BWW Review: Benjamin Eakeley's BROADWAY SWINGER, VOL. 2: ALL OF ME Bounces Brightly with Swing and Jazz
Last seen at Studio 54 in the revivals of SHE LOVES ME and CABARET, and at 54 Below performing his first volume of BROADWAY SWINGER, Benjamin Eakeley has recently returned from starring as Cliff Bradshaw in the national tour of CABARET. With a beaming smile, a ton of energy, his dazzling vocal instrument, and even delighting audiences with his clarinet, the decadent performer's debut of BROADWAY SWINGER, VOL. 2: ALL OF ME made his New York City homecoming a true celebration.
The new volume of BROADWAY SWINGER takes audiences on a whirlwind ride through the hit tunes of musicals from the 1930s. As politically aware as ever, Eakeley and his co-writer Tim Murray craftily created banter as political commentary that left the audience laughing while drawing parallels to our current political woes and the troubles of the Great Depression and the growing turmoil in Europe that eventually lead to World War II. Under the direction of JV Mercanti, each of these doses of reality are served with a beaming smile and a twinkling eye. The comparisons don't put a damper on the evening; instead, these witty political zingers leave the audience chuckling while allowing us to better connect to the forces behind the creation of the set's timeless tunes.
The set list for BROADWAY SWINGER, VOL. 2: ALL OF ME features incandescent, familiar hits that easily appeal to any demographic. Looking around Feinstein's/54 Below, many of the patrons were mouthing along and dancing in their seats listening to Eakeley sing. He opened the show with joyful energy and pizzazz, gliding through "All of Me" (Gerald Marks/Seymour Simmons) with an effervescent charm. His radiant tenor dazzled on tunes like "Love Walked In" (George & Ira Gershwin), "Night and Day" (Cole Porter), his charming mash-up of "The Glory of Love" (Benny Hill) and "It's Only a Paper Moon" (Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg/Billy Rose), "The Way You Look Tonight" (Jerome Kern & Dorothy Fields), and "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" (James F. Hanley).
The show presented some wonderful stand out moments, as well. Eakeley mesmerized the crowd with the sultry, sensual side of his instrument as he built to a brilliant belt on "Ten Cents a Dance" (Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart). Likewise, his somber and serene rendition of "I Cover the Waterfront" (Johnny Green/Edward Heyman) was beautifully heartfelt. Covering "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)" (Louis Prima), Eakeley and his capable band shook the walls with this boisterous swing classic. In the full spirit of the song, Eakeley played his clarinet for the song's requisite call and repeat moments between the braggadocious brass-played with perfected sass by Mike Sailors on trumpet-and the rowdy woodwinds.
Winding the show down, Eakeley delivered beautifully heartfelt renditions of "I'll Be Seeing You" (Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal) and "All the Things You Are" (Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein). With these two poignant numbers, he infused the end of his performance with tangible love, hope, and left the audience clinging to the possibility only the future can offer. Lastly, his encore allowed audiences to revel with him in one of his favorite songs to perform, the seductive and charming "Love for Sale" (Cole Porter).
Eakeley's band, led by music director and the show's orchestrator James Olmstead, provided exquisite accompaniment for his lush tenor instrument. Whether crafting a smoky and atmospheric jazz tapestry or making toes tap to the rhythms of exuberant swing, Sailors on trumpet, Matthew Rybicki on upright bass, Zachary Eldridge on drums, and Olmstead on piano played with vibrancy and palpable enthusiasm.
Every member of the audience for BROADWAY SWINGER, VOL. 2: ALL OF ME left Feinstein's/54 Below truly glowing and thoroughly entertained. One can only hope that Eakeley will book repeat performances in the very near future, and hopefully this act will be recorded either live or in a studio. It's simply too good not to preserve.
For more information about and tickets to upcoming shows at Feinstein's/54 Below, please visit https://54below.com.