Everything Old Is New Again: Max von Essen at Birdland Jazz Club – August 19, 2019

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Nostalgia is a powerful thing – it seems just about every movie or television franchise is being revived or revamped for the newer generation who may not have experienced the hype (good or bad) surrounding its original run or even seen them (though these days it’s streamed online). Same goes for songs, many of which are re-recorded by different artists, who may (or may not) provide their own spin on the songs. On the other hand, there are those singers who remain true to the song’s original intent and lend their voices to reviving that sound from yesteryear to the modern era. Max von Essen is in the latter category, bringing back elegance and style with his first solo album “Call Me Old Fashioned: The Broadway Standard”.

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I’ve been acquainted with Max von Essen for several years, having first encountered him in Dance of the Vampires (which should have been a greater success, but that’s a discussion / digression for another post), and have seen him in Les Miserables, and Evita. A gifted musical theater actor, he has a natural charm about him and an affinity for the Standards (songs from the early to mid-20th Century), which has resulted in this first solo album (the first of many, one can hope). While the album was released earlier this year in April, it was only this week he was able to celebrate its release (having been on the US national tour in Falsettos for most of the Spring/Summer); the event was held at Birdland Jazz Club on August 19, 2019.

The evening consisted of Max singing songs from the album, accompanied by Billy Stritch, who also features on several tracks, coupled with anecdotes of how he discovered these songs and its influence on his life and career. Among my favorite songs (well, they’re all my favorites, obviously) is the gentle and romantic interpretation of “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” from Evita, a contrast to the soaring, borderline melodramatic aria as it (usually) exists within the musical. Another highlight of the evening was a rendition of “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” (not on the album, but hopefully on the next one…?) prefaced with his history with Les Miserables; he told the tale of his opportunity to cover the role of Marius (twice!) towards the end of the show’s original run and the first revival of the show a few years later, and never getting to play the role (though he was a fantastic Enjolras in the latter production).

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Needless to say, the event (and the album) was a joy to experience, and it’s probably safe to say that Max is among the next generation to keep the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Lerner and Lowe (to name but a few) alive and introduce them to generations to come.

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Dance With Never A Care: An American in Paris CD signing at Barnes & Noble – June 12, 2015

So, it’s been a while since I attended a CD signing, or seen a show for that matter – but that has more to do with finances than lack of interest; there are so many shows (new and ongoing), yet not as much time to go see them all (and then there’s the exorbitant ticket prices…). Nevertheless, attending a CD signing is almost always within my budget, and more times than not, cast members perform songs from their show, which is always a draw.  As mentioned in past CD signing blog entries, I don’t/can’t always attend every CD signing Barnes & Noble, (and I’m grateful that Barnes & Noble is still around so events such as these can take place), I always make an effort to attend one in which I have an interest, which leads me to the recently released cast recording of An American in Paris. Along with the CD signing, the event included performances from the cast, held at the Barnes & Noble store on the Upper East Side (on 86th Street).

An American In Paris CD signing banner

Per usual, I arrived at that Barnes & Noble early to get the CD at the main register (though I had purchased the cast recording via iTunes before they announced the CD signing) and received my [silver] wristband to guarantee a seat inside the event. Also, per usual, I staked out my “usual” spot outside the event area to start the attendance line, listening to the cast recording on repeat on my iPod (other people started to arrive around noon, and the crowd steadily gathered afterwards). For events such as these, I often see the same bunch of people waiting in line, and struck up conversations with them while we all waited – it’s usually the only time I see these (same) people, and the camaraderie that emerges from these quasi-occasional events is special in its own way.

Cast members arrived roughly an hour before the event start [4:30PM] to conduct a sound check, and we were ushered into the room shortly before the event start. Barnes & Noble Event manager Steven Sorrentino greeted the crowd and introduced to the makeshift stage cast members Leanne Cope, Robert Fairchild, Max von Essen, Jill Paice, and Brandon Uranowitz. First, Robert Fairchild and Jill Paice sang “Shall We Dance?”, who were then joined by Leanne Cope and Max von Essen to sing “For You, For Me, For Evermore”, which segued to Brandon Uranowitz and Jill Paice singing an emotional “But Not For Me”. The performance section ended with Robert Fairchild, Max von Essen and Brandon Uranowitz singing (in three part harmony!) “‘S Wonderful”, all of which were greeted with great applause from the crowd.

Top row: Jill Paice & Robert Fairchild (Shall We Dance?), Leanne Cope & Max Von Essen (For You, For Me, For Evermore) Bottom row: Jill Paice & Brandon Uranowitz (But Not For Me), Robert Fairchild, Brandon Uranowitz & Max von Essen ('S Wonderful)

Top row: Jill Paice & Robert Fairchild (Shall We Dance?), Leanne Cope & Max Von Essen (For You, For Me, For Evermore) Bottom row: Jill Paice & Brandon Uranowitz (But Not For Me), Robert Fairchild, Brandon Uranowitz & Max von Essen (‘S Wonderful)

After the customary (mini) press photo session (at which the press photographers in attendance stood in front of the seated audience (I managed to snap a few photos during the portion of the event), the signing took place, wherein the aforementioned cast members sat at the table to sign the CDs (plus a few other memorabilia). They greeted and (sometimes) briefly chatted with the attendees, while the press photographers were taking photos of the proceedings. As there was a long line of people, and the knowledge that the cast members were time constrained (due to the fact that they’d need to be back at the theatre for their show that evening), I didn’t linger around (though I kinda wish I had).

From left to right: Robert Fairchild, Jill Paice, Brandon Uranowitz, Leanne Cope & Max von Essen

From left to right: Robert Fairchild, Jill Paice, Brandon Uranowitz, Leanne Cope & Max von Essen

Needless to say, An American in Paris is one of the new shows I need to see, with its lush Gershwin score, as well as its choreography and exquisite scenic and lighting design, (for which it won the 2015 Tony Award). Amid the jukebox musicals and the long running standards, it’s lovely to hear the music and lyrics from George and Ira Gershwin back on Broadway.

Actually, it’s more than lovely – ‘S Wonderful.

An American in Paris Signed CD booklet