CD Review: TONY YAZBECK: THE FLOOR ABOVE ME (PS Classics)

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by Tony Frankel on March 20, 2016

in CD-DVD

TONY’S TOWN

Prior to his 2014 Tony-nominated turn as Gabey in the hit revival of On the Town, current Broadway sensation Tony Yazbeck created with Howard Emanuel an autobiographical cabaret, The Floor Above Me, at 54 Below and Birdland. The triple-threat had already made a name for himself in revivals such as A Chorus Line (he showed off his singing skills as Al), Chicago (great acting as Billy Flynn) and Patti LuPone’s Gypsy (highlighting his show-biz yearning and savvy hoofing as Tulsa). And as we learn on the new CD version of the show, his first Broadway show at 11 years was as a newsboy in the Tyne Daly-led revival. Based on his career so far, the “most talented person to sing, dance and act on Broadway” (per Hal Prince) fits snugly in a different era.

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His love of standards is palpable as he croons his way through Gershwin and Berlin in such tunes as “Fascinating Rhythm” and “Cheek to Cheek.” He positively belongs to these incredible tunes. His voice may not be particularly distinctive (which speaks to the current era in which he sings) but it’s velvety and expressive with an unforced higher register that is most appealing. This comes in handy with current tunes, such as British sensation Jamie Cullum’s jazzy “Nothing I Do.” Not as successful (though hardly a flop) is Martin Sexton’s “Where Did I Go Wrong?”; Yazbek’s nice-guy brand isn’t suited for heartbreaking blues (but what a knockout falsetto!). I would have preferred a more traditional version of On the Town‘s “Lucky to Be Me,” but the breezy 90’s cabaret beguine take with Kenny G-type solos is harmless enough. “Hello, My Old Heart,” the final selection with vocal backup by Alves and Yazbeck’s new wife Katie Huff has that generic Once-ish, Irish pub feel that fades out weakly.

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And while we can’t see him hoof, listening to him tap up a storm on this extraordinarily well-produced recording from PS Classics is exhilarating. Especially when he’s joined by his On the Town co-star Clyde Alves in the “Moses Supposes” duet from Singin’ in the Rain. During the middle section of his show, which describes in songs both modern and classic his search for a soul mate, tap dance sensation Melinda Sullivan (as “the love interest”) intensifies the action, keeping this CD far away from the normal cabaret shows. Pianist Jerome Korman’s inventive arrangements for a 6-person band also add freshness to the act, aided by Tom Hubbard’s exquisite bass playing on “Change Partners” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.”

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While the patter of feet is entrancing and pulsating, the patter in-between songs is basically pat. This isn’t like Elaine Stritch, who had detailed and historied backstage yarns to tell in an interesting way; this is a guy who worked his butt off to hone his skills and did some great work in some great roles who looked for a great love. When he mentions more than once how hard he worked and fought, it has an unintentional self-congratulatory air. His sincerity and charm are never in question, but his search for, and ultimate finding of, that one special girl isn’t persuasive storytelling. It may be lovely to watch in a cabaret act where we can see him move, but on CD it’s not something to hear over and over. There’s certainly nothing wrong with song choices from recent decades, but it seems odd just after declaring he was born in the wrong era. Mostly his speaking breaks the mood.

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The 20-track CD is a refreshing outing in more ways than one, but someone as dripping in talent as Yazbeck need only concentrate on selection and arrangement, which is precisely what his On the Town co-star Alysha Umphress did with her highly successful new recording with Jeff Blumenkrantz, I’ve Been Played. Still, there are enough rock ’em, sock ’em numbers to make this a keeper.

production photos by Joan Marcus

Tony Yazbeck – The Floor Above Me
released February, 2016
for more info, visit PS Classics

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