Norm Lewis Floats on a Cloud of Music in Dazzling All-Broadway Set at 54 Below | Playbill

Cabaret & Concert News Norm Lewis Floats on a Cloud of Music in Dazzling All-Broadway Set at 54 Below

The Phantom of the Opera title player was joined by his Side Show co-star, Alice Ripley, who was in equally thrilling voice.

Norm Lewis Heather Gershonowitz

It’s a rarity, indeed, when a performer delivers most every song one would want him to sing, but such is the case in Norm Lewis’ current all-Broadway program at 54 Below, Summertime (Special Tony Edition).

Ingeniously capitalizing on the period between the Tony nominations and the June 16 Tony Awards, the Broadway favorite—ably guided by director Richard Jay-Alexander—has crafted a wonderful evening of showtunes, many Lewis has performed in productions off and on Broadway and several he has not, peppered with a welcome mix of humorous, self-deprecating, and even shocking career tales.

In the past several decades, director Jay-Alexander has cornered the market on revered divas, creating triumphant concerts for Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley, Kristin Chenoweth, the late Laurie Beechman, and more, and now it seems the Les Misérables director is applying his same special magic to the divos. In March, Hugh Panaro returned to 54 Below to celebrate the live recording of Man Without a Mask, his concert act directed by Jay-Alexander, and now Lewis has again teamed with the director for his latest cabaret outing.

Norm Lewis Heather Gershonowitz

This writer first encountered Lewis’ beautiful voice in the 1997 Broadway premiere of Side Show, where his soaring vocals on “You Should Be Loved” stopped the show nightly. In the musical theatre, it’s the vibrato that separates the gods from the mere mortals, and Lewis has been blessed with a heavenly one that pours out of him like billowing clouds of music. Fast forward a few decades, and the artist and that one-in-a-million voice have both aged remarkably well.

Lewis opened his wall-to-wall show-tune set walking through the audience singing Funny Girl's “Don’t Rain on My Parade” while greeting the sold-out crowd. He is one of the more down-to-earth, relaxed performers, exuding an appealing sweetness that creates a welcoming tone, as if we were listening to him sing in his own living room. A beautiful version of the Porgy and Bess classic “Summertime” followed, and his wide-eyed, innocent take on “Corner of the Sky” was surprisingly moving. After giving audiences a glimpse of what his George Washington (in Hamilton) would have been, Lewis invited the crowd to join in on a rousing “Trouble” from the Tony-winning The Music Man. A focused take on the Golden Rainbow hit “I’ve Got to Be Me” was one of the evening’s many highlights.

Alice Ripley Heather Gershonowitz

How fitting that Lewis was joined by his Side Show co-star, Alice Ripley, who first met each other during the original production of The Who’s Tommy. Two of the most exciting artists to emerge during the '90s, both subsequently landed leading roles in the aforementioned Henry Krieger-Bill Russell musical Side Show, which had the misfortune of opening during the same season that included Ragtime and the Tony-winning Disney hit The Lion King. But, for this writer, Side Show was every bit as enthralling and tuneful as those two other musical theatre gems. In fact, the opening and closing bleacher scenes, the thrilling Ripley-Emily Skinner duets that concluded each act, and Lewis’ “You Should Be Loved” are forever etched in the memory.

After some friendly banter, the duo joined voices for a duet of The Fantasticks charmer “Soon It’s Gonna Rain,” and then Ripley took center stage to deliver a deeply felt version of the Next to Normal anthem “I Miss the Mountains,” again demonstrating why she won the Tony for her supremely moving portrayal of Diana Goodman, a mother living with bipolar disorder. Ripley, who has been gone from Broadway far too long, was in thrilling voice, and utterly compelling, delivering a palpable sense of longing. (One can’t help daydreaming further Lewis-Ripley pairings—a Follies production with fellow Side Show stars Skinner and Panaro would be especially welcome.)

Lewis then returned for the second portion of his set, opening with Chicago’s “Razzle Dazzle” and then offering a tribute to the late Jerry Orbach with a touching rendition of The Fantasticks ballad “Try to Remember” that highlighted how Tom Jones’ brilliant lyrics become more and more meaningful the older one gets. The actor had some fun with Little Mermaid’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” before launching into a trifecta of showstoppers from three musicals he has also starred in: Sweeney Todd, Dreamgirls, and The Phantom of the Opera.

Norm Lewis Heather Gershonowitz

With razor in hand, Lewis delivered a captivating, eerie “My Friends” that displayed the deep, dark richness of his velvety tones; his surprise rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” complete with original Jennifer Holliday leg-and-handography, raised the roof; and his pitch-perfect “Music of the Night” brought the entire audience to its feet.

Lewis’ encore, a lovely, slowed-down take on On the Town’s “Lucky to Be Me,” allowed his wonderful trio—musical director Joseph Joubert on piano, Perry Cavari on percussion, and Dylan Shamat on bass—to shine.

Only three more chances to catch Lewis’ entrancing music of the night: He will be joined by Tony nominee Will Swenson and Seth Rudetsky June 11, Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell and Nova Payton June 12, and Kimberly Akimbo's Olivia Elease Hardy June 13. Click here for ticket information.

Check out photos from Norm Lewis: Summertime (Special Tony Edition) below:

Photos: Norm Lewis: Summertime at 54 Below

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