Tony Yazbeck at 54/Below

Those of you who know Tony Yazbeck from On the Town or Flying Over Sunset won’t be surprised when I write he’s a marvelous tap dancer and that vocals run a close second. He is also charming. During “Sunny Side of the Street” (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields-Lew Leslie’s International Review), the performer slides and shifts across the stage prefacing tap. Unable to keep still, Yazbeck bounces even as he welcomes us. “Thinking about what to do tonight…It’s all about gratitude for being part of this community…” he says warmly.

Tony Yazbeck

This is the first time the artist has included “New York, New York” in one of his shows. (Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden and Adolph Green – On the Town, the musical that put him on the map). The actor’s enthusiasm still seems like that of wide-eyed, Midwestern Gabey. “This is my city!” From Oklahoma! (he was in the 2002 revival), Yazbeck then offers a waltzy, subdued “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’.” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II). Reflective pauses create the feel of observation. Ending employs his attractive tenor. We believe.

“All I Need is The Girl” (Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim – Gypsy) begins with steps every few lyrics. Breakout tap shakes the stage like thunder. Yazbeck comes down hard and clean. Solely embodying neither Astaire’s grace nor Kelly’s athleticism, style is closer to the dancer later declared his hero, Gregory Hines. It’s declarative, more is more choreography deftly utilizes the whole body. The stage has been cleared for movement and move he does, covering every bit of space! Even “taking a break,” feet work double time. “Now, all I need is the girl!” Yazbeck sings. “I’m here!” shouts a woman from the audience. He visits the table.

Guest vocalist Morgan James sings a jazz-flavored “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” (Ray Charles), looking hot under the collar (no collar), as Yazbeck distractingly taps. Alone on stage, she then performs Jule Styne/Bob Merrill’s “The Music That Makes Me Dance” (Funny Girl). The attractive artist appears to have solid pipes and a good voice, but is too strident for it to have any emotional affect.                                                                              

Morgan James

Returning, Yazbeck tells us a little about himself. He started tapping at 4 years old. At 11, with “not so safe stuff” going on at home, his mom signed him up to audition for Gypsy in New York. He booked it and traveled with a production starring Patty Lupone. After a college break-up, the young man again came to the city and was cast in Annie Get Your Gun. There’s a guardian angel up there somewhere. 

“It Had to Be You” (Isham Jones/Gus Kahn) and “The Way You Look Tonight” (Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields- Swingtime) are lovely and understated. “There is nothing for me but to love you”- eyebrows rise -“And the way you look tonight” hand lifts from his knee and opens. Perched on a stool, Yazbeck delivers with sensitivity and focus.

“So let’s talk about tap dancing for a sec. The years I spent during the pandemic – I took it out on the floor. Tap for me is a form of prayer. It sends a simple message of how I feel.” George and Ira Gershwin’s “Can’t Be Bothered Now” arrives as raw rhythm and energy.

Yazbeck’s second guest, Andrew Nemr, joins with his own story of dancing early. While each man talks, the other emphatically taps – upstaging. I can’t imagine what the thought was here. Nemr then has a solo number to Wayne Shorter’s Footprints. (No vocal.) Choreography is as dense as the jazz. The parentheses jars.

Andrew Nemr and Tony Yazbeck

Two favorite songs of Yazbeck’s six year-old son, “Leonard, after Bernstein,” follow. “Pure Imagination” (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is hushed and sweet ending with dulcet tenor. “Moon River” (Henry Mancini/ Johnny Mercer – Breakfast at Tiffany’s) is presented tapping in street shoes, “leathers,” which soften the sound.

Yazbeck performed “What I Did for Love” (Marvin Hamlisch/Edward Kleban) 450 times in a production of Chorus Line and says he thinks he was “too young to get it.” Not true now. He begins thoughtfully. “We did what we had to do” he sings smiling, shaking his head; bemused. It ends BIG, of course, but then we only have encores to go. “I Got Rhythm” is brief and joyful.

Jerome Korman’s arrangements are pedestrian, his vamping unrelated to that about which Yazbeck speaks.

Unscripted sincerity almost makes up for dozens of references to gratitude and several instances of running on. Consider a director? Tony Yazbeck is extremely talented and engaging.

Tony Yazbeck at 54/Below
MD/Piano – Jerome Korman
Guests: Morgan James and Andrew Nemr

54/Below 
254 West 54th Street

About Alix Cohen (1750 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of ten 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, TheaterLife, 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.