Review: JULIE BENKO Brought Some Joy to Mardi Gras at Birdland

The acclaimed singer (Funny Girl, Harmony) celebrated Mardi Gras and New Orleans on February 12th

By: Feb. 20, 2024
Review: JULIE BENKO Brought Some Joy to Mardi Gras at Birdland
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On Monday February 12, 2024, Julie Benko tore up the house at Birdland Jazz Club with a sold out show celebrating Mardi Gras. The show has become an annual tradition for Benko, who wove trivia questions and fun facts about New Orleans throughout the show. She entered in a sparkly gold dress, stopping at a lucky couple of tables on her way to the stage to serve a slice of “king cake.” She explained that the dessert is traditionally served during Mardi Gras, and whoever finds the slice with the baby in it is crowned King or Queen of the night, and is fortuned to have good luck all year. What better way to start off Mardi Gras? (Even though, technically, as Benko noted, the show actually took place on "Fat Monday," which is a whole different thing.)

Why does Benko love Mardi Gras so much? The singer addressed early on that she’s just a “Jewish girl from the Northeast.” She didn’t grow up in or near New Orleans – she just loves the holiday, and her love is infectious. She sang jazzy tunes inspired by our about Mardi Gras and New Orleans, like “Louisiana Fairy Tale.” In a nod to her recent turn in Funny Girl on Broadway, she sang “Bill Bailey,” which there is some evidence that Fanny Brice sang – and the songstress inimitably channeled the original funny girl. Benko has enormous versatility as a singer, which she proved again and again by singing in a range of styles and moods. One example: there’s an Al Jolson song called “Pretty Baby” which she said was “pretty weird” because she didn’t know if it was being sung to an actual baby. She solved the problem by performing it as Betty Boop, flawlessly contorting her voice into that cutesy rasp while belting it out.

Benko was also joined by her co-star from Funny Girl, John Manzari, who sang a few numbers and treated the audience to some outstanding tap dancing. She shared that when she joined the cast of Funny Girl and started on tap lessons, she was sure she was going to be fired, but Manzari offered to coach her, because that’s just the kind of person he is.

Benko was accompanied by a stellar band, including her husband Jason Yeager on piano. The band all got a chance to solo and show off their stuff on the closer, a rousing rendition of “When the Saints Come Marching In,” which Benko invited the audience to sing along to.

Partway through the show, an audience member came up, calling out that they had found the baby. Benko called them on stage to receive the “crown,” a light-up cowboy hat. She asked him for a blessing to “find a new job soon” (Harmony, the Barry Manilow musical, which Benko starred in, closed this month). With her talent and charm, however, I’d be surprised if she’s jobless for long, and she certainly doesn’t need any luck.

For more on Julie Benko, visit her website.

To find more shows at Jazzland, visit