Saturday, February 11, 2012

Michael Cerveris' Barber

Last month, Michael Cerveris performed at the Lincoln Center American Songbook series.   Go read the review here at the NYTimes.   Michael's evening was chockfull of music - Southern, Traditional, New Orleans Style, Americana and even a few Broadway numbers from his "day job". He had with him a huge band, including wash board, banjo, sousaphone, trombone, mandolin, steel guitar, guitars, ukelele, to name most of them.  

The thing that has stuck with me though is Michael's rendition of Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915.   Michael prefaced the piece, on which he gave his band a break and brought on a classical pianist to accompany him, with his love for James Agee.  Previouslym I had only heard it sung live once by soprano Renée Fleming.   Her rendition was soaring and sultry.   Michael's rendition was more poetic and even sad.    It's fresh in my mind but I long to hear him sing it again.   During the concert, I noticed a stack of books on a stand next to Michael's chair - after the concert, I helped myself to a closer look:  it was in fact a stack of James Agee books.  

I fell in love with Michael's work when I first saw him in Assassins on Broadway, for which he won the Tony Award.   I've seen him many times in other plays and readings, and soon, I'll see him again on Broadway when he resumes his day job as "Juan Peron" in Evita.    Of course, he was the main object of my devotion when he played a barber Sweeney Todd on Broadway as well.  But it will be his performance of the Barber work that will stay with me from now on.  
Photo by Richard Termine for The New York Times

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