As many of us first witnessed during his spectacular turn as Emile deBecque in Lincoln Center' South Pacific, Szot radiates charisma just by standing still, and that effect is multiplied instantly whether he's speaking in his pan-Continental accent or, better yet, singing in his pitch-perfect baritone.
But what's so thrilling about this act -- a far different outing than his last one at the Carlyle -- is that Szot has developed into a performer savvy enough not to simply rely on those natural gifts, even though one might willingly listen to him sing the collected works of Saul Bellow. He now brings a rare sense of interpretive skills to these Broadway tunes and American Songbook standards (and which have been brilliantly arranged by Billy Stritch), which make one long for his return to the Great White Way.
The first third of the evening is a loose tribute to Burton Lane, whose centennial is being celebrated this year, and Szot scores with these well-chosen selections, including a jazzy "Old Devil Moon," a poignant "Too Late Now," and a gloriously romantic "It's Time for a Love Song" (from the under-appreciated Carmelina).
He also shows off, albeit briefly, the lighter side of his personality here, both in the title tune from "Carmelina," and, above all, a joyful take on "How About You," in which he deftly changed two lines to honor Chita Rivera and Liza Minnelli (two of the many luminaries who attended his opening night).
The evening's middle section allows Szot to embrace many sides of his musical personality, from his passionate takes on such classics as "Lover, Come Back to Me," "Isn't It a Pity," and "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" to beautifully calibrated versions of tunes from his native South America. (You don't speak Portugese? Who cares?)
Whether one wants to consider it a testament to Szot's talent, a test of his stamina, or perhaps even a display of sheer chutzpah, he finished the set with back-to-back-to-back renditions of three of the most demanding songs in the musical theater canon: "This Nearly Was Mine" (from South Pacific), "Soliloquy" (from Carousel), and "If Ever I Would Leave You" (from Camelot). That each one was practically perfection, perhaps even definitive, is just one reason to make sure that you get to the Carlyle if you can before the show closes on January 28.