost defiant insistency on embracing and showcasing his authenticity is what drives every move that he makes, breathing life into every character he portrays, into each story that he tells, and thus bringing to life his art, but more than that, bringing that art to each of the human beings in observance of that art, which is probably why there was open sobbing and sniffling heard during his production, as well as some three or four moments during the play when audience members rose from their seats to applaud him from a standing position. It is a finely balanced mixture of raw honesty and emblazoned theatricality that Axelrod seems either unable or unwilling to contain that speaks, so resonantly, to his fans and followers (which, by the way, was more than friends and family, as this writer found himself in line before the show, chatting with patrons filled with questions about the Jewish activist and actor, about the club, about his work, about their food - a significant fact, since it is vital for all artists that their fanbase should, eventually, reach beyond the borders of family).

Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Aided in his efforts last night by gloriously gifted Musical Director/pianist Lawrence Yerman and creative consultant Jeff Harnar, Axelrod gives himself directing credit. That directing credit should, in no way, diminish the contribution to this show by Mr. Harnar, whose eloquent experience is showing in Axelrod's production, but it is more than obvious that Ari knows who he is, what he is about, and where he is going... at least in the confines of his show. This writer suspects that, with shows like A CELEBRATION OF JEWISH BROADWAY and ARI'S ARIAS, he will be going places in his career that he hasn't, yet, quite fathomed, places to which he deserves to go. Aside from the charm that walks into the room with his frank honesty, Ari is possessing of a voice of such beauty and depth that it might just be the prettiest boy voice in the business, and an uncanny ability to take a composition everyone has heard a hundred times or more and find something new inside of it. Die-hards of certain songs may be taken aback by the deconstruction of rhythms to which they have become accustomed, by placement emphasis that effectively alters the meaning of certain words and phrases, by insistent acting choices informed by private relationships between Axelrod and the story, but a simple relaxation of stringent frames of mind can (and will) yield perception-altering experiences in old friends like "The Stars and The Moon" and "Being Alive," both performances highlights in an evening of masterpieces that might as well be framed and hanging in a museum. Indeed, it is nearly impossible to name any one moment as the best in the show, particularly since ARI'S ARIAS includes the remarkable "Surgery Medley" that Ari created a few years ago with Maestro Alex Rybeck, but it isn't impossible - only nearly - for this writer can wholeheartedly state that Axelrod's candle-lit version of Sara Bareilles's "Once Upon Another Time" and a mashup of "Sailing" and "My Ship" by Misters Finn, Weil and Gershwin stood out as personal favorites in the evening, one of the best shows this writer has seen since returning to the clubs some eight months ago... if not the best of 2021, which isn't a reflection on the beautiful and valuable contributions that the other artists of the cabaret community have provided for the fans and for the industry. It is simply a statement on the value that this writer places on authenticity, audacity, and artistry, and (to me) that's what ARI'S ARIAS is. Authenticity. Audacity. Artistry.

And that's cabaret.

Ari's Arias was a one-off performance, but more great shows can be found at the Birdland website HERE.

THIS is Ari Axelrod's website.

Ari Axelrod gets a five out of five microphones rating for performing his entire show without the use of a lyric sheet, tablet, or music stand.

Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom

Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Review: ARI'S ARIAS at The Birdland Theater Cements Ari Axelrod's Stardom Photos by Stephen Mosher


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From This Author - Stephen Mosher

Stephen Mosher is the author of The Sweater Book (a collection of his photography featuring celebrated artists from the entertainment communities of New York, Los Angeles, and London), Lived In Cra... (read more about this author)


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