Friday, December 26, 2008

James Barbour

James Barbour has impressed me once again. He wowed me this fall with his powerful performance as Sydney Carton in the exciting, but unfortunately short-lived, Broadway musical of A Tale of Two Cities. On Tuesday night I was charmed in a different way by the warmth and intimacy of his holiday concert at the cabaret at Sardi’s.

With music director Jeremy Roberts on piano, Barbour sang classics like “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “White Christmas” and shared stories of his life in a way that made me feel I was with a close friend enjoying the holiday at his home. He spoke frequently about his mother, with whom he had been close until her death in 2005, his wife and child, and the need of “always living in a sense of hope.” The spirit of his in-laws also was present as he told how his father-in-law, a retired Marine Corp officer in Hawaii, and mother-in-law invite all service people who were away from family to their home each Christmas. Barbour and Sardi’s were continuing that tradition by inviting any military people in New York to attend the Christmas Eve matinee for free and have drinks and food on the house. I was really touched by that.

Joining Barbour at each concert will be a special guest artist. The night we were there it was Natalie Toro who played Madame DeFarge in Two Cities. I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled about hearing her because I hadn’t cared for her performance in the musical. She has one of those Broadway shouting voices that are so popular, but that’s just not a style of singing I like. At Sardi’s, however, she offered a pleasant surprise.

“Since a lot of you know how I usually sing, I’m going to do something a little different,” she said before offering an “Ave Maria” that was heartfelt and reverent, operatic but not shouting. It was a blessing.

The evening held an additional surprise. Michael Hayward-Jones, who played Jarvis Lorry in Two Cities, was a unscheduled visitor who sang a lovely “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” adding to the warmth of the evening.

Other scheduled guests are Jodi Graham, tonight; Deborah Gibson tomorrow; Marla Schaffel on Dec. 30; Marc Kudisch on Jan. 2; Toro again, with Kevin Earley, on Jan. 3 and Jack Noseworthy on Jan. 4. Derek Keeling and Kate Shindle were set for the Christmas Eve show.

In addition to the carols, Barbour sang Broadway songs, which would certainly be expected from a veteran of the Great White Way. Beside Two Cities (see my Sept. 27 review), Barbour has appeared in Assassins, Urinetown, Jane Eyre, Beauty and the Beast, Carousel and Cyrano — The Musical. He included “great Broadway songs you’ve never heard,” one of which, “The Measure of a Man,” I especially liked. It’s by Frank Wildhorn from a show I had never heard of called Rudolph: The Last Kiss.

Barbour concluded with a moving “O Holy Night” before an encore of “I Can’t Recall” from Two Cities. The 90 minutes flew by and I left feeling uplifted and full of holiday glow. It was a highlight of my Christmas season. I strongly urge you to get there if you can.

Tickets are $25, $45, and $60; there is also a $25 food-drink minimum per person. Sardi's is located in Manhattan at 234 W. 44th St. For reservations call (212) 868-4444 or visit

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