BWW Review: TUESDAYS AT 54 WITH ROBBIE ROZELLE Kicks Ass at 54 Below
That irritating day when your show gets canceled. You hope that it's just a rumor, you find out it's not, you hope the network will change their mind, or maybe another network will pick it up, and then you make sure you program your DVR for the remaining episodes.
For reasons best known to the organization, Feinstein's/54 Below has decided to discontinue the variety show TUESDAYS AT 54 WITH Robbie Rozelle, a shame because the ongoing series at the club provided a valuable service. With a ticket price of only $20 and a late-night menu consisting of more affordable options, people of all ages had an opportunity to come see some of their favorite artists chat about themselves and perform in an intimate venue allowing the crowd an up-close and personal look at the lives of the celebrities, not to mention the possibility of a handshake and brief chat afterward. Many is the night this writer spotted college students (drama or otherwise), nine-to-fivers, and senior citizens enjoying the casual atmosphere provided by Rozelle's combination talk/game/variety show. It was like going to your college town coffee shop to see Broadway talent over a beer or two for about forty bucks. Aside from the audience benefits, though, Tuesdays At 54 was a good deal for the talents on stage, as well. Artists with a show to promote could come on stage at 54 Below and discuss their project with Mr. Rozelle, then sing a song from their show before the stage was turned over to a new performer, just looking for some time in the light. Often one might go to Tuesdays At 54 and see a cabaret artist, a singer-songwriter, a Broadway star, and three different open mic talents, and that is exactly what happened at Tuesdays at 54 last night.
Not about to miss all three of the final editions of the show, this writer took himself out last night and caught one great evening of theater. The 90-minute show (for twenty bucks!) featured a typical Robbie Rozelle opening number and monologue (this week's rant was about the rumor of Idina Menzel playing in Funny Girl, and it was not only hilarious, it was spot on), cabaret artist Amy Jo Jackson, singer-songwriter Ben Moss, Broadway and International Concert Star Melissa Errico, and emerging talents Austin Mirsoltani, Catie Piers-Fernandes, and Joseph C. Townsend. All these guests were engaging, entertaining, talented, funny and captivating, with Ms. Jackson and Mr. Moss promoting their mutual club acts, Ms. Errico just blessing an adoring crowd with her beauty, grace, and originality, and the three open mic guests reaching for their individual brass rings. It was a stellar night of theater, fun, festive and informative.
Ms. Jackson's show THE BRASS MENAGERIE is her musical theater spin on the works of Tennessee Williams, in which she has taken the plays and the characters and is showing them to her audience with tunes we all know and love.... But maybe not quite the lyrics we know. After a sit-down with Rozelle that included a round of the game show "16 Bar Shakeup" (in which musical director Luke Williams plays 16 bars of a song Jackson has sung in a show on her resume, and when she recognizes it, she joins in, to great hilarity), Amy Jo offered up a sampling of THE BRASS MENAGERIE with her Cat On a Hot Tin Roof segment. If the rest of this club act is as witty, as biting, as entertaining as this segment, then Ms. Jackson needs to prepare for clubs around the city and out of the city to be calling her for bookings. And, OMG, what a voice. Amy Jo Jackson, where have you been all my life?
Mr. Moss's show, aptly titled Ben Moss & FRIENDS, is based on his 30 Day Songwriting Challenge, in which he awoke and wrote a verse and a chorus of a new song each day and posted the results on his social media, for accountability. The charming up-and-comer gives great interview, but then Mr. Rozelle asks all the right questions, and clearly knows what he is doing musically because his original song "You Loved Me The Most" was one you would go home from the club and find on iTunes, Youtube or your Echo Dot. Between his songwriting skills, his singing abilities, and his personal charm, it's hard to know what is going to take Mr. Moss the farthest in life - one suspects it will be the one-two punch made up of all of the parts of a man destined for a long and successful career in the arts.
Open Mic artists Austin Mirsoltani and Catie Pires-Fernandes are welcome members of the entertainment community, both of them easy on the eye and pleasing to the ears (turns out Mr. Mirsoltani only moved to NYC 6 months ago, and the audience got a preview of Ms. Pires-Fernandes new headshots). Mirsoltani's bright belt and affable attitude made his "What Do I Need With Love" a fun number in a night of ballads, while Ms. Pires-Fernandes' "I Will Follow" was so lush with emotional musical content that Jason Robert Brown himself would have been proud of her.
Joseph C. Townsend, the third Open Mic guest, is having quite a moment in the New York cabaret scene. After wowing audiences with "Pieces of Dreams" in Blake Allen's An Evening With Shirley Bassey, and stunning the crowd at Jim Caruso's Cast Party with "The Man That Got Away," Mr. Townsend knocked the socks off the crowd at 54 Below by singing "Over The Rainbow." With an unimaginable voice and his always chic appearance, Mr. Townsend is clearly a talent with which to be reckoned. It would not be surprising to learn that Townsend has a show of his own very soon. This is not breaking news, only wishful thinking.
The jewel in the crown of last night's Tuesdays at 54 was the luminous, brilliant poetess in song and in prose, Melissa Errico. Ms. Errico has no show to promote, though she is never short on conversation. Indeed, were Mr. Rozelle to do an evening of sitting and chatting with Melissa Errico, the ticket sales would be at capacity, so endearing is the Tony Award nominee. Ms. Errico and Mr. Rozelle have a lovely chemistry, clearly based on a mutual admiration, allowing them to be playful and honest with each other, something that can be difficult in a room full of strangers with a spotlight or four on you. Nevertheless, these two lovelies were like a couple of neighbors talking over the fence with glasses of ice tea, sharing stories, opinions and a lot of laughs before Rozelle turned the stage over to one of the greatest, richest, fullest, sweetest voices ever to sing a mashup of two different Randy Newman songs. Melissa Errico is a great actress who should be playing all the great roles like Francesca Johnson, Desiree Armfeldt and Aldonza, but until directors and producers snatch her up for those parts, the nightclubs and concert hall audiences of the world are happy to turn up and just watch her play Melissa Errico, which New York fans can do when she returns to 54 Below May 28 - 30 with LEGRAND DIFFERENCE!
It was a great night at Tuesdays At 54, but as Mr. Rozelle reminded the crowd that there are only two more editions to come, it was also a sad one because these young drama aficionados have come to depend on these Tuesday nights to get their fix in, and they will have to find a different way and a new place to do it, which is a crying shame. We don't worry about Robbie Rozelle because he is a theatrical jack of all trades and he will land on his feet, find a new gig, and keep moving on. The real losers here are the audiences who could have enjoyed so much more, and the talent who will need to find a new platform and new impresario to put a much-needed spotlight on their considerable talents.
Find Robbie Rozelle online at his website
Find Melissa Errico online at her website
Find Amy Jo Jackson online at his website
Find Ben Moss online at his website
Find Austin Mirsoltani online at his Instagram @austinmirsoltani
Find Catie Pires-Fernances online at her website
Find Joseph C. Townsend online at his website
Joseph C. Townsend
Joseph C. Townsend
Photos by Stephen Mosher