On November 25, 2021, baritone Paulo Szot performed a special Thanksgiving concert at Feinstein’s / 54 Below. Audiences were treated to a special menu and selections of musicals, songs, zarzuela and operettas from one of the leading men of Broadway and opera.
A notable change from Szot’s previous performances at this venue was the addition of a string quintet, featuring musicians from the American Pops Orchestra. The group consisted of Dilyana Tsenova, Regino Madrid, Modesto Marcano, Samuel Quiggina, Greg Watkins, Joe Nero and Robert Pullen, under the direction of musical director Luke Frazier.
The concert opened with an instrumental arrangement of “Anything Goes” from Cole Porter’s musical of the same name, with the moving strings making a nice classical start before the drums kick in with a swinging beat that transforms into sound. famous “Let’s Do It.” Szot made his debut, rightly so, with “Some Enchanted Evening,” his suave rubato easily lending a load to the romantic atmosphere.
After his opening remarks, Szot and the group continued with a fiery rendition of “I, Don Quixote”, from “Man of La Mancha”, with the conversational and cabaret setting making the song’s spoken introduction natural as ‘they fit into the powerful verse and chorus. Following this, Szot shared some of his time as a young opera singer performing the Broadway repertoire in a concert for the first time. His next issue, “Stars” of “Les Misérables”, was both vulnerable and strong, the drums bringing a nice martial touch. This tender passion was fully exposed in the next issue, “I Have Dreamed”, of “The King and I”.
Evoking his time in the revival of “South Pacific,” Szot then performed a mix of songs from the musical, featuring a bossa nova arrangement from a previous concert that paid homage to Sinatra and Jobim. Szot and the band were in great shape as they danced to tracks from “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 To conclude this part of the program, two excerpts from “Kismet” by Robert Wright and George Forrest, namely “Stranger in Paradise” and “This is My Beloved”.
Then there were a number of Spanish songs starting with “Granada” by Lara. Here, Szot’s mighty baritone excelled at depicting imagery of local color and beauty. These sentiments were expressed well in “No Puede Ser”, from “La Tabernera Del Puerto” by Pablo Sorozabal, 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. In this section, Szot and the band also celebrated the party by performing “Thankful” by David Foster, Carole B. Sager and Richard Page. This number was a tender and uplifting hymn with simple phrases such as “Sometimes we forget to look around… there is so much to be thankful for”.
Closing the concert, Szot and the band brought things back to Broadway with Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” by “Company”. This powerful song of desire and connection started soft, Szot’s phrases ending with the strings in a sweet exchange, before taking things to huge heights. The last one was “This Nearly Was Mine” from “South Pacific”. Not content to end on a disheartened note, Szot returned after the applause for a reminder of “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha,” squeezing feelings of hope and overwhelming to their maximum in a triumphant conclusion.
Thursday’s concert consisted of new and familiar songs which, while varied, were all very compelling in their power and poignant character. Szot’s magnetic charm and the intimate location of 54 Below continue to be a winning combination that thrills audiences.