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Review: Phillip Officer is Back Where He Belongs in LET ME SING AND I'M HAPPY at Birdland

Review: Phillip Officer is Back Where He Belongs in LET ME SING AND I'M HAPPY at Birdland

Phillip Officer Brings His Wonderful Heart to Birdland.

There is a lyric that goes "Love is Better the Second Time Around." Phillip Officer did not sing that song tonight. That is a pity because it is the summation of his show LET ME SING AND I'M HAPPY, which played before a star-studded audience in Birdland's downstairs space. Mr. Officer's show is a return to NY cabaret after an absence of some 15 years and is a bittersweet examination of things lost and found. Phillip Officer used the word "change" quite liberally throughout the evening, and indeed change was one of its most powerful themes.

Phillip Officer was a prevalent name in NYC cabarets in the 1990s and early 2000s. He made a name for himself on Broadway in the cast of the original SIDE SHOW. And his cabaret evenings were always highly regarded by critics and audiences alike. But as he explained this evening, in 2008 he packed everything he owned into several large bags and not quite knowing why boarded a plane to Las Vegas, a place he had never been, with the intent of starting a new life. His baggage was lost along the way. How's that for a metaphor?

He became a bartender and began a whole new life in Sin City. But it Is not as easy to shed old skins as it may initially seem. During the pandemic, he found the urge to perform to be irresistible. And so he didn't resist it. He began dusting off old arrangements and thinking about what sort of show he could construct out of his 15-year sabbatical. LET ME SING AND I'M HAPPY is the first step back into that former life.

And quite a first step it is too. Mr. Officer commands the stage in a way that doesn't indicate he's ever been gone. His interpretive skills are thoughtful and very individual. He has a great gift for getting to the very heart of a lyric with great vulnerability and truth. The program he put together was a very classy evening of classic and modern standards that ran the gamut from Peggy Lee to Irving Berlin to Carole King to Cher. The arrangements by Officer and Mark Hartman were clever and introspective. Hartman, along with Erik Friedlander on cello and Kevin Kuhn on guitar were an unusual trio of jazzmen who were in perfect step with Officer's sensitive stylings.Review: Phillip Officer is Back Where He Belongs in LET ME SING AND I'M HAPPY at Birdland

They opened with songs by two great female writers, Peggy Lee's "It's a Good Day' combined with Carole King's "Beautiful." He explained his existential flight from NY with two classics, Berlin's "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy and "The Gypsy in My Soul" by Boland and Jaffe. He followed with two of Sondheim's most vulnerable tunes "Old Friends" from Merrily We Roll Along and the title song from Anyone Can Whistle. He switched gears for the highlight of the evening, a medley of Stevie Nicks' "Landslide" and the Beatles' "Blackbird." Phillip Officer's reading of the two songs about feeling lost was simply perfection.

He combined Cher's "Believe" with Johnny Mercer's "I Wanna Be Around with no comment on where the songs might figure biographically. He did a clever mashup of Cryer and Ford's "Old Friend," Bernard Ighner's beautiful "Everything Must Change" and Stevie Wonder's "All in Love is Fair."He introduced the band with "I Love Being Here With You" wedded with Cy Coleman's "I'm Nothing Without You" from City of Angels. All three members of the band provided masterful solos.

To wrap things up, Officer turned to Mabel Mercer, singing one of her great hits by Jerome Kern and Anne Caldwell, "Once in a Blue Moon." He gave a beautiful encore with two songs by Bill Russell (who incidentally was the evening's director,) "I Will Never Leave You from Side Show and "Someone Beside You. " It was a satisfying end to a very well constructed evening of songs about transformation.

If there is any criticism it would be the show felt about one song short and the banter in the opening third of the show which dealt with the "Why" of this concert felt unnecessary. Phillip Officer is a wonderful and skilled entertainer. His work stands on its own without explaining his return to show business. His performance is so fresh and alive, one would never guess he had had a day's absence from it. And I personally hope he will grace us with his artistry again very soon.

Review: Phillip Officer is Back Where He Belongs in LET ME SING AND I'M HAPPY at Birdland

To learn more about Phillip Officer go to his website, phillipofficer.com, or follow him @phillip.officer on Instagram. For more wonderful artists cast Birdland, visit birdlandjazz.com.


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