Bebe Neuwirth, Stories with Piano - at Feinstein's - New York City Article
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Bebe Neuwirth, “Stories with Piano #1”
Feinstein’s / 54 Below
254 West 54th St
Wednesday August 15 through Saturday August 18
Ginger Rogers, great dancer that she was, did most of her best dancing with her eyes – just in the way she looked at Fred Astaire, she communicated more than most performers ever could. Bebe Neuwirth calls her show “Stories with Piano” and it is indeed her signature show; she’s been doing variations on it regularly at least since 2013 (when she made an album of it) although the tune stack varies somewhat from run to run. (The “piano” is her gifted musical director, Scott Cady). The title is accurate, but there’s nothing particularly distinctive about it - in fact, Ms. Neuwirth probably wants the title to be as generic as possible. Virtually every artist at Feinstein’s / 54 Below tells stories with piano; the piano is somewhat optional, but if they’re not telling stories I don’t want to be there.
What distinguishes Ms. Neuwirth, who won Tony awards for both Sweet Charity and Chicago (note the Bob Fosse theme) and is best known to TV viewers for Cheers and Frasier, from other artists at 54 is her unique physicality. She not only adds a dance element to songs, but the way she moves both her body and face is so compelling that she could probably convey the narrative of a song even without the words. When I saw her in 2013, it occured to me that, “she tells you everything you need to know with just her face and her body language – there's a world of difference between the way she stands erect and hopeful in the optimistic sections of "Bilboa Song," and then crouches like an injured dog in the more disillusioned verses to the same song. Likewise, the way she embodies a down and out hoofer in a southern cell and literally becomes Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles" right before our eyes is wondrous to behold.”
Traditionally, she closes the show (yes, also like nearly everyone at 54, she has shtick about doing a planned encore) with “Shiver Me Timbers.” This time around, adds two other Tom Waits songs, “Invitation to the Blues” and “Martha.” After at least five years of tinkering with the show, there’s still no better ending: “nobody knows me, I got no reason to stay / And shiver me timbers, I'm a-sailin' away.”
Author: Will Friedwald
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR and PLAYBOY magazine and reviews current shows for THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of nine books, including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.
SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)