The Artist Series Concerts of Sarasota, which seems to be doing everything right, from programming and performers to outreach and volunteers, hit another home run last week when it brought back the talented Alex Rybeck for a special cabaret-style Christmas program at the Historic Asolo.
Rybeck, who seems to be the pianist for every major singer from Tommy Tune, Eartha Kitt, Michael Feinstein and Faith Prince to the Callaway sisters, Donna McKechnie, Marni Nixon and Roberta Peters, is a whiz at the piano and a major force as a music director. This time, from his suitcase of superstars, he brought four singers: Klea Blackhurst, Anna Bergman, Jeff Harnar and Todd Murray. Together in combinations of quartets, duos and solos, they opened their souls as singers with touching and amusing musical and personal memories of the holidays, sweeping the audience along in songs from “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and “Silver Bells,” to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and a charming new piece with words by Barbara Fried and music by Rybeck, called “Together This Christmas.”
It’s one thing to sing the Christmas songs we all know, but it’s something else when they’re put into a human context, and that’s what Alex Rybeck and friends managed in this charming revue. Blackhurst, with her Mermanesque voice and twinkling eyes, is a great foil for Bergman’s more sedate yet sultry soprano. And Murray, a crooning baritone who seemed to have stepped out of a Bing Crosby movie, is a perfect back up for Harnar, an eloquent and versatile tenor.
But the real star of the evening is, without doubt, Rybeck. What he does at the piano is pure magic: supporting the singers with elegant modulations and rhythmic grace while adding a brilliant pianistic underscore that’s like a full symphony orchestra. If you really listen, you realize he’s the one with the polish, and, like the great musician he is, he stylishly steps aside, putting the singers in the spotlight and allowing them to shine.
The best news is Rybeck will return to the Artist Series next month with a program called “Legendary Broadway” with Broadway star Lee Roy Reams.
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