No doubt the casting director who once turned down actor-singer-dancer Tony Yazbeck for a job because he lacked charisma, is now eating his words. Yazbeck who was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his work in the 2014 revival of “On The Town,” demonstrated he can light up the stage when he appeared at The Cabaret in his show “The Floor Above Me” over the weekend. I attended his Saturday show.
A classic song and dance man in the tradition of greats such as Fred Astaire and Gene Kelley, Yazbeck played to a full house of clearly enamored patrons as he sang, tap-danced and shared his climb from modest beginnings to the heights of the musical theatre world. For those not familiar with Yazbeck, his credentials as a seasoned showman are impressive. He made his Broadway debut at the age of 11 playing a newsboy in the 1989 revival of “Gypsy,” (which I saw) starring Tyne Daly , Yazbeck is also known for his principal roles in “Chicago,” “White Christmas,” “A Chorus Line,” and others. Yazbeck is also familiar to TV audiences for his role in the hit NBC series “Smash.”
As a “Smash” fan, and having seen Yazbeck in “On The Town,” I was more than prepared for what I knew would be a high-energy performance. That expectation was only heightened because I was present Thursday when Yazbeck, joined by his music director and pianist, Jerry Korman, conducted a master class for children participating in Kids Dance Outreach at the Athanaeum. Founded by Michael Johnson, a former Boston Ballet dancer, KDO is an organization that provides high-level dance programs for thousands of students, many of whom are disadvantaged and serves to motivate and inspire them. It doesn’t take much to imagine that these kids who received dancing, singing and acting tips from the Yazbeck will carry an indelible memory of their ratified experience being coached by a Broadway star.
Yazbeck’s Broadway pedigree was no more evident than in his well-constructed program which included songs from productions he has appeared in, sprinkled with stories and anecdotes (including the previously mentioned one about the clueless casting director) about his personal life and career ups and downs. Thoroughly connecting with the audience, Yazbeck’s storytelling was conveyed with a mix of sincerity, vulnerability and charm. Constantly having to use a towel to wipe the sweat on is face, after his tap-dance routines, it was clear that Yazbeck was giving 110% and it showed.
Pianist Korman who played expressively and with whom Yazbeck enjoyed a warm rapport made for an effective team. Supported by Korman, Yazbeck showed off his velvety-toned tenor voice, engaging the audience as he sang and tap-danced to songs such as “All I Need is the Girl” and “Lucky To Be Me” and medleys which were tributes to his obvious heroes, Kelly & Astaire. Although I reveled in Yazbeck’s lively song and dance numbers it was his renditions of two ballads that resonated with me. His wistful interpretation of “Pure Imagination” from “Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory” and poignant take on Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now,” touched me deeply.
Reinforcing what I already knew from seeing him perform live previously, Yazbeck is, indeed, a consummate entertainer and I can’t think of anyone better to play suave Gary Grant. In 2020 Yazbeck will play the legendary film actor in “Flying Over Sunset,” a new musical directed by James Lapine, at Lincoln Center Theatre. “Triple threat,” used to describe a performer who is multi-talented has become a cliché but it’s a moniker that clearly fits Yazbeck, who is truly one of the hardest working men in show business.
For tickets and information regarding upcoming shows at The Cabaret go to thecabaret.org.