Photo Credit: Scottie Roche
Bubbling affability, Max von Essen, returned to Birdland Theater on Monday, October 29 with the incomparable Billy Stritch at the piano, Steve Doyle on Bass, Daniel Glass on drums and Mairi Dorman-Paneuf on Cello. Mr. von Essen, appeared on the Broadway stage most recently in An American in Paris for which he earned nominations for the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Grammy Award. Billy Stritch is a Grammy award winning music director, composer, vocalist and jazz pianist.
An early highlight of the evening’s entertainment—and there were many—was a rhumba medley of Fly Me to the Moon (Bart Howard) and Can’t Take My Eyes off of You (Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio). Mr. von Essen has a masterful command of his instrument, a voice I can only describe as somewhat iridescent. He deftly exploited the rich colors of his voice to sweet effect. Where the audience was treated to silvery hues in the Gershwin, he seamlessly transitioned to rich golden tones for the Frankie Valli hit.
Mr. Von Essen is a performer who shares of himself generously with the audience. The evening was peppered with engaging anecdotes that brought the audience into his world as a performer and lover of this material.
He communicated his love of the material as clearly in his singing as he did in his anecdotes. After his setup for On This Night of a Thousand Stars (Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber) I felt as if I could have very well floated away on the soft billows of his falsetto.
It could easily be believed that Mr. von Essen was having the time of his life on that stage with the legendary Billy Stritch. The two really cooked, particularly in their ecstatic rendition of The Trolley Song (Hugh Martin & Ralph Blane).
A true showman, Mr. von Essen upped the ante by letting go of the microphone for Almost Like Being in Love (Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Lowe). Unadorned by amplification his voice was just as present, with a glowing warmth that lassoed in an audience already on the edge of their seats. As Edgar Allen Poe once wrote of the angel of music “to thee the laurels belong,” Mr. von Essen.
Max von Essen can currently be heard just a few blocks away from Birdland at the Broadhurst Theater in Broadway’s Anastasia with a voice that simply must be heard.