One man. A 20-member band. A single piano. And a Broadway stage. Quite a potent combination when that man happens to be Harry Connick Jr. The smooth singing star wrapped up a short concert run at the Neil Simon Theater this past weekend, with cameras rolling for a future release.
Broadway has been full of popular singers, albeit those “singers” have been coming from such hack talent pools as “American Idol,” yet none have really matched the presence of Connick. He might be a movie star, but he’s a singer first and foremost, and that kind of combination screams musical theater actor. Less Hollywood actors mugging for the stage and more Connick crooning would suit the upcoming Broadway season well.
Instead of an acting role, this latest turn on the stage was an extended run of “Harry Connick, Jr. in Concert on Broadway,” a special event that took place a decade after his last concert run at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. What this return to the theater community proved is that the 42-year-old talent has charisma that gets audiences swaying, not only for his looks and charm but the ability to put a signature sound on the evenings music numbers.
There are stories of Frank Loesser having it out with Frank Sinatra during the filming of MGM’s “Guys and Dolls” — Loesser had no patience for Sinatra’s changing the tempo of his iconic Broadway melodies. But, Connick’s liberties taken during two songs from the “perfect musical” fit the bill with ease. There were a handful of Broadway songs mixed in with Connick’s setlist — fitting for his return to the Rialto — and it reminded of his stage presence. The last revival of “The Pajama Game” on Broadway was a smash, due in part to Connick’s performance.
Music from shows including the Loesser classic, Connick’s own tuner “Thou Shalt Not” – he composed the music – and “The Pajama Game” mixed with standards during the first half of the evening, but things stayed pretty low-key until the energy of New Orleans swept across the Neil Simon stage. When the curtain came up on the second act, Connick exploded like a bright light, obviously full of love for his hometown.
The insanely talented Lucien Barbarin, a jazz trombonist, joined Connick on stage during this love letter to New Orleans, and it felt like the audience was immediately transported to Mardi Gras. Besides craving some jambalaya and crawfish, this turn of music got me thinking about a possible future on Broadway for Connick.
Connick has proven he can act. The boy sure can sing. And he bleeds New Orleans. So, why doesn’t some smart team create a show surrounding the Louisiana locale and the jazz scene? That would be another potent combination. Time to put your thinking hats on, Broadway producers.