After a reasonably expert first act, Harry Connick Jr. opens the second by trading in his Steinway for a battered honky-tonk piano and giving us a New Orleans-style “Sweet Georgia Brown” that is the most remarkable demonstration of musicality now on Broadway. Assaulting the keys, beating percussively on the pedals, smacking the sideboard and crooning away, he also provides a dazzling drum break without a drum. He and his band then top this with not one but a handful of cyclonic numbers. Connick in concert packs such dynamite that many other Broadway shows seem sedate.
The show runs for 13 perfs over two weeks at the Simon, which still seems to be in booking limbo while awaiting the promised-but-delayed arrival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies.” If business is brisk, Connick and his musicians might easily slip back into town for a holiday week or two. A show this good can certainly count on a large chunk of repeat biz at premium prices.
This is Connick’s third Main Stem appearance. He demonstrated a crowdpleasing presence in 1990 as a fresh-faced 23-year-old in “An Evening With Harry Connick Jr.” at the Lunt, and demonstrated full musical comedy talent when he buoyed the 2006 revival of “The Pajama Game.”
“Harry Connick Jr. in Concert on Broadway” starts out seeming like a standard touring gig, but Broadway is very much on the star’s mind. Connick’s self-effacing patter, breezily charming at first, turns personal; he discusses his lost Tony Award to the guy from that show across the street, “Jersey Boys” (“Apparently, he was a lot better than I was”) and inserts several rueful mentions of “Thou Shalt Not,” the ill-fated Susan Stroman-helmed Broadway musical for which he provided the score in 2001. That said, he sees fit to raise the roof with one of that show’s tunes, “Take Her to the Mardi Gras.”
Contributing to the magic of the second act is Lucien Barbarin, who quickly shows why Connick introduces him as one of the great New Orleans trombonists. The pair’s take on “St. James Infirmary Blues” is astounding, with Connick pounding away and Barbarin sounding like a husky, mewling kitten that’s swallowed a kazoo.
The two continue with four successive numbers, with Connick’s main musicians — Jerry Weldon on sax, Neal Caine on bass, Arthur Latin on drums — pulled from the 20-piece band for solo after exceptional solo. Trumpeter Mark Braud comes down from the bandstand for the finale, and blows off what is left of the roof.
Connick himself has provided the swinging orchestrations, and he salutes his soloists by name. The 10 strings are industriously employed in the first act, but by the end of the second sit jealously watching as the soloists and the rest of the brass section get to have all the fun.