Tony Yazbeck tapping in his 54 Below debut show, The Floor Above Me.
Tony Yazbeck tapping in his 54 Below debut show, The Floor Above Me.
(© David Gordon)

In the words of legendary tap dancer Maurice Hines, "Class is like pornography. You know it when you see it." Tony Yazbeck brings this elusive essence of old-timey Broadway class to his 54 Below debut, representing a dying breed of showmen that keeps the word debonair from falling into complete extinction.

Yazbeck's show, The Floor Above Me, comes to the supper club in advance of his Broadway return in the revival of the 1944 musical On the Town — a production that hopes to lure audiences seeking either to revisit the golden age of Broadway or experience it for the first time. This seems to be his MO as solo performer as well, harking back to the days of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and working up a serious sweat in his Sunday best as he offers a master class in tap and the art of elegant crooning. Yazbeck is graced with the additional gift of a venue so perfectly suited to his classic aesthetic that the iPhones dotting the crowd become more anachronistic than his tailored vest and perfectly coiffed hair.

Everything about an evening hosted by Tony Yazbeck feels traditional, and yet simultaneously nontraditional by modern standards in its reverential devotion to this golden era of entertainment. In typical cabaret fashion, he takes the audience through his life and career with carefully scripted monologues written by Howard Emanuel. Like the rest of the male dancing population, he was inspired by footage of Fred Astaire, which put him in dance classes at the age of four and his first Broadway show at 11 as a newsboy in the Tyne Daly revival of Gypsy.

The hue of his childhood tales corroborates his self-description as a hopeless romantic, painting picture after picture in the grand theatrical tradition of painstaking struggle followed by euphoric success. In the wake of his parents' divorce, his eight-year-old self would wake up every morning at 5am to practice his dancing for two and a half hours with images of an MGM romance swirling through his dreamy head. Through his elated ups (a jazzy "On the Sunny Side of the Street") and wistful downs (Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" depicting the aftermath of a heartbreak), Yazbeck weaves in world-class tap routines that prove the payoff of his pre-adolescent blood, sweat, and tears. Though sadly without Laura Benanti by his side as the swooning Louise, he performs a juiced-up rendition of "All I Need Is the Girl" (arranged by his music director Jerome Korman) — his signature number from his second crack at Gypsy, as Tulsa in the 2008 revival with Patti LuPone.

Still, Fred is nothing without Ginger — and Yazbeck finds his Ginger in Melinda Sullivan, a veteran of Fox's So You Think You Can Dance, who joins him for an impressively intricate dance, which, by all laws of physics, should be impossible to execute on a stage for which a single mic stand and stool is a tight squeeze. If/Then's Curtis Holbrook also joins in the old-timey festivities for a fitting rendition of "Moses Supposes" from Singin' in the Rain (which the two performed together at the St. Louis Muny in 2011) and a few rounds of trio tap dancing that conjures images of Debbie Reynolds and her two light-footed beaus. The jury may still be out on the subject of pornography, but there's no questioning— Tony Yazbeck is nothin' but class.