54 Below Review: Paulo Szot: Una Noche Encantada
Brazilian Baritone Gives Thanks with Holiday Concert at 54 BelowBy Logan Martell
On Nov.25, 2021, baritone Paulo Szot presented a special Thanksgiving concert at Feinstein’s/54 Below. The audience was treated to a special menu and selections of musical theatre, song, zarzuela, and operetta from one of Broadway and opera’s leading men.
One notable change from Szot’s prior shows at this venue was the addition of a string quintet, featuring musicians from the American Pops Orchestra. The band was comprised of Dilyana Tsenova, Regino Madrid, Modesto Marcano, Samuel Quiggina, Greg Watkins, Joe Nero, and Robert Pullen, under Music Director Luke Frazier.
The concert opened with an instrumental arrangement of “Anything Goes” from Cole Porter’s musical of the same name, with the soulful strings making for a lovely, classical start before the drums kicked in with a swing rhythm that transitioned into his famous “Let’s Do It.” Szot made his entrance, fittingly, with “Some Enchanted Evening,” his suave rubato easily lending a charge to the romantic atmosphere.
After his opening remarks, Szot and the band continued with an ardent rendition of “I, Don Quixote,” from “Man of La Mancha,” with the conversational, cabaret setting making the song’s spoken introduction feel natural as they built into the powerful verse and chorus. Following this, Szot shared a little on his time as a young opera singer performing Broadway repertoire in a concert for the first time. His next number, “Stars” from “Les Miserables,” carried both vulnerable and strong, with the drums lending a nice martial touch. This tender passion was on full display in the following number, “I Have Dreamed,” from “The King and I.”
Touching upon his time in the revival of “South Pacific,” Szot next performed a medley of songs from the musical, featuring a bossa nova arrangement from a previous concert that paid tribute to Sinatra and Jobim. Szot and the band were in fine form as they danced through pieces of “Baubles, Bangles, & Beads,” “Bali Hai,” “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Outta My Hair,” “Happy Talk,” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.” Wrapping up this part of the program were two selections from Robert Wright and George Forrest’s “Kismet,” namely “Stranger in Paradise” and “This is My Beloved.”
Next, were a number of Spanish songs beginning with Lara’s “Granada.” Here Szot’s powerful baritone excelled in outlining the imagery of local color and beauty. These feelings carried well into “No Puede Ser,” from Pablo Sorozabal’s “La Tabernera Del Puerto,” and the tango “El Dia Que Me Quieras” by Carlos Gardel. This passion reached a delicate peak with “Besame Mucho,” where Szot employed a breathtaking caress in his delivery. Within this section, Szot and the band also celebrated the holiday by performing “Thankful” by David Foster, Carole B. Sager, and Richard Page. This number made for a tender and uplifting anthem with simple phrases such as “Sometimes we forget to look around us… there’s so much to be thankful for.”
Closing out the concert, Szot and the band took things back to Broadway with “Being Alive,” from Stephen Sondheim’s “Company.” This powerful song of yearning and connection started softly, with Szot’s phrases being finished by the strings in a gentle exchange, before taking things to massive heights. Last was “This Nearly Was Mine” from “South Pacific.” Not content to end on a crestfallen note, Szot, returned after the applause for an encore of “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha,” drawing out the feelings of hope and overcoming to their fullest in a triumphant conclusion.
Thursday’s concert was comprised of songs new and familiar which, while varied, were all highly compelling in their power and poignancy. Szot’s magnetic charm and the intimate venue of 54 Below continue to be a winning combination that leaves audiences delighted.