If there is a more natural nightclub entertainer than Tom Wopat, we haven't seen him. By natural, we mean he doesn't pretend to be anyone other than the man that he is, a fellow who has seen a bit of the world and intends to sing about with some style, some attitude, and some humor. Carrying with him a bundle of fame that is one part TV star, one part musical theater star, and one part jazz singer, the whole package adds up to a charming and talented entertainer who just happens to be putting on a delightful show at the Algonquin Hotel's famous Oak Room.
Possessing a warmly weathered voice that has "I know what these lyrics mean" stamped on his every phrase, Wopat both opens and closes his show singing without a microphone. His voice fills the famous wood-paneled supper club with tone and timbre, bringing with it an honesty that is hard to duplicate when singing with electronic amplification. There is one other tactical plus to his opening the show without a microphone: the audience falls into a hush and hangs on every word because, frankly, they have to listen more intently. It isn't even eight bars before he has the audience totally entranced.
Backed by a smart three-piece band consisting of bass, sax and piano, to which Wopat briefly added his guitar on a couple of numbers, the musical accompaniment is consistently engaging and brings a certain freshness to bear. In particular, musical director/pianist Tedd Firth's arrangement of the Lennon/McCartney hit pop tune "And I Love Her" is brilliant. Slowed down to reveal its sensual and romantic power, the arrangement gives Wopat the chance to dig into the lyric and make this number one of the show's many highlights.
We have seen Tom Wopat perform in the clubs around New York for a long time. We've seen him at Arci's Place, Birdland, the Metropolitan Room and Feinstein's. He never fails to entertain. But this time he has discarded a great many of the songs that he does so well, trading them in for some new works that happily hit the target smack in the bulls-eye. One of the few that he kept, however, is a number that he simply owns: "Makin' Whoopee." Eddie Cantor introduced the song long before Wopat was born, but it would seem that was, in fact, born to sing it. Consider it the modern day definitive version of the tune.
One of the many pleasures of this act is its musical diversity. From a comedy jazz number by Dave Frishberg to the country pop classic "Ode to Billie Joe," and from the aforementioned Beatles number to classic American Songbook fare, Wopat seems at home with whatever he sings. His patter is lively and unpredictable. He surprises himself with what he says as often as he'll surprise you. In short, Wopat puts on a memorable show.
Bring Back Sheera Ben-David!
Preceding Tom Wopat in the Oak Room was Sheera Ben-David. We didn't catch her act until its last weekend so we didn't have a chance to write about it until now. She has simply been top-flight since she started performing at the Oak Room several years ago. She sings with complete authority, with a powerhouse voice, and she sings songs that suit her. Her patter is pointed and very [very] funny. She is aided and abetted by her musical director/pianist brother, Adam Ben-David, who provides her some killer charts. Speaking of family, in this last show, her father, who sang opera back in the day, got up to sing with his daughter. Pretty touching stuffand it sounded pretty damned wonderful, too. We'll look forward to Sheera's return ...
Bucchino was at Birdlandand we're "Grateful"
Last Monday in the Broadway at Birdland series, composer John Bucchino was the featured star and he pulled out all the stops when, for his ultimate special guest, he brought up Brian Stokes Mitchell to sing "Grateful." It was certainly the culmination of a very special evening. Before that finale, a slew of Bucchino songs were offered to the audience in a display that could only make one appreciate the consistent high quality of his material. What could be even more convincing that this talented composer had written so many wonderful songs was the fact that, even with such an impressive program of great tunes, they never performed our favorite, "Temporary." That's not a complaint; it's just an observation. Jim Caruso continues to book some of the best one-night only gigs in his series at Birdland and this is a perfect example of what we mean.