BWW Review: Aaron Lazar Presents BROADWAY TO HOLLYWOOD at OC's Segerstrom Center
If you were fortunate enough to be one of the many who caught the touring production of the Tony Award-winning musical DEAR EVAN HANSEN during its Southern California stops at L.A.'s Ahmanson Theatre last autumn or, more recently, at O.C.'s Segerstrom Center of the Arts this past January, then you, no doubt, would remember Broadway veteran Aaron Lazar, the handsome and very talented man tasked with the role of Larry Murphy, the distant but distraught father to a suicidal teenager. The role has earned him much-deserved universal praise, not only for such a thoughtful, searing acting performance but also for his obvious singing prowess.
Those powerful pipes were on full display this past weekend, thanks to his So Cal return engagement where Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Center once again played host to Lazar, this time for a splendid solo cabaret set entitled BROADWAY TO HOLLYWOOD that entertained audiences for three nightly performances, April 11-13.
For his Center cabaret debut at the intimate Samueli Theatre, Lazar-jokingly complaining of jet lag, but decided to push through-offered a lovely and enjoyable mixture of favorites and rare gems from musicals of the stage and screen, backed by a buoyant jazz trio led by musical director and principal accompanist, Jesse Kissel. As expected from a solo cabaret, Lazar also provided the appreciative audience with factual anecdotes and amusing stories from his own life and how some of these moments inspired the songs he selected for the evening.
He opened the evening with a swinging mash-up of "Something's Coming" (from WEST SIDE STORY) and "A Lot of Livin' To Do" (from BYE BYE BIRDIE) which set the tone for the jazz-leaning evening.
After fielding some shout-outs from fellow New Jersey natives in the audience, Lazar finally explained that an unforeseen injury sidelined his early trajectory as a high school athlete in Cherry Hill, NJ causing him to seek a different extra-curricular activity-which eventually led him to musical theater.
This segued him to sing/rap his own personalized version of "Alexander Hamilton," the opening song from Lin-Manuel Miranda's hit musical HAMILTON which he winkingly re-dubbed "Aaron Scott Lazar," of course (I'm surprised he didn't go with "Pardon me, are you Aaron Lazar, sir?).
To no one's surprise, the cheeky revised lyrics-apparently, according to Lazar, is still yet to be heard by HAMILTON/DEAR EVAN HANSEN musical supervisor Alex Lacamoire-delighted much of the audience, demonstrating that even his rap skills, like his swoon-worthy singing voice, are on point.
Throughout the evening, Lazar's set list jumped to different points in his life not so much in chronological order, but rather in an order that best suited his curated material, mixing moments of hilarity and silliness with points of pure pathos and emotional depth, as he tracked his journey from Duke University medical school to working on Broadway shows such as LES MISERABLES, MAMMA MIA!, THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, and Sting's THE LAST SHIP, plus working alongside the likes of Catherine Zeta-Jones, Angela Lansbury, and Elaine Stritch in the recent revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. The latter produced one of evening's more colorful recollections, which found him comparing the contrasting interactions he had with the latter two grand dames of the stage.
Lazar's Broadway debut, however, was in a little show you may have heard of called PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which he touches on with a medley of "All I Ask Of You," from PHANTOM and "'Til I Hear You Sing" from its sequel "LOVE NEVER DIES," which he also performed in during its initial London run.
Other highlights of Lazar's show include lovely renditions of "Hey There" from THE PAJAMA GAME, "If Ever I Would Leave You" from CAMELOT, and a touching "I'd Give It All For You" from Jason Robert Brown's SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD. He also had the audience laughing during "Smelly Shoe" a song from a reading he did for a little-known musical called FRIED LEATHER SHOES-which was preceded by a hilarious "only-in-New-York" story involving a next door neighbor and 30 dead cats.
In a more humble, adorably self-effacing moment, Lazar offered up an admission that, despite its requirement for most Broadway performers, being a "triple threat," regrettably, isn't applicable to him.
"Being two out of the three ain't bad," he joked, leading him to a cheeky song called "Leading Men Don't Dance."
Lazar also revealed an affinity for the work of Richard Rodgers both with his collaborations with Lorenz Hart (which he pays tribute to in an extra jazzy "Lady Is A Tramp" from BABES IN ARMS and a gorgeous "My Heart Stood Still," from A CONNECTICUT YANKEE) and, later, Oscar Hammerstein II. It was while studying to be a doctor at Duke University that Lazar found himself cast as Billy Bigelow, the conflicted center of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic CAROUSEL that truly kick-started Lazar on the path away from scalpels and stethoscopes and towards a career in musical theater.
It was during this segment that Lazar introduced his show's special guest, actress/singer Cozi Zuehlsdorff to duet on "If I Loved You" from CAROUSEL. To my surprise, the pair got me crying a bit during the song, which both sang extraordinarily well, particularly with the added bonus of incorporating the dialogue from the scene. To lighten the mood, Zuehlsdorff egged Lazar on to sing the song again but with celebrity impressions which ranged from Tony Bennett and Elvis Presley to Christopher Walker and Elmo.
Lazar ends the show with a stirring "Pretty Women" from his favorite musical of all time, Stephen Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD followed by "Love to Me," sung by the character Fabrizio in Adam Guetel's THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA, which Lazar famously played in the Lincoln Center production that was broadcast on PBS. He ended his formal set with a medley of Hollywood Musical hits which also reprised his opening songs. He finished with one encore, a haunting acoustic guitar-backed "Bring Him Home" from LES MISERABLES that had him using his upper falsetto with beautiful results. Sadly, those in attendance hoping for a song from DEAR EVAN HANSEN will have to go without, at least with this particular concert.
Overall, this Broadway heartthrob certainly lives up to the label, not only for his chiseled exterior, but also for his naturally-honed talents that prove why he continues to be thriving on stages (and screens) everywhere. Though the world may have lost out on a potential doctor, we're all the more appreciative that he gets to share his musicality several shows a week either on the road or on an intimate cabaret stage near you.
** Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ **
Photos courtesy of Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Segerstrom Center for the Arts' 2019-2020 Cabaret Series continues this fall with solo shows featuring Broadway superstars Betty Buckley, Laura Benanti, Analeigh Ashford, Patti LuPone, and Megan Hilty. For season subscriptions, tickets, or more information, visit SCFTA.org.