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Review: Brandon Uranowitz and the Songs of William Finn are a Match Made in Musical Heaven at Feinstein's/54 Below

Brandon Uranowitz makes his Feinstein's/54 Below debut in THE SONGS OF William Finn.
Photos: Nella Vera

There was a segment in Brandon Uranowitz' debut show at Feinstein's/54 Below on February 8 which culminated in his explanation as to how he remained in the closet to his family for four additional years, following an instance where he had a clear opportunity to come out. The bit was a confluence of storytelling and song involving heaping amounts of gay porn, his family's shared '90s computer, and the William Finn song, "Whizzer Going Down."

It was entirely emblematic of the evening as a whole. Singing only the music of Finn, composer of IN TROUSERS, MARCH OF THE FALSETTOS, FALSETTOLAND (the latter two combining to become FALSETTOS) and more, the moment was irreverent, hilarious, moving, and ultimately surprising. The same could be said about much of Finn's songbook, frequently titillating with jubilantly-plinking piano, and as easily swelling with devastation and richly sinister melodies.

Uranowitz, who himself just concluded his run as the neurotic psychiatrist Mendel in the Broadway revival of FALSETTOS, was up to the task of landing both the colloquial humor and grounded pain of Finn's distinct songwriting style. It cannot be overstated, then, how imperative a skilled musician is in terms of adequately tackling this music. Luckily for Uranowitz (and the audience), he was accompanied by his music director Vadim Feichtner on piano, which it turned out, was all he needed.

Uranowitz, donning his "pink pussy hat" for Finn's "Republicans."

Uranowitz' opening number, "How Marvin Eats His Breakfast," is a song about, yes, how Marvin eats his breakfast and also everything else. Marvin is a control freak; Marvin is dissatisfied no matter what and yet, Marvin is our protagonist and, if the person portraying him is in touch with his emotional potency, we will sympathize with him. Starting the song atop the venue's bar area before descending in a grand entrance of which Marvin would approve, Uranowitz was precisely the right amounts of annoying, annoyed, and somehow still copiously charming. He was rapturously engaging from the instant the spotlight hit him.

Sprinkling his set with frequent allusions to both his Jewishness and gayness (other similarities he has with much of Finn's music), Uranowitz oscillated sincerely between the show's laugh out loud moments which, in addition to "Breakfast," included "Mark's All Male Thanksgiving" from ELEGIES and "Republicans" (for which he donned what is now known as a "pink pussy hat"), and the evening's more tender installments.

Audiences, too, were swept from crying tears of laughter to misty-eyed emotion through his takes on two of FALSETTOS' most gut-wrenching tunes, "What Would I Do?" (a duet which he sang with his real-life husband, Zachary Prince) and "Holding to the Ground."

FALSETTOS' Stephanie J. Block and Uranowitz.

The latter is sung in the show by FALSETTOS' heroine of sorts, Trina, portrayed in the revival by Stephanie J. Block, whom audiences on this evening were lucky enough to see make a guest appearance. Singing Trina's signature act one number of unraveling hilarity, "I'm Breaking Down" it was both miraculous and nearly jarring to witness Block bring down the house with such powerful Broadway gravitas in an intimate venue as this (she also used her derriere to knock over a wooden stool, a moment that will not soon be forgotten). Also making an as-rapturous appearance was Alysha Umphress who was touching and impressive performing a mashup duet with Uranowitz of A NEW BRAIN's "I'd Rather be Sailing" and "Set Those Sails" from IN TROUSERS.

But the night, of course, had two shining stars: Uranowitz and the songs of Finn, both of which left an audience both deeply moved and with faces sore from hearty laughter. Uranowitz made a point to cap his innate self-deprecation, but did make reference to the fact that, of the four (adult) principals in the FALSETTOS revival, it took him the longest to land the gig. As evidenced by his performance on this evening, in addition to his shining work as Mendel, however, one must assert that his waiting days, as Finn might put it, had better come to a stop.

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