Bill Charlap
Bill Charlap
Notwithstanding lengthy runs by Andrea Marcovicci, Mary Cleere Haran, and Karen Akers, a very high percentage of shows booked into the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room of late have had a definite tilt toward jazz. And that's certainly what one expects from a show that the Oak Room is hearalding as a "summer jazzfest" starring jazz pianist extraordiniare Bill Charlap and song stylist Sandy Stewart. But hark! The heralds have it wrong. This enchanting night of song is driven by the lyrics of a great many musical theater songs delivered cabaret-style (i.e. with an emphasis on lyric interpretation), though they are certainly jazz-tinged in terms of arrangement and performance style.

A missing piece of informatoin here is that Sandy Stewart is Bill Charlap's mother. You should also know that Stewart's late husband, Bill's father, was Broadway composer Moose Charlap. So, rather than a true jazzfest, this show is a loving celebration of the musical roots that have sustained Stewart and given life to her son's evolving musical vision. No wonder that this show has the burnished feel of sweet nostalgia.

Stewart and Charlap give the audience a show to remember, and highlights abound. Stewart steers a passionate course through "I've Got a Crush on You" before upping the emotional ante with "Do it Again." Her patter is sharp, short, and funny; particularly amusing is her story of how, when she and Kaye Ballard were regulars on the Perry Como TV show, Ballard passed on a ballad by a couple of young writers and handed it off to Stewart. Those writers were Kander & Ebb and the song was "My Coloring Book." Stewart went on to receive a Grammy nomination for her recording of the song; "Kaye still speaks to me," she assures us. Her performance of her bit hit at the Oak Room is not so much colored by time as it is engraved, embossed, and exquisitely enriched by the passage of years.

There is nothing particularly special or memorable about Stewart's voice, but there is something quite special and memorable about her acting. Give her a song with a dramatic hook and she'll give you a three-minute, Tony Award-worthy performance. She left the opening night audience breathless with her uncompromising rendition of "I'll Never Go There Anymore" (Moose Charlap/Eddie Lawrence) and created the same effect during her encore: "Fifty Percent," from Ballroom (Billy Goldenberg/Alan & Marilyn Bergman).

Bill Charlap supports his mother with arrangements that give her one beautiful musical foundation after another upon which to build her interpretations. At one point, the proud mom happily leaves the stage while her son performs three piano solos that demonstrate his masterful sense of jazz phrasing and style. His take on Jerome Kern's "The Way You Look Tonight" is phrased with a delightful originality that nevertheless preserves the spirit of Kern's creation.

Stewart and Charlap continue their show at the Oak Room through July 9.