Jesse Luttrell

February 2, 2017 | By | 7 Comments

Before I go into the show that Jesse Luttrell performed at Feinstein’s/54 Below with the Fred Barton Broadway Band, let me digress into a bit of metaphorical art criticism. Imagine, if you will, that you have been invited to view the work of an exciting new painter at a gallery show of fourteen of his latest creations. You walk in and see that the first painting is done entirely in red paint. It is a sparkling, electrifying, eye-popping hue—as fine a red as any you have seen in other galleries. You move on to the second picture and discover that although it has a different frame, the piece is once again entirely in that shade of red. You continue on to the third, the fourth, and all of the other paintings—all red. By the time you get to the fourteenth offering you are ready to get out of that gallery. On your way out, you look once again at the first painting and realize that even that first intriguing work has lost what interest it had on first viewing.

As Fred Barton conducted his band from his seat at the piano, leading them in the intro of “Hey There, Good Times” (Cy Coleman, Michael Stewart), video screens on both sides of the stage lit up with childhood photos of Luttrell in cute outfits, presumably giving us a glimpse of the origins of a born entertainer. Luttrell then entered through the house singing, guns blazing, thrilling the crowd with the undeniable force and presence of his performance, and gave us what might be the best version of this quasi-hit from I Love My Wife I have ever heard. The song built to a huge finish, with the singer holding the last note for what seemed like a minute as the band swelled around him and he punctuated the ending with a physical punch or fist-pump into the air, head thrown back. “Make Someone Happy” (Jule Styne, Comden & Green) followed, with the same dynamic, the same held note and punch in the air at the end. As he began his third number, “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” (Al Hoffman, Walter Kent, Mann Curtis), I realized that I didn’t have to hear him sing it—I knew already what it would be, down to that same ending. He did not disappoint, or, rather, he did. Each and every song not only displayed that same energy, but also that same ending. Was there no one around to call attention to that fact?

When he began “When October Goes” (Barry Manilow, Johnny Mercer), a haunting ballad that could have allowed him to show another side of his talent and personality, I had hopes that I might be in store for at least one surprise, one variation. It started, if not softly, at least at a lower wattage than the previous songs, but soon blew up into empty bombast to match the rest of the show. Three songs by Peter Allen made me think that perhaps the show was an elaborate try-out for a tour of The Boy from Oz; everything had that audition level intensity. His physicality here, and elsewhere, was oddly self-conscious and a far cry from Allen’s joyous freedom on stage. His closing number, “What Kind of Fool Am I?”(Anthony Newley, Leslie Bricusse), offered one last opportunity to allow some real feeling and emotion to reveal itself, but instead it gave us just more of the same.

Barton’s work, especially in the horn arrangements, was exemplary throughout and would easily have supported a more varied attack on some of the songs had the singer decided to go there. One, or two, or three of these big numbers might have been standouts in a show that offered more variety. Jesse Luttrell is a very talented performer with a much larger palette at his disposal; that he chose to present this show in such a monotone is quite disappointing.

Feinstein’s/54 Below – January 27

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has directed many cabaret artists, among them Darius de Haas, Andre de Shields, and Helen Baldassare. He's created several musical revues, including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George," and he has produced two Bistro Award-winning CDs. His most recent theatre credit is directing "Hamlet" at the ArcLight Theatre with Australian actor/writer Matthew Newton. He's taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London's Goldsmith College, and conducted private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he covered New York's theatre and cabaret scene for thirty years for various local publications, and for nearly ten years, he co-wrote a national entertainment column. His lyrics have been sung by several cabaret artists, and he's currently at work on a memoir of his life in the city.

Comments (7)

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  1. Mark Frechette says:

    I’m fully aware that criticism is a subjective art. However, after reading a review such as this, I’m always compelled to ask the critic: ” did we see the same show?” Mr. Luttrell’s show was electrifying. Not one mention was made by the critic of the incredible and effusive audience reaction. I’m always taken aback when any responsible critic doesn’t make mention of the fact that, ” well, I might not have enjoyed it, but the audience reaction was thunderous.” No, not every show is composed of ,or should be comprised of ,a catalogue of self indulgent, lugubrious , introspective wrist -slitting ballads and torch songs, sung by a weepy, self indulgent waif. If that’s the only sort ofshow New York Cabaret embraces, then I’ll happily follow performers like Mr. Luttrell around wherever they perform.
    Mr. Luttrell’s show was 60 minutes of barn- burning, old- fashioned showstpping entertainment. Now, I’m aware that sort of showmanship is frowned upon these days, but now and then, when you get a powerhouse voice, a charming personality and the ability to shake the rafters, I’ll forego a little of the subtlety you say you missed .

  2. Disapointed Patron says:

    I saw the show and agree with the review. It’s the same tired Judy/Liza wanna-be stuff he’s been doing around town for years. Mr. Luttrell has talent, but need to begin working with a director and artistic team that will challenge him, rather than just feed his ego; which was clearly the case…Nice talent, too bad.

    • jesse luttrell says:

      Thank you for paying 54 Below’s prices to come see me do more of my “tired Judy/Liza wannabe” stuff. Glad I didn’t disappoint.

      • Disapointed Patron says:

        Clearly, I was correct about the ego. The above comment is written proof.

        • Mark Frechette says:

          I don’t believe Me. Lutrell”s comment was egotistical in the slightest. It was an appropriate retort to a snarky individual who decided to malign what they felt Mr. Lutrell has “been doing for years”. That was a tasteless comment by someone with a personal agenda… perhaps a critic who wasn’t pleased being contradicted by others who saw domething to praise in the performance? For those of us who have not seen what you claim he has been doing for years, perhaps we found it to be thrilling and enjoyable. It stands to reason that Mr. Lutrell is a “you see what you get” artist,so his question to you was fair: Why DID you pay 54 Below prices to see someone whose performance style you obviously do not enjoy? Considering your swipe back at him,the person with the wounded ego would be you.

  3. Danielle Roberts says:

    This performer is spectacular. This “Bistro” should stick to food.

  4. Josie Mann says:

    I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school…
    I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat it and be happy!

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