Debonair stage and screen hoofer Fred Astaire has been gone 17 years, but his legacy lives on. Gotham is currently host to no less than three tributes. Andrea Marcovicci is toasting the dancer in the Oak Room through New Year’s Eve, and “Timeless Divas” at the Triad uptown is giving a buoyant nod to Fred and Ginger. The latest salute, “Singing Astaire,” is a breezy and swiftly paced hour performed at Gotham jazz Mecca Birdland, where it continues through the holidays.
The intimate revue, co-created and directed by WBGO jazz jock Michael Bourne, reunites Eric Comstock, Hilary Kole and Christopher Gines, the creative team who devised and starred in long-running Off Broadway celebration “Our Sinatra.”
Astaire introduced more classic standards on film than any other entertainer, including Bing Crosby and Ol’ Blue Eyes. Among his hits were songs by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer and the Gershwins. More than two dozen are included in this tribute, assembled in a timeless performance concept that finds the troubadours perched on stools, leaning on the piano or strolling on the small stage with the kind of easygoing air that was an Astaire trademark.
Treasured Manhattan cabaret staple Comstock is the trio’s accompanying pianist and a smooth vocalist, who takes “Something’s Gotta Give” at an uncommon, loping pace and invests Mercer’s lyric with a fresh and perceptive “irresistible force.” He also reveals a dark, reflective poignancy in “Never Gonna Dance.”
Kole is quite the prettiest young thrush on the club circuit, and her jazz-tinged phrasing gives each song a smart new frame. Her take on “Night and Day” is sensual and serene, and “Isn’t This a Lovely Day (To Be Caught in the Rain)?” makes the turn in the weather most welcome. Her jaunty scat embellishes a bright and refreshing swing turn on “Pick Yourself Up.”
Baritone Gines reveals the “calm, happy and bright” truth within “My Shining Hour” and joins Comstock in a jaunty duet for “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan,” which seems to cry out for a little soft-shoe. One must settle for the memory of Astaire and his film partner, Jack Buchanan.
A linking narrative doesn’t reveal anything most buffs don’t already know. Bourne’s staging has focused on a clean and casual thrust. The gents even forego the trademark Astaire tuxedo for sporty threads, which supports the great dancer’s confessional, “I do not like wearing tails! And the collar melts!”