Hal Linden opens his New York nightclub debut with a rousing take on George M. Cohan century-old showbiz anthem “Give My Regards to Broadway.” The old-time tune is appropriate: Linden is a Broadway belter of the old romantic school that produced John Raitt and Alfred Drake.
Linden has a robust, appealing baritone and he’s an amiable performer, despite some strained patter and stilted humor. With a couple of Comden-Green-Styne ballads, “Long Before I Knew You” and “Just in Time,” Linden recalls his Broadway bow in 1958, replacing Sydney Chaplin opposite Judy Holliday in the long-running tuner “Bells Are Ringing.” The songs were a reminder of the supple lyric balladry the musical theater once produced.
Thirty years ago Linden nailed a Tony as lead actor in a musical for his perf in “The Rothschilds.” Re-creating his role as the aged Mayer Rothschild, the actor sat at a makeup table and donned beard, wig and yarmulke to become the family patriarch singing “In My Own Lifetime.”
Prior to his Broadway debut, Linden was a big band sideman who played with the likes of Boyd Raeburn, Sammy Kaye and Bobby Sherwood. Backed by a crackling septet, Linden picked up a clarinet — which he plays extremely well — and launched into a medley of swing classics associated with Benny Goodman. While “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “Don’t Be That Way” echoed with the pulse of a long-gone era, it was “Sing, Sing, Sing” that turned out to be the real showstopper of his act.
The Louis Prima classic, which was the highlight of Goodman’s triumphant 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, is such a reliable showstopper that it was incorporated into three recent Broadway dance musicals, “Fosse,” “Swing!” and “Contact.” It turned out to be lift-off time at Feinstein’s, too.
Bounding through tunes by Rodgers & Hammerstein, Sondheim and Frank Loesser, among others, Linden closed with a medley spanning a half-century of Broadway milestones, which supported his theory that if you don’t stop the show, you can manage to slow it down a little.
From “The Impossible Dream” to “Everything’s Coming Up Roses,” Linden not only recalled Broadway’s golden era, but threw in a couple of familiar Lloyd Webber songs to prove there are a few showstoppers still being written.