BWW Review: Antony Nunziata Wins Hearts with THE GREATEST LOVE SONGS at 54 Below
It was a love-fest last night at Feinstein's/54 Below. Sure, it was Valentine's Day, so love was definitely in the air, and it certainly helped that (according to this writer's table companions) the food on the Valentine's Day menu at 54 Below was even more amazing than usual. Of course, the stellar staff at the swanky midtown West supper club was as smooth as ever (at times they almost put The Waiter's Gallop to shame) so there was simply no way around it: whatever musical act walked out on that stage was going to make this crowd happy.
But THIS crowd had Anthony Nunziata.
Mr. Nunziata, a much-loved artist on the concert circuit, was the right man to book into Feinstein's for Valentine's Day because he is also widely hailed as one of the most romantic singers on the scene today, creating music reminiscent of Julio Iglesias and Jim Brickman. With his new cd, THE LOVE ALBUM recently released, Nunziata created a 70-minute show of nothing but love songs, some from the cd, some from his collection of favorites, and some from his family history. Make no mistake, singing an hour (or more) of nothing but love songs is a very tricky, even a dangerous, choice because so much time spent on the genre of love songs runs the risk of becoming a bit twee after a while. Fortunately, Mr. Nunziata has earned much experience from years of performing, both on his own and with his brother, Will Nunziata, in their duo act. Brother Will is currently laser-focused on directing while Anthony is excelling as a songwriter, but the Nunziata men know who they are as individuals and entertainers, what works for them on the stage, what's good, and what goes. The result of this studied expertise has made it possible for Anthony to take the lead on this concert that he, himself, put together as writer, director, and soloist.
The concert itself does avoid the saccharine, even with the abundance of ballads, thanks to up-tempo numbers that allow Anthony to rock out, giving off an impression that he should be pursuing work as an actual rock singer because he is extremely expressive with his physicality when it comes to his enjoyment of the music and the rhythms. Simply watching Nunziata take a deep dive into the musicality of the evening is enough of a show, but add to that a voice that is tailor-made for adult contemporary music and it is entirely possible to visualize him in huge concert arenas performing the same works that he brought to the more intimate setting of Feinstein's/54 Below - and he sure has the notes for the big arenas, too. This is a voice that has been trained and continues to be trained right up into the present - there's no way he could do some of the things he does, vocally, were he not committed to the ongoing perfection of his craft, a fact made evident by a stunningly arranged "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You/Unchained Melody" during which Nunziata displays precise control over his vocal prowess.
When he isn't busy with the power ballads and baby-making music, Anthony Nunziata loves to play with the audience, getting silly with impressions of his grandmother singing "O Sole Mio" to the twins as babies, and chatting up the fellow Italians in the crowd. It's fun watching him break out of the romantic every now and then for these little bits of engaging social-intercourse with his fans, though this kind of thing can be a risk, especially on an occasion like Valentine's Day when people are prone to drink a little more than usual. Sometimes overly-imbibed patrons might take the playfulness too much to heart, thinking that they are welcome to initiate conversation during a musical number, which is never the case; when it happened last night, Anthony Nunziata handled it as best he could, with professionalism and grace, the mark of a true gentleman.
Musically, the evening is nearly perfect, with a band of musicians at the top of their game and arrangements by the masterful musical director and pianist (oh! the deftness of his fingers over the keys!) Eugene Gwozdz. It is apparent that Anthony & co. have worked very hard to present a concert of musical delights, sublime and full of emotion, even if this writer felt like their impressive saxophone player could have sat out on a couple of numbers; there is benefit in occasionally underplaying a mood. This is perfectly illustrated in the back-to-back performances of two Rodgers and Hammerstein songs in the show, "This Nearly Was Mine" and "You'll Never Walk Alone." The first number, a serious song, soulful and heart-aching, is best performed quietly and meaningfully, but Team Nunziata opted for an over-orchestrated arrangement that put all of the instruments in front of Anthony's voice and the valuable lyrics, both of which got lost in the shuffle. It would have been so much more effective if Mr. Nunziata sang the South Pacific number quietly, brokenheartedly, with just a guitar. Contrarily, "You'll Never Walk Alone" can always be sung with all the instruments and the biggest vocals in the world, which is exactly what Anthony & co. did last night, to perfection.
On the subject of perfection: as much praise as can be placed on this show, the majority of the praise belongs to Anthony Nunziata's own songs. Each and every tune he sang that was of his own composition was magnificent, making musical moments in AMORE: THE GREATEST LOVE SONGS where audiences can hear that Nunziata belongs on the Adult Contemporary Billboard charts. His self-penned songs sound like hits on the radio or, better still, movie theme songs. It would not be surprising if, one day, Anthony Nunziata is an Oscar nominee for best original song because his songs are just what can be found on the lists of top hits and award nominees, making one wish for another cd of Nunziata originals - and The Love Album only just came out! Nevertheless, we are all ready for the next one.
Are you listening, Anthony?
Photos by Stephen Mosher