Charles Aznavour has returned to the stage for a four-night stand with his catalog of French chanson.

The master of romanticism and rugged grandeur, Charles Aznavour has returned to the Gotham stage for an all-too-brief four-night stand with his unique catalog of French chanson. At the ripe age of 85, the singer-songwriter has lost none of his quicksilver energy, impish humor or trademark sense of musical storytelling. In a nearly two-hour show, he turned the pages of a familiar songbook that brought frequent cheers from a capacity audience clearly packed with adoring fans.

With the added glitter of a sparkling ballroom orb, Aznavour sang “The Old Fashioned Way (Les Plaisirs Demodes)” and danced across the stage with an imaginary woman in his arms. But perhaps the most tender memory was the plaintive scrapbook, “Yesterday When I Was Young.”

Aznavour is a master of gesture, nuance and timing. He accents his songs with a subtle reflection of young love and heartbreak. “La Boheme” is a bittersweet reflection of the passing of spring and lost life, while “It Will Be My Day” is a rhythmic celebration of showbiz savvy, youth and expectation. His performance of “Ave Maria” remains an intensely vivid hymn. “She,” the only song performed in English, is his biggest Stateside hit, featured here as an encore that allowed the singer to toast all women.

For the poignant duet “Je Voyage,” Aznavour was joined by his daughter, Katia; the narrative follows a young girl journeying into her future as her older companion travels through memories.

His daughter is one of two backup singers accompanying Aznavour, along with a nine-piece band with four violins and an accordion that projects a much bigger sound than one would expect. A smartly structured lighting design frames the crooner distinctively.

The New York leg is billed as an extension of Aznavour’s North American farewell tour that began in 2006. The performer is undoubtedly one of the last of a breed of living legends, a cunning crooner who has lost none of his seductive charm.

Charles Aznavour

New York City Center; 2,754 seats; $190 top

Production

A Levon Sayan Olivier and Dierckx Prods. presentation. Opened, reviewed April 29, 2009. Runs through May 3.

Cast

Conductor, Eric Wilms; backing vocals, Claude Lombard, Katia Aznavour.
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