The Future Is Now
At Joe's Pub, composer Steven Lutvak turns an accursed night into a chance to shine.
Today, when we think of the Great American Songbook, we revere names like Kern, Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Bernstein, and Sondheim. But whom will future generations cherish when they look back upon our age? Prediction: One of the respected names will be Lutvak.
At this moment, Steven Lutvak is a composer/lyricist on the precipice of major recognition. His first CD (The Time It Takes on Pemaco RD Records) has just been released. He played Joe's Pub last Monday to a sold-out house (with another gig coming on Monday, October 14 at 7:30pm). And he's developed a fan base of people in the know, including the likes of Michel Legrand, Jerry Herman, Sheldon Harnick, Michael Feinstein, Stephen Schwartz, and Carol Hall. The latter two have written songs with Lutvak. "C'mon," you may be thinking; "How good can this guy be if I've never heard of him?" Well, Time magazine heard about Lutvak and featured him in a "People to Watch" column.
So watch, and listen. If there's a contemporary composer/lyricist who is the rightful heir to Stephen Sondheim, it's Steven Lutvak. Big shoes to fill? Not shoes, a whole shoe store -- but Lutvak has (pardon the pun) the inner soul to walk with the giants. We have been writing about him as both a writer and performer of his own music for the better part of a decade. The first song of his that we heard was "Museums," a shatteringly beautiful number about a father and son. When he performed it at Joe's Pub last Monday, tears were streaming down people's faces.
This was one of the most memorable shows we have ever seen. In large part, this was due to Lutvak's extraordinary compositions, ranging from the impossibly catchy and clever "Debbie & Teddy & Me" to the poignantly nostalgic "The House That I Grew Up In." But the night was marked by the cabaret gods as one that people will still be talking about years from now because everything went wrong. Though the performance threatened to become a series of nightmare mishaps, Lutvak turned it into a triumph. Almost any other performer would have imploded given what he had to deal with, but his poise, quick wit, and resourcefulness made it seem as if Rumplestiltskin was on the premises, busily turning straw into gold.
The first bit of ill luck occurred early in the show when the cord from his microphone fell out right in the middle of a song. Lutvak just kept on singing, knelt down, picked up the cord and reattached it. Then, while he was sitting on the piano bench, the bench broke -- and Joe's Pub had no replacement available. Ad libbing to beat David Letterman, Lutvak stalled for time while trying to figure out what to do. A patron offered his chair but the height was all wrong. Then, miraculously, another patron (named Rhoda) called out that she had two phone books with her. Neither Lutvak nor the audience could believe it but, sure enough, two huge phone books were passed hand to hand through the audience until they reached the stage as Rhoda explained that she lives in the boroughs and a friend had brought her two Manhattan phone books to take home. The audience was going wild, especially when yet another patron passed forward a pillow to place over the phone books. How's that for "audience participation"?
Lutvak went on to sing a sly and sinister song called "Beware the Anger of Soft-Spoken Men" in which he playfully ad libbed a lyric chiding the Joe's Pub staff. The audience ate it up like whipped cream. Then he performed a song written about and named for his first piano teacher, "Mrs. Whitney," laughingly recalling that Mrs. W. had calmed him down about his upcoming Joe's Pub gig by saying "What can happen? You think you'll fall off the piano bench?"
If he weren't a songwriter signing his own songs, Steven Lutvak would be in constant demand as a performer. He has a mellifluous light baritone, both sweet and sexy. It's a terrific sound that wears exceedingly well; we can attest to that because we've been playing his new CD constantly since Monday and can't get enough of it. As a live performer, he is relaxed, personable, and entirely winning. Simply stated, he put on a great show. If there's still room at Joe's Pub for his October 14 performance, get there and discover the future of the Great American Songbook.