Cincinnati Landmark Productions’ I Left My Heart, A Salute to the Music of Tony Bennett at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts presents a musical tribute to Bennett, with more than 30 songs made famous by or famously sung by the legendary crooner. Bennett has won 16 Grammy awards and, at 87, shows no sign of stopping an extraordinary career that that started in 1951 with his first hit, “Because of You.”
The set-up at the Covedale is simple. There are a few sparkly drapes on café tables stage right and left, two sad chandeliers, top hats upstage and a starry backdrop for singers Tom Highley, Deondra Kamau Means and Brian Wylie, plus a center stage band featuring Mark Magistrelli on piano, Matt Frazier on percussion, the stellar Erin Fitzpatric on trumpet and Matt McCoy on bass. (The program says Eric Lechliter occasionally subs for Fitzpatric.)
Within minutes you understand that there is no plot, so the success of the show rests entirely on the vocal prowess of the singers.
Unfortunately, you also understand within those same few minutes that you are in for a very long evening of underwhelming, sometimes painful renditions of some of the most terrific songs from the Great American Songbook.
The choreography is also ineffective, mainly because you are just so worried it might further mess up the singing — and boy did it. Kamau Means has the most depth to his voice, Highley the most easeful phrasing and Wylie moves well. Aside from that, there is little to praise. The harmonies simply don’t happen, especially when the three singers are placed outside of each other’s sight lines onstage.
Under Magistrelli’s musical direction, the band is the highlight of the night. During the few lucky moments when Fitzpatric is featured on trumpet, it’s easy to be transported to the place you ought to land at a Tony Bennett tribute. A program note says that vocal coach Mimi Spear advised Bennett not to imitate other singers and to emulate musical instruments instead. In Covedale’s I Left My Heart, the trumpet alone stands in for Bennett.
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