Paulo Szot
Una Noche Encantada (An Enchanted Evening)
Feinstein’s 54/Below

Nov. 24, 2022

Hello young lovers wherever you are.  Paolo Szot is singing your song.  In his show An Una Noche Encantada or Enchanted Evening Paolo Szot, backed by a terrific band, including a group of excellent string players from the American Pops orchestra, treated New Yorkers to a night of delicious, unabashedly romantic music.  When it comes to baritones, you cannot have too much resonance.  It is an essential ingredient for a dreamboat.  Szot, with his dashing good looks and warm vocal color is leading man from top to toe.

Szot’s singing is a master class in vocal technique, with rich color delivered flawlessly on the breath, creating a feeling of limitless sound.  When a singer has this kind of control of his instrument, it is a joy to hear him stretch his vocal wings.  However, Szot always sings in service of the music.

Rich vocal color demands richness in orchestration, which Musical Director Luke Frazier delivers in a variety of ways, including the delightful pastorale of Cole Porter tunes that opened the show.  It set the tone of romance and the unexpected.  Frazier and Szot set up to do something a little different even as they gave the audience ample opportunity to bathe in lush romantic sound.  By both leaning into the melody and seeking to deconstruct it at times, Szot kept our interest.  Of course, Paolo Szot could sing the phone book and we’d be interested.

With his exceptional, Tony-winning performance as Emile De Beque in South Pacific and numerous cabaret performances Szot has clearly developed range beyond the classical repertoire on which he built his career.  Firmly rooted in traditional musical theater this cabaret also ventured into more modern territory, including a deeply heartfelt “Stars” from Les Miserables.  One could feel Szot’s connection to the lyric – the drama, the grief and the soaring hope.  In songs like “I Have Dreamed” from The King and I he caressed much of the lyric, choosing his expansive moments wisely.  And in the next moment he switched it up with an out-of-the box arrangement of “Baubles, Bangles and Beads.”  Borodin meets Las Vegas (or is it the reverse?)  Some of this music felt a bit shoehorned into unexpected rhythms but risk taking is what cabaret is for.

The traditional song “Granada” by Augustin Lara has a grandeur and color to which Szot gave full justice.  With its wonderful, gypsy-hued sound on the strings “Granada” evoked a feeling of adventure, directing us on an entirely different journey.  The alternation of more familiar musical theater music with various Spanish language love songs including the beautiful “Besame Mucho” by Consuela Velazquez created a study in contrasts.  Love is universal but is expressed in countless ways.  To bridge the linguistic gap, as it were, Szot included two songs from Man of La Mancha.   “I, Don Quixote” and “Impossible Dream,” two songs sung at two different stages of that character’s age and temperament – and yet both suited his voice perfectly.  (Could it be time for a La Mancha revival …?)

Songs like “This is the Moment” from Jekyll & Hyde added a dash of more poppy musical theater sound, but frankly it cannot compare to Rogers & Hammerstein, or a Zarzuela tune like “No Puede Ser.”  Nevertheless, Szot’s powerful singing endowed “Moment” with a bit more heft.  In contrast Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” was a highpoint of the evening.  Brilliantly arranged as a duet between Szot and the exceptional first violinist, the song came alive, so to speak, in a unique and heartrending manner.  This treatment framed the lyric in a new way, and showcased how a vocalist and an instrumentalist can partner seamlessly to create one consistent, affecting performance.

Closing the evening with one of the best love songs of all time, “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific, Szot elicited both shivers and tears from the audience.  He really lives this music.  This was no mere love song, or a singer showing off a gorgeous voice – it was a heartfelt examination of love and longing.  Strong characters and iconic melody are dead center of Paolo’s Szot musical sweet spot.   More of that, Please!

Starring:  Paolo Szo
Musical Director:  Luke Frazie
Band:   Dilyana Tsenov, Regino Madrid, Modesto Marcano, Samuel Quiggina, Greg Watkins, Joe Nero, Robert Pullen

Photo by Renée Torrière