By Tom Alvarez, Indianapolis Performing Arts Examiner
Above all, the quality most conveyed by Norm Lewis during his show "Norm Lewis: Who Am I?" Saturday at the Cabaret at the Columbia Club was his unbridled passion. A stage, screen and television star, Lewis received a Tony nomination for his performance as Porgy in Broadway's "Porgy and Bess." He also played Javier in the West End production of "Les Misérables" during a year-long run. On TV, he has appeared on NBC's "The Blacklist," CBS's "Blue Bloods" and ABC's "Scandal," in the recurring role of Senator Edison Davis.
Lewis, accompanied by pianist Daniel Strange, performed a 90 minute set without intermission which included mostly Broadway tunes along with some Great American Songbook classics.
The sold out crowd present for Lewis’s show (he also performed an earlier one at 7 p.m.) was enthusiastic and appeared connected to the gregarious singer who maintained high energy and projected an infectious personality throughout.
Lewis, who is blessed with an exquisitely toned voice, exhibited an impressive range and versatility but at times his instrument sounded taxed, which was understandable, considering it was his second show of the night.
“Once in a Lifetime” by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley was Lewis’s opening number, followed by Gershwin’s “Summertime” from “Porgy” and a few others. It was only after three more numbers including his misguided R & B take on Lerner and Loewe’s “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly,” all of them tinged with humor that fell short, that this reviewer really felt engaged with Lewis’s act.
Beginning with hia dynamic rendition “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’,” also from “Porgy and Bess,” the remainder of Lewis’s program included song choices that best reflected his Broadway caliber dramatic and vocal talents and abilities. Other tunes were Tony Bennett’s “It Amazes Me,” “Before the Parade Passes By” from “Hello, Dolly!” and “If I Ruled he World” by Leslie Bricusse, made popular by James Brown and others.
A highlight of Lewis’s show and the first of two of the show’s somber moments was his affecting rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” which he introduced as especially relevant considering recent tragic current events.
For his encore, Lewis dedicated a touching interpretation of Sondheim’s “No One is Alone,” from “Into the Woods,” to 21year-old Kyle Jean-Baptiste who fell to his death from a fire escape Friday. Jean-Baptiste made history as the first African-American to play the lead role (Jean Valjean) in the Broadway production of “Les Misérables.”
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