Brandon Uranowitz: The Songs of William Finn
by Matt Smith
Brandon Uranowitz certainly knows how to make an entrance. Leg sprawled across the railing of the steps leading down from the bar, he shouts, “I love being Marvin! I love being Marvin! And Marvin always eats the finest breakfast in town!” So begins The Songs of William Finn, Uranowitz’s three-night solo show at Feinstein’s/54 Below… and from the moment he opens his mouth, you’re completely captivated all the way through to his equally creative exit.
The show is indeed, as he calls it, “a William Finn extravaganza,” and Uranowitz is clearly humbled to be “worship[ping] at the altar of one of our greatest living composers.” Speaking of how terrified he was to put together a solo act that people would actually be compelled to see, he details how Finn’s words are so rich, vivid and beautifully complex, that he could “just pop half a Beta-blocker and let Bill’s voice do the work for me.” Sure, that’s fine, but it helps that Uranowitz has a voice that’s smooth as butta, enlivening the already near-perfect lyrics that Finn has put forth for him to sing.
The show runs the gamut of the composer’s work, though the bulk comes from Falsettos, the Finn show in which Uranowitz most recently appeared, and In Trousers, the “prequel” to the former show, which introduces Marvin to the theatrical world. Throughout the evening, higher-energy songs like the aforementioned “How Marvin Eats His Breakfast” (from In Trousers) and “And They’re Off” (from A New Brain) are balanced out with heart-wrenching ballads, such as “What More Can I Say” (mind-blowingly moving BTW!!) and “Holding to the Ground,” both from Falsettos, the latter of which takes on incredibly new meaning when one considers (a) it’s sung by a man, and (b) it followed a short speech he made about gay rights and non-judgment in light of our current political state.
Longtime friend Alysha Umphress (formerly of On the Town) is also on hand (wowing the crowd first with an equally-powerful-at-this-time-in-our-nation’s-history “Change,” then joining the headliner on an emboldening medley of the brilliant “I’d Rather Be Sailing” and “Set Those Sails”) as is boyfriend Zach Prince, whose emotional delivery of “What Would I Do,” made everyone (including Uranowitz!) teary-eyed by song’s end. Saturday’s audience was also given an additional extra-special treat, when original Mendel Chip Zien took to the stage to deliver “My Chance to Survive the Night,” which he first sang as Marvin in In Trousers in 1979. (And wow, did he deliver!!)
Additional notable highlights included his presentation of “Whizzer Going Down,” Marvin’s recount of his first time with Whizzer, which he genius-ly interspersed with a tale from his own life, about how he dodged being outed by his parents after they discovered gay porn on the family computer (I’m so sorry… words don’t do justice to the way this incredible man reenacted this hilarious story!!), or his between-song PSA about how critics should avoid celebrating gay actors for their ability to play straight convincingly (“What does that even mean?!” he gripes. “If they can’t, then, like, they’re just a s****y actor!”).
All in all, a fantastic array of songs from one of the best musical theatre composers around — delivered with flair, flamboyancy and panache by one of recent Broadway’s most golden-voiced performers. He thinks so, too… as he ends the show declaring (through song, natch), “I Love My Voice.” The song is a bit dramatically over-the-top and slightly tongue-in-cheek — if we’ve learned anything about Uranowitz after this show, it’s that he indulges in the goofy-silly when being himself — but the statement stands true. He loves his voice… and, after an evening of hearing him croon the songs of William Finn, we’re sure you’ll love it, too.
Brandon Uranowitz: The Songs of William Finn played Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street), February 8th-11th. For more information, visit www.54below.com.