BWW Review: TUESDAYS AT 54 BELOW With Robbie Rozelle
On Tuesday night, after hearing that his second songwriting guest in a row would not be performing one of their own songs, Robbie Rozelle declared that, for the evening, 54 Below had been relegated to a Coffee House, a "Denny's With a Dream", giving proof of the quick-witted skill of his bitingly funny mind. Such is an example of the conversation between Rozelle, his guests and his audience at Tuesdays at 54 with Robbie Rozelle, billed as a "Zany" and "Madcap" Variety Show that takes place (guess when?) on Tuesday's at Feinstein's/54 Below. Since Tuesdays at 54 IS a Variety Show that changes every week, the degree to which it can be zany and madcap is bound to differ, and the night this writer attended, the show was certainly filled with laughs, music, and love, but it was not one of their zanier nights, which was to be expected when Rozelle's opening monologue featured a big, personal reveal that, with little in the Broadway news to occupy his time, he was binge-watching the newly released episodes of Designing Women on Hulu. This need come as a surprise to no one, since that is what everyone has been doing since this momentous television-streaming event went live. Indeed, Mr. Rozelle probably could have spent the 70 minutes of his show discussing Designing Women and still held his rapt audience in his energy-brimming hands, that's how much they loved him. Fortunately for him, Rozelle didn't need an up-to-the-minute opening monologue, his self-penned musical parody "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Fox News" was enough to set the tone, and his cavalcade of guests was enough to bring it home.
A much-lauded director of popular cabaret shows, Mr. Rozelle began this series at 54 Below in July and will continue (at this time) through January (all can expect an extension). The show plays (on average) twice a month (advice: check the 54 Below calendar to be sure which Tuesdays, with the holiday season approaching, it may vary), and is described as equal parts talk, variety, and game shows, with a dash of open mic. Every week Rozelle invites to the stage a famous friend or two, and some emerging artists, opens the mic for their performances, conducts an interview and plays a game. The night this writer attended the celebrity guests were singer/songwriter Jonathan Reid-Gealt, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child's Nathan Salstone and Micaela Diamond, late of The Cher Show, as well as a Sean Doherty, subbing in for an ailing guest at the last minute. Joining them for the show were emerging artists Julia Rhea and Sam Bolen, and making musical magic behind the piano was the always wonderful Luke Williams.
Each of Rozelle's guests were a delight, with Doherty displaying a dream of a voice, Ms. Rhea showing not only vocal abilities but humorous storytelling skills, and Bolen bringing the audience to tears with a seldom heard Irving Berlin tune "You'd Be Surprised", but the biggest share of the evening went to Diamond and Salstone who, it would appear, are a real-life couple and whose interview portion of the evening was conducted as a duet. As with all his guests, Rozelle seemed to know them quite well, and a lovefest between the people onstage showcased the familial feeling that happens when show business artists meet and form friendships. Mr. Rozelle either has a heck of a knack with research or he is simply in the know due to his personal connection with the guests, because he was able to keep the conversation flowing between the talented young couple, as with all of the people he welcomed to the stage. After the interview portion of his time with Micaela and Nathan, there was singing from both the Broadway stars and a really funny, kind of "name that tune" game involving past shows they've each been in. It had the audience and the people on stage in stitches.
The highlight of the evening on August 27th, for this writer, was the interview that started the evening - a chat with singer-songwriter Jonathan Reid-Gealt, whose rather shy persona belied his exquisite vocal prowess as he performed a song he did not write, "For Forever" from Dear Evan Hansen. The entertaining and delightful chat he had with Mr. Rozelle revealed that Mr. Reid-Gealt left behind performing in favor of songwriting, but after his heartstopping performance, it is clear that the world is missing out on something wonderful, due to his hiatus from the spotlight - a hiatus one wishes would end, and very soon.
Interestingly, the joke about 54 Below being a coffee house for the evening wasn't far off. The price of admission to Tuesdays at 54 is shockingly affordable, as is the casual late-night menu. The crowd on the night I attended responded to every joke, every story, every appearance as though they were in the know. One might think they were friends, family, or fans of the artists and/or regulars of the series. Which gave it all that casual coffee house flair. To say nothing of the performers' (and Rozelle's) sense of liberty with their verbiage. As a profane human being myself, it did not bother me, but future "shy" patrons should know there are no filters at this show and all bets are off. However, this series is suitable for anyone... for tourists, for New Yorkers who are not in show business, for anyone looking for a fun night of affordable nightclub entertainment. It doesn't matter if you don't know the artists well or at all, because watching the interviews is like looking through a window at good friends telling tall tales and laughing about the good old days, and when an audience member gets home to their computer, they can google those artists they didn't know, take the information and backstories, apply them to their online presence, and build your own biography of them. This is live entertainment in the age of the internet, where you learn about performers as you go along, for there is a wealth of information about them online, and there is a wealth of entertainment at Tuesdays at 54 with Robbie Rozelle.