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BWW Review: NORM LEWIS: CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE On 54 Below Premieres Rings Every Holiday Bell

It isn't just a great performance, this is great filmmaking.

BWW Review: NORM LEWIS: CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE On 54 Below Premieres Rings Every Holiday Bell


The first thought that went through this writer's head as Norm Lewis: CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE started was "Golly, it's good to be back inside 54 Below." Even if it's only virtual, even if Jayson Kerr and Dylan Bustamante are wearing masks as they greet Mr. Lewis, even if there is no audience, even if none of our beloved 54 Below servers are in the room to smile at, it just feels really good to be back in the room. It made this guy smile (and I can't lie - I did cry a little) just to be there virtually and to feel connected to a world we all love and miss.

And people do love and miss the annual Norm Lewis Christmas show... but they don't have to.

BWW Review: NORM LEWIS: CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE On 54 Below Premieres Rings Every Holiday Bell

Oh, don't be mistaken: this isn't a holiday show - this is a CHRISTMAS show. There is no pretending that Norm Lewis is anything other than a Christmas person. He has never hidden it, he celebrates it all year long, and when the season hits (and one suspects that, for Norm, that is the day BEFORE Thanksgiving) Norm Lewis is ready to party. The stage is appropriately decorated and so is Lewis, in his brocade smoking jacket, and even though the electricity of being in the actual room with Norm isn't there, the excitement is real. This is one of the reasons members of the New York City club community - artists and audiences alike - are excited about the December holidays, and thank goodness Feinstein's/54 Below made the decision to make this film for 2020. We need it now.

BWW Review: NORM LEWIS: CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE On 54 Below Premieres Rings Every Holiday Bell

BWW Review: NORM LEWIS: CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE On 54 Below Premieres Rings Every Holiday BellJust listening to Norm Lewis sing anything is Christmas present enough but getting to do it via this film is particularly rewarding because his ebullience at being able to do this comes right through the screen and into your home. It is not possible to watch this show without smiling, without feeling all the feels, without wanting Norm Lewis to be your best friend. The music is extraordinary, but that's a given. What makes this ninety-minute movie truly exceptional is all the parts of Mr. Lewis that are on display. During the course of the evening, he becomes the conduit for all of the emotions we have been feeling, all the feelings that we are currently experiencing. Even though the world has been scary this year, although everyone feels isolated and weird, and lonely and uncertain, Norm Lewis uses this hour and a half to give us permission to let it all out. He doesn't hide from anything, he brings it all out onto the stage. He presents himself, all of himself, in all his reality and truth. He's silly, he's cheeky, he's corny, he's cheesy... and he's real in all of those moments. Then he's tender, caring, passionate, vulnerable... and he's real, with a bunch of movie cameras up in his face. Then he sings, he Sings, he SINGS those enormous, powerful, larger than life notes and emotions... and he's real for it. He is never false or coy or pretentious. He's honest about how much he misses this, about how much he misses us, he's overjoyed to be able to sing with his guest artists Pastor Bobby Lewis and Miss Sierra Boggess, he's rousing in his wish for a better world, and he's wistful for a time when he can touch people once more. He even turns, for a moment, into a giddy fifth-grade girl, when he gleefully cries out "I got to play The Phantom! On Broadway! YAY!" This is no Broadway divo up on the stage being grand. This is your next-door neighbor, sincere, disarming, and genuine in every moment - he just happens to sing like a Broadway divo.

BWW Review: NORM LEWIS: CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE On 54 Below Premieres Rings Every Holiday Bell

BWW Review: NORM LEWIS: CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE On 54 Below Premieres Rings Every Holiday BellIndeed, Norm Lewis sings like every kind of divo. Throughout the concert, Lewis does his usual holiday fare - anyone who has been to one of his shows or who has purchased THE Norm Lewis CHRISTMAS ALBUM knows many of the tunes he sings during the concert, but most people don't mind hearing him perform these songs over and over - certainly not superfan Gail Gordon, who attends each performance every year, and who makes a guest appearance in this film. It is awe-inspiring, though, to observe Mr. Lewis go funk-gospel in his duet with Pastor Lewis, adult contemporary on "The Gift of Love", bonafide Broadway alongside Ms. Boggess, and authentic rock & roll with a little Marvin Gaye (this number is reason enough to buy the film, especially at the 58:36 mark on the timer). There isn't one musical moment in the entire concert that isn't a little slice of perfection pie, and Team Lewis is right there, making sure Norm is fully supported so he can focus on the telling of the tales, musically and emotionally. Musical director/pianist Joseph Joubert, percussionist Perry Cavari and bassist George Farmer are a veritable symphony on a cabaret stage, their mastery behind Lewis perfectly mixed by sound engineer Daniel Sanint and location sound supervisor Amanda Raymond; some of the online content seen this year has had some dicey mixing that gets in the way of the show, but not here - the sound design of this special is pitch-perfect. Indeed, the filmmaking here is nothing but quality, and that is all because of the care that director Cody Wiliams and DP Adam Paul Verity put into it, with the assistance of a, clearly, crackerjack team. It's an elegant and sophisticated bit of filmmaking that is to be admired and appreciated.

BWW Review: NORM LEWIS: CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE On 54 Below Premieres Rings Every Holiday Bell

At the end of the day, it's Norm Lewis whose name is above the title, though, and everyone knows that where Norm goes, Richard Jay-Alexander goes first, paving a smooth path for the tallest Christmas elf anyone will ever meet. A man as kind of spirit and as generous of talent deserves to have a director that cares so deeply about the quality of their work and of their work surroundings. As usual, RJA does Norm and his fans right because Norm Lewis: Christmastime Is Here is one of those holiday specials people will want to watch every year, something that Norm and 54 Below should think about for Christmas 2021. There are fans all over the world who can't make the annual week of live performances, and there will be a day when audiences can return to those live performances - at least the ones here in NYC. What about the fans in other parts of the country and the world?

A Norm Lewis Christmas DVD would make a pretty amazing stocking stuffer... #bighint

Norm Lewis: Christmastime Is Here is available for purchase/streaming through December 31st. For information and tickets please visit the Feinstein's/54 Below website HERE.

Norm Lewis: Christmastime Is Here is a presentation of 54 Below Premieres. Though it is assisted in its streaming by Broadway World, Broadway World is not involved in the creation of the concert, negating any conflict of interest in this review.

BWW Review: NORM LEWIS: CHRISTMASTIME IS HERE On 54 Below Premieres Rings Every Holiday Bell


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