Hit me with a hot note

Hot Piano! Ragtime, Blues & Jazz

Performed by Mark Birnbaum
Non-union production (open-ended run)
Thirteenth Street Repertory Company
50 W13th St. (212/675-6677)
Review by Seth Bisen-Hersh

In Hot Piano! Ragtime, Blues & Jazz, Mark Birnbaum brings back songs from the 1890s through the 1920s. He played well, if a bit imperfectly and sloppily at times, and created an ambience of presentation much as if he had brought the audience into his living room.

The house opened, and Birnbaum was already putzing around on the keys, awaiting the audience's attention. When the lights dimmed, he welcomed the audience and commenced the history lesson. Sporadically, Birnbaum provided many facts about the genres played, as well as the composers themselves. The material performed started with Scott Joplin and meandered chronologically through Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, then finally George Gershwin.

The songs fluidly built into each other; the facts revealed were mostly interesting; and Birnbaum could certainly play piano aptly. However, the act could have been much tighter; there could have been more humor and stage presence; and Birnbaum could have been more meticulous about playing accurately both note-wise and occasionally rhythm-wise. Yet, it was admirable that Birnbaum had all the songs and all of his patter memorized, and the songs picked painted a pleasant picture of the early 1900s.

Patriotically, Birnbaum wore a red, white, and blue-checkered jacket with blue pants and a white shirt, perhaps symbolizing how he was playing the music of our country. He was quaintly surrounded by his piano and a vase of flowers.

Overall, the evening was enjoyable if not impeccable. Birnbaum’s patter could use a little more personality and pizzazz, just as his playing could use a little more accuracy. However, the average audience member would enjoy this show if he/she has a penchant for the music, especially since it is so seldom performed in popular venues nowadays.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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