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Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show

Returning to The Basement eight months later, Tony was singing a new tune.

By: Sep. 16, 2023
Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image
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Tony Yazbeck has a gift.  Tony Yazbeck is a gift, and Tony Yazbeck has a gift.  Both of these observations are plainly clear each time the Tony Award nominee steps up onto a stage, whether it’s a stage on Broadway, in a regional theater, or a nightclub, where he has made a name for himself as one of the most popular entertainers in the industry.  A Tony Yazbeck nightclub act always sells out, and with good reason: they are awe-inspiring.  That isn’t hyperbole - Mr. Yazbeck’s shows always leave audiences shaking their heads in disbelief and cheering, and his latest outing at 54 Below was no exception.

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  ImageTo be fair, Tony Yazbeck refers to his show as a “set” and not as a nightclub act.  It’s a distinction most often made by jazz musicians, rock singers, and folksy singer-songwriters - any small venue artists who tend to go out on stage without a written script, with the sole purpose of playing their music with the odd, extemporaneous bit of chat bridging the musical numbers.  On the whole, a performer working a cabaret room or a nightclub has usually sat down and crafted a musical play with an arc and a story, and that is, rather, what Yazbeck does with each of his acts.  That is because Yazbeck is a storyteller; he has always been a storyteller and that is where his focus lies, whether it is a story being recounted with rhetoric (which Yazbeck handles with ease, on topics ranging from his career history to his life-altering recovery to his dedication to his son), one being presented in the form of singing (which Yazbeck always commits to, to the fullest extent possible) or one being created through the art of dance (which Yazbeck states, most succinctly, is his happy place).  A Tony Yazbeck show is a genuine nightclub act, a glossy song-and-dance cabaret in which he fully uses words, music, and the fluidly precise movements of his body to tell the stories his audiences crave to see.  But he is right when he calls the show “a set” and that is because, like any diligent performer, Tony Yazbeck takes that which he needs from his life and his repertoire and plugs it in to the creation, based on where he is in life.  In January of this year, Mr. Yazbeck presented a show at 54 Below that was quite different than anything we had ever seen of him - it was personal, it was honest, and it was deep, so much so that some members of the audience considered it a bit on the sad side, maybe even a little depressing.  That is not the opinion of this writer who gave the production an unqualified rave review (read it HERE).  But that show wasn’t very long after the pandemic that was still ringing in our collective ears, and Tony Yazbeck was simply plugging in the components necessary to tell his story, at that time.  He was creating his “set” around where he was in his life.

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  ImageWhere he is now, eight months later, is a little different.   It is a place of joy.  That is where he began when he sat down to create this “set” and this show.  When he works solo, Tony Yazbeck doesn’t always make a show title - he just lets his name do the talking, and that name is enough.  Had he chosen to name this musical cabaret, he might simply have used that word:  Joy.  Tony is happy.  And happiness is not overrated.  And when Tony Yazbeck made up this happy, joyful show, he chose all the right elements to plug into his “set.”

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First up, Tony Yazbeck asked his marvelous Musical Director, Jerome Korman, to come back to the playground for a little joy and gratitude.  Misters Korman and Yazbeck have a real thing going between them, and it’s a good thing, too, because Jerome gets what Tony is doing, and he watches him like a hawk, throughout, providing not only right and proper accompaniment and arrangements for the sung portions, with rise and flow in the musical monology and pauses for effect when acting is the order of the day, he applies the exact same attention to the generous portions of storytelling through dance, which is merely an extension of each of Tony’s monologues and, therefore, requires the same rise and fall and pause for emotional effect.  When a musical performer finds an MD that understands their aesthetic as well as Jerome gets Tony’s, they need to grab on and hold on tight.

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Secondly, Tony Yazbeck called up two friends so close to his heart and so special to the industry as to make the evening’s work a fully fleshed-out musical play about more than happiness and joy - this was about human connection.  With the inclusion of the spectacular singing star Morgan James and the uniquely special dance divo Andrew Nemr, Tony Yazbeck provided his audience with remarkable entertainment value and tangible proof of humanity.   After nearly half an hour of his own impeccable artistry on numbers that involved dance (“Sunny Side of the Street” and “New York, New York; On The Town”) and songs presented in the park and bark style (“Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”), Tony had the fashionable and fabulous Ms. James bring the heat with a jazzy “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” during which she sang and he tapped, in an exchange of dialogue that told a story so steamy as to render all patrons reaching for their water glasses.  This is an exciting pairing, hopefully one that might bring James, a former singing actress and current radio hits maker, back to the musical theater stage, and hopefully opposite Yazbeck.  The two chums have chemistry for days, and Yazbeck’s writing and directing instincts were put to excellent use with this number.

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After Morgan gave Tony a rest by taking the stage for an impressive “Music That Makes Me Dance,” our leading man moved his story forward with personal reflections on being a New Yorker (“New York State of Mind”), Tony Bennett (“It Had To Be You/The Way You Look Tonight”) and the importance in his life of his original love, tap dancing (“I Can’t Be Bothered Now”).  But after that min-set of songs, Tapping Tornado Tony invited his mate Andrew Nemr to help him tell the story of their friendship in a virtuosic manner: the two mates stood on the stage talking about how they met, how their friendship grew, and who they are as men and as friends, punctuating the conversation with (what appeared to be) impromptu, improvisational tap dancing.  Talk, tap.  Tap, talk.  Talk, tap.  It was the kind of display that makes a “set” into Art.  This show was art.  And this segment of two best male friends talking, sharing, and dancing was the kind of storytelling that sends audiences home to call their own best friend but, especially, the men.  There is a special quality, a unique quality, to the nature of male best friends that is difficult to define, but when it's present, you can see it.  What was visible while watching these two men and tap dancers of Lebanese descent dancing their hearts out while expounding on the virtues of their personal connection was a moment of beauty, a showcasing of humanity that rose the Tony Yazbeck show to an artistic level one doesn’t get at every cabaret show, which is part of Tony Yabeck's gift: he is always digging deeper to make both art and human connection.

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And the final ingredient that went into making the Yazbeck Joy Show (not the official title, you understand, just this writer’s preferred one) was the presence in the audience of his son, who is the architect of Tony Yazbeck’s happiness.  The six-year-old boy was in a club to watch his father work, for the very first time, and the direct exchange of energy between the father and son was the stuff of nightclub dreams, that moment when the headliner lets the audience in to the deepest place of their soul.  That’s Tony Yazbeck singing “Pure Imagination” and “Moon River” (in tap dance) to the love of his life, and it was a tearful, cheerful, joyful moment that their audience will remember, always.

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Tony Yazbeck is a gift.  Tony Yazbeck has a gift.  Both gifts are his openness, his willingness, his insistence upon exploring the crossroads where humanity, HIS humanity, our humanity, and creation, art, and storytelling meet.  Whatever he is working on, whether it is a play in which he is acting, one that he is directing, or a show like this latest venture, he begins at that crossroad - that is his jumping-off place... which means that the finish line is always going to be exceptional.  On this occasion, the Joy and the Gratitude just made the journey all that much better.

Find great shows to see on the 54 Below website HERE.

THIS is the Tony Yazbeck website, HERE is the Morgan James website and the Andrew Nemr website can be accessed HERE.

Photos by Stephen Mosher

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Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

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Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

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Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

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Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

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Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image

Review: TONY YAZBECK A Tower Of Joy In New 54 Below Show  Image



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