Radio Free Birdland presents Max von Essen

Introduced tonight by host-with-the-most Jim Caruso, performer Max von Essen was last seen onstage as French cabaret performer Henri Baurel in the Broadway production of An American in Paris for which he garnered a Tony nomination. Like his most recent CD, Call Me Old Fashioned (from which most of these selections derive), the artist declares his musical tastes to be traditional.

Cabaret veteran Billy Stritch acts as MD/accompanist/ arranger infusing some numbers with decidedly swing influence and collaborating on several vocal duets. Guest Nick Adams, with whom Von Essen toured in Falsettos, joins on a song from that show.

“Everything Old is New Again” (Peter Allen/Carole Bayer Sager) and “I’m Old Fashioned” (Jerome Kern/Johnny Mercer) open the show with a little bounce and a smidge of sway, the latter vocally balladic while musically jaunty. You get the feeling von Essen wants to tap dance. Later, Maury Yeston’s “Shimmy Like They Do in Paree” aches for it. A few steps would draw us in and visually enhance. The artist is animated, but not as much as some melodies seem to encourage. And we know he can.

Bart Howard’s “Fly Me to the Moon” begins long-lined and a capella. Von Essen can deliver ostinato without wavering. A wistful arrangement offers new dimension. The performer is exceedingly good in front of a camera, evoking the intimacy of live cabaret. (Though there are a few too many, shots of Stritch’s hands at the piano are adroit as is camera work on von Essen. ) “You’re Just Too Good to Be True” (Bob Crewe/Bob Gaudio) is notably understated. It works.

Von Essen relates a story of playing Augustin Magaldi in Evita, then sings “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” from the show (Andrew Lloyd Weber/ Tim Rice). On the high side of tenor, he appears swept up, savoring every feeling. Though he made it to final audition, he didn’t secure the lead in The Phantom of the Opera. (Not as Stritch points out a dead issue, as the piece – when we reopen – will run forever.) That anecdote leads to a song from the show’s sequel Love Never Dies. “Til I Hear You Sing” is beautifully rendered – impassioned, ghostly.

“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields) is too fast to feel flirty/romantic. A combination of “The Trolley Song” (Ralph Blane/High Martin) and “Gotta Have Me Go With You” (Harold Arlen/Ira Gershwin) dilutes both.

Infectiously happy, “She Loves Me” (Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick) sends phrases out on skateboards. We believe every word and wowza, can von Essen sustain notes. Nick Adams duets in a stirring rendition of “What Would I Do?” (William Finn). Voices harmonize and blend. One can imagine the actors successfully inhabiting these roles.  Facing one another across the stage, affection is palpable.

Von Essen closes with a medley of songs from the theater version of An American in Paris. (Many were not in the film.) Stritch’s elaborate arrangement deftly utilizes themes from the original orchestral piece. As always, the musician’s playing is terrific, accompaniment symbiotic. Unlike most of the rest of the show, however, performance seems exaggerated beyond lyric content.

Max von Essen seems more at home with standards (even pop) and show tunes than that which echoes jazz. Acting is natural, emotion unhampered, chat personable. We get an appealing sense of the performer’s wanting to please.

Opening Photo of Billy Stritch and Max von Essen by Ryan Paternite

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Birdland, in association with BroadwayWorld.com, is proud to present “Radio Free Birdland,” a pay-per-view concert series featuring a slew of exciting Broadway, jazz and cabaret performers.  Each show will be filmed with three cameras, state-of-the-art sound, socially distanced musicians, and…no audience!

*During the Cold War in 1950, “Radio Free Europe” began broadcasting news and jazz recordings to nations imprisoned behind the Iron Curtain, sustaining morale and providing entertainment.  

Birdland has been bringing live music to New York City since it’s opening in 1949.  The iconic club made its name booking premier jazz acts on the stage, and has since included Broadway, pop, cabaret and comedy on the roster. The club is excited to be one of the first live music venues in New York City to virtually re-open for twice-weekly concerts. A new show will be aired every Tuesday and Thursday at 7pm.

NEXT:

An Evening with Monty Alexander
Tuesday, August 18 at 7pm EDT . Tickets:                                              https://events.broadwayworld.com/event/an-evening-with-monty-alexander-8-18-7-pm-et/

Natalie Douglas: Singin’ in the Wire
Thursday, August 20 at 7pm EDT . Tickets:                                   https://events.broadwayworld.com/event/natalie-douglas-singin-in-the-wire-8-20-7-pm-et/

About Alix Cohen (1148 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.