A Taste of New Orleans in NYC: Byron St. Cyr

By MARILYN LESTER ****Singer Byron St. Cyr is, by his own strong admission, a musical theater animal. Yet, the music that informed him – especially in visiting beloved grandparents who lived at 4600 Mithra Street in New Orleans – was rooted in the artistry of jazz icons such as Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, and Ella Fitzgerald. When he made the connection that so many of the songs those luminaries sang came from Broadway shows— such as Armstrong’s version of “Hello, Dolly!” (Jerry Herman) —  a whole new world opened up to him. When he elected to pursue musical theater as a career, it was a decision foreign to his family rooted in the practicality of traditional professions. Still, family members, who had a keen appreciation of music as an avocation, were supportive. In his latest cabaret show, 4600 Mithra, My New Orleans, St. Cyr pays homage to his youthful experiences, a gift packaged in an eclectic wrapping of styles and approaches. At this point in his life, he has that dimply, sweet smile and cuteness factor that make for an engaging stage presence. This aspect of his presentation is an asset: immediately you want to like him. Plus, St. Cyr has a strong, sure and well-trained voice. His performance doesn’t let you down.

His preferences and training are evident in mostly pop interpretations of the Great American Songbook classics. He has a particular affinity for the work of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, and so the duo’s “That Old Black Magic “ and Mercer’s “Somethings Gotta Give” were swung Las Vegas-style. Arlen/Mercer’s “Come Rain or Come Shine” was delivered with a bluesy lounge attitude. With My Fair Ladys “I Could Have Danced All Night” (Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner), St. Cyr added some creative swing, and allowed himself playfulness with George and Ira’s Gershwin’s jazzy “Fascinating Rhythm,” which suited him. St. Cyr is polished and technically proficient in using his voice. The result is effective, but so much more is added when he allows himself to go to areas of freedom in artistic and emotional creativity. Thus, his potential for getting to the heart of “Mood Indigo,” Duke Ellington’s classic (lyrics by Mitchell Parish) was lost in technical correctness.

The singer does score high marks for variety, as with an expressive version of “The Miller’s Son” (Stephen Sondheim) and a contemporary “Working in the Coal Mine” (Allen Toussaint). St. Cyr, a bari-tenor, has a well-controlled vocal range. And so it was surprising and delightful to hear him master an operatic favorite, traditionally sung by a contralto, “Habanera” (“L’amour est un oiseau rebelle”) (Georges Bizet/Henri Meilhac/Ludovic Halvéy) from Carmen. About midway in the set, St. Cyr introduced a “new friend” and colleague, JaLeesa Beavers, who provided two versions of “Lullaby of Birdland” (George Shearing/George David Weiss under the pseudonym “B. Y. Forster”). The first was a slow, dirge-like rendition, and the second a more traditional hard-swing styling. But while Beavers has a worthy voice, a lack of proper training shows in poor breath and vocal control. More problematically, the singer has fallen into the modern trap of “louder is better,” abandoning nuance and vocal dynamics to relentless belting.

 

No presentation about the nostalgia of New Orleans would be complete without “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” (Eddie DeLange/Louis Alter). This was St. Cyr’s final number, delivered as a balladic love song, coming after an affecting narrative about the destruction of 4600 Mithra Street in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. It was a heartfelt rendition, but still sung behind an emotional barrier. So much more could have been achieved if St. Cyr had taken the brakes off. He seemed relieved to swing back into a safe place, a Vegas mode, for a pair of encore closers, “Too Close for Comfort” (Jerry Bock/George David Weiss/Larry Holofcener) and “Love Me or Leave Me” (Walter Donaldson/Gus Kahn) – the latter featuring a band solo. St. Cyr’s Music Director and pianist, Drew Wutke an energetic keyboardist, set an excellent example in being wonderfully unafraid to let loose and put body and soul into his playing. By contrast, upright bass player Joe Wallace, and drummer Kenny Hildebrandt, while proficient, seemed oddly disconnected from the space beyond their own respective instruments. When cats are not in a groove with each other, one wonders how much musicality is truly lost. 4600 Mithra, My New Orleans, which, taken as a whole, was agreeably entertaining and enjoyable, was directed by Jim Brigman.

4600 Mithra, My New Orleans played at Don’t Tell Mama, NYC, on June 8, 2017 at 8 PM.

Photos by Kelly P, Williams

Performer’s website: http://www.byronstcyr.com/