Laura Osnes & Tony Yazbeck – An Evening of Gershwin Greats & Other Favorites

Laura Osnes & Tony Yazbeck

 

 

by Matt Smith

 

“Zoom zoom, zoom zoom / The world is in a mess…”

Such are the words that begin An Evening of Gershwin Greats and Other Favorites, the latest “duo”  show at Midtown hotspot Feinstein’s/54 Below, spotlighting Broadway vets Laura Osnes and Tony Yazbeck.

Indeed, those lyrics couldn’t be more timely. At the current moment, you’d be hard-pressed to find any audience member who disagrees; luckily, this effervescent offering — a terrifically executed evening of tunes — is exactly the antidote to chasin’ those blues away.

How exactly, you ask? It’s been said, in hard times, we go to the theatre to escape — and this show, perhaps in spite of the world we’re currently living in, encapsulates escapism in the fullest sense of the word.

Through medleys, mash-ups, and skillful instrumentation from a top-notch trio of artists (the third being musical director and arranger extraordinaire Fred Lassen), the evening is unabashedly pure fun and joy, exuding the lightheartedness of the era from which the songs that comprise the set list are taken. Osnes and Yazbeck deliberately choose to “sing songs that make them happy” simply for the sake of singing them, without pushing a theme or agenda. It’s entertainment for entertainment’s sake… and that distinction makes it all the more enjoyable.

And sure, it’s true that Laura Osnes has more than lived up to the “Broadway princess” moniker, her sweet and soothing soprano moving the room as much as her elegant and bubbly persona. Sure, it’s true that Tony Yazbeck is the definition of “charisma in human form,” injecting every ball change, double buffalo and whatever else he’s got in his unmatched tap repertoire (they don’t call him Tappin’ Tony for nothing!), with a quirky comic gesture or eccentricity that exemplifies his ability to live in each moment.

But the success of the evening truly thrives on their partnership. For one, their chemistry is downright palpable (seriously, how does Osnes keep getting so lucky with her leading men?!), and they balance each other out perfectly. The show is structured to play to their strengths; they brilliantly “tag team” between numbers, keeping everything flowing continuously without making the evening feel too “stuffed” nor weighted in one performer’s favor.

Furthermore, when one of them sings a solo number — for example, Yazbeck’s smooth-as-butter “Someone to Watch Over Me” or Osnes’ hauntingly hypnotic “How ‘Bout a Dance?,” the other sits on the sidelines, and one can’t help but catch a glimpse of how they lovingly gaze at the other, as much in awe of their talent as we are, amazed and grateful that they can call the other “friend.” It’s evident they have a real affinity for one another, and it enhances their already stellar performances.

Of course, speaking in terms of set list, having previously headlined Manhattan Concert Productions’ Crazy for You in concert at Lincoln Center in 2017, these two clearly both know their way around a Gershwin tune — and the evening capitalizes on that impeccably. But with passes at roles they’ve played in the past, roles they’d kill to play in the future, and a few Gershwin songs cut from famous shows, while the focus may be on the gems of the incomparable duo that brought them together professionally, it isn’t limited to just the two of them at all. Round out the musical numbers with anecdotes of Tony’s toddler learning to tap, how they each developed a passion for song-and-dance, and their longstanding affection for Lassen, and you’ve got yourself a delightful evening at the cabaret.

But again, this is not your typical evening at the cabaret. What makes this show stand out from the others lies in what they do with each song. Each song tells a story, and that fits the context of the show so well. Whether it’s Laura beguiled by Tony’s tap skills in a haunting a cappella “Embraceable You” or a playful skirmish over who gets top billing in their dream production of The Music Man — which extends into a subsequent dance sequence — they mold each specific situation of the singers in each song to fit their relationship as Laura and Tony.  The result is gloriously entertaining and, with the addition of such elements as lush orchestrations from the aforementioned Lassen to even the lighting choices, which bathe the performers in a gorgeous purple light, you’ll really feel like you’re watching a full-fledged Broadway musical, with a clear beginning, middle and end thoughtfully laid out in front of you.

Simply put, the evening just screams “old-timey Broadway” in the very best way, harkening back to that era where you didn’t have to think while watching a show. It was purely for comfort and entertainment’s sake; you could lose yourself in the music, basking in the rich, magical melodies and poignant lovelorn lyrics, and leave the theatre walking on air, with “an attitude of gratitude” for the experience you just had. 

That’s this evening in a nutshell. The world may indeed be in a mess, but thanks to the efforts of these venerable pros, things are certainly looking up when they’re through. Zoom zoom zoom zoom indeed.

 

Laura Osnes & Tony Yazbeck: An Evening of Gershwin Greats and Other Favorites plays at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 W. 54th Street) through October 7th. For tickets and/or more information, please visit www.54below.com.

Share