When Fyvush Finkel, the Emmy-winning Picket Fences star and legend of the Yiddish theater, took the stage at 54 Below on Friday and Saturday night, the audience couldn't believe what they were seeing. Here was a slightly-hunched-over 91-year-old man with pants buttoned up to his chest and the need of a cane to get around who, as soon as the spotlight fell onto him, transformed into a person with the vim and vigor of a 30-year-old.
The show was billed as a celebration of the Jewish holiday Purim, but was more suitable as a retrospective of Finkel's nearly 80-year career. As an opening act, proud papa Fyvush looked on from one of the club's banquettes as his sons, Elliot and Ian, took the stage to perform their own specialties, the former on piano, the latter on xylophone. A Gershwin medley, which ran the gamut from "I Got Rhythm" to "Rhapsody in Blue," was one of the evening's high points. Hearing the evocative opening notes of "Rhapsody," played on the xylophone instead of a clarinet, was an experience to savor.
Once the senior Mr. Finkel took the stage, the show really kicked into gear. Starting with the sweet "Asa York Oif Mir" (translated to "I Should Have Such a Year"), Finkel sat on a high bar stool and lovingly worked the crowd, interspersing stories from his life with a few just-slightly-raunchy jokes and it's safe to say he hasn't lost his timing. The real highlight, bar none, was his rendition of "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof. Letter-perfect, he sang Tevye's soliloquy like he was still performing the role to this very day and it's safe to say that a better version has not been heard in many years.
The only real complaint was the brevity of the evening, which clocked in at barely over an hour. We could have watched Fyvush Finkel, the consummate entertainer, for far longer. But these audiences are very lucky to have been provided such a rich performance. They don't make guys like these like they used to.