Christmas Time Is Here
Feinstein’s 54 Below
Streaming until Dec 31, 2020
Norm Lewis’s show “Christmastime is Here” was filmed at Feinstein’s/54 Below on Dec. 4 December 4, 2020. It premiered online Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020 and is currently running online (on-demand) through Dec 31, 2020 – Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander.
The evening began with Lewis arriving at the club greeting the doorman and host as he enters the building and bounding on stage to greet his trio: pianist and musical director Joseph Joubert, George Farmer on upright & electric bass and Perry Cavari on drums & percussion. “Lets do this!” Lewis said and they launched into a jazzy, swinging version of My Favorite Things (Hammerstein/Rogers). Lewis was joyous and free, ending the piece with an original button that exhibited Lewis’s upper range. “I feel so amazing to be at home at Feinstein’s 54 Below!” Lewis exclaimed and told the band how good it was to see them. They immediately introduced their next piece Christmastime is Here (Mendelson/Guaraldi) from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Lewis demonstrated his impressive ability to move from his lower to his upper registers and ended on a beautiful, effortless high note. The next few songs were from the Christmas cannon, Lewis’s “all-time favorite” The Christmas Song (Torme/Wells), Santa Baby (J.Javit, P& T Springer) with original lyrics “Santa baby-get me a pair of Hamilton tix for kicks”, Little Drummer Boy (Davis, Onorati & Simeone) with a powerful drum accompaniment by Perry Cavari and a soulful Mary Did You Know? (Lowry/Greene). Later in the program Lewis sang another holiday song What are You Doing New Year’s Eve? (Loesser) and found the romantic, wistful quality of it.
This was Lewis’s 5th year singing at Feinstein’s and of course his first virtual performance there. A very seasoned performer, Lewis has played large Broadway houses and sung concerts around the world in all kinds of venues. He has a big, warm presence and engages easily with his band and the few audience members who were present during the taping. Performing cabaret for a virtual audience is a whole new medium and Lewis pulls it off well. He speaks clearly to his audience looking directly in the camera. The concert was filmed in HD with four cameras and we get a variety of views of Lewis and the band that add to the quality of the performance.
The show is well balanced with guests that Lewis can interact with. The first instance of this in the show is when he brings an extremely loyal fan on stage and they toast each other with their favorite drinks. Lewis’s next guest is his cousin Pastor Bobby Lewis from the New Life Baptist Church in Harlem and they sing a soulful Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer with antlers and red noses. It is good to see the two have such a good time to together and you get a sense of the easy, joyous bond their family has. Finally, Lewis is joined by his colleague and “soul-mate” Sierra Boggess, The two have performed together in Phantom of The Opera and join forces once again to sing Lovers On Christmas Eve ( Coleman) from the musical I Love My Wife. They put their masks back on for a charming dance break and even though they said they were singing the song together for the first time- it was lovely. After this we are visited by a range of theatrical friends during the “intermission” where Lewis leaves to change his jacket and who wish “Norm” and the audience holiday cheer. The variety of elements in the evening were well thought out creating a well rounded program.
Lewis share’s an easy rapport with all on stage with him which primarily is his trio and Lewis often speaks to them. The only time they noticeably engage and speak with him however is when he introduces them to the audience as his “family.” They have toured the country together and worked on numerous projects. His bass player George Farmer explains his colorful socks to Lewis but other than that they just smile and give an occasional thumbs up. There were a few slightly awkward silences after songs when Lewis expresses his thanks and how he feels to the virtual audience and to the band where some response from them might have filled the gap. It goes against the behavior musicians generally model which is to let the singer take the stage completely, but more reactions from the band might make the transitions between songs a little more natural. Lewis commands the stage beautifully, this would be just a slight adjustment to performing on the new virtual concert stage that all performers are adjusting to.
Lewis included songs from the shows he has done such as Bring Him Home from Les Miserable (Kretzmer-Boubill/Schoenberg) which he described as one of the songs he wanted to sing. He had to sing Music of the Night from Phantom of The Opera (Hart/Weber), one of his signature songs and he recreated the sensuous, eerie feel of the piece. He also found the operatic quality in his voice the piece calls for. It was impressive to see Lewis’s range and the different vocal qualities he can express. Home from The Wiz (which he hasn’t played) suited his gospel sound beautifully.
One particularly effective part of the evening was the social commentary section. Lewis sang Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On which ended with him chanting Black Lives Matter! Peace On Earth (Ferrel) and Be Aware (David/Bacharach). This material, which came towards the end of the program contextualized the evening , adding a great deal to it.
Lewis sang two “love” songs in the set: The Gift of Love (Goehl/Kennedy/Adams) and closed it with I Thank You For Your Love (Jones/Schmidt). He introduced his last song saying it reflected “his heart and his truth.” He found a simple connection between the song and his virtual audience that was touching. It was a satisfying end to a varied and engaging evening. Lewis commanded the stage with elegance and power. The closing credits were played as a video Lewis shot two years ago was running: Why Couldn’t It Be Christmas Every Day? (Landers/Afanasieff). It was a fun end to the program!
Tickets are $25. Tickets and information can be found HERE.