More Than a Little Night Music

Barricades do come down for Aaron Lazar, star of the 2006 revival of "Les Misérables" and the most happy fella — well, he hasn't done that show yet — to come out of Cherry Hill, N.J., chomping at taking the reigns of Broadway.

Of course, there was the reign of terror that he was involved in two years ago, but that had all to do with his starring role in the guillotine glitz that was "A Tale of Two Cities," and nothing to do with his personal charm.

And charm he's got plenty of, as the barricades keep falling, this time on Broadway in his starring role that counts for much in "A Little Night Music."

And more than a little night music is what he intends to showcase on Monday night, July 19, when Lazar premieres at Feinstein's at Loews Regency in New York, with his rendition of the Great American Songbook.

Songs in his heart, hard to ignore: The former track star at Duke University is on the star track right now, since his breakthrough as a shining light in "The Light in the Piazza" (2005).

And if he gets the crowds for Monday-night's musical that he received for his debut in "Phantom of the Opera" some years back — when as understudy, he underwent a transformation taking over the star's role — they'll have to break down the walls, if not barricades, and extend seating to the hotel's lobby.

Of course, for his debut as "Phantom," there's no other-worldly explanation for the size of his audience that night than this: They emptied the shuls of Cherry Hill and even his alma mater Cherry Hill West — and maybe those from his Bar Mitzvah at the Horticultural Center in Fairmount Park, where 300 attended this morning glory of a music man, were there too — to attend his debut.

The music of that night was no little echo; it was a barnstorming applause sign that the Jewish Jersey boy who once studied medicine and music at Duke had put up his dukes for a challenge: I'm here, bring it on.

"Bring it Home" they have; from there to "Les Miz" to "Night Music." Now bring it on at Feinstein's, the premiere showcase for singers to face a comfy-cozy crowd of supper-club enthusiasts, reaching the crème brûlée of songbook fans.

So, Aaron, how was your weekend in the country this past week? He laughs before replying: "Just great — and I'm having another one this weekend."

Indeed, his schedule may be filled with months of sundaes — just desserts for the co-star of a musical based on Ingmar Bergman's classic film "Smiles of a Summer Night," with "Weekend in the Country" one of the more notable tunes.

But Monday's city stop after the weekend is a smile of a summer night all its own: "I've been trying to put together a solo concert for a couple of years."

What Lazar has found at Feinstein's "is the perfect venue" for his solo show, and with the aid of musical director Jeff Klitz, Lazar beams about the choices that he's paged for the performance: Sinatra, Bennett … "My challenge is how to make it mine without throwing away the Broadway music." No trash talkin' here; Broadway's his bread and butter.

Not that there isn't the occasional wry toast tossed his away; those accolades have come from his performances with some of the country's best symphonies.

Suite is his feeling, too, for Jewish roots: Give his regards to bimah. "How amazing was Cantor [Jeffrey] Shapiro," he says of the late chazzan of Congregation Beth El, in Cherry Hill, now in Voorhees. "His was one of the greatest voices I ever heard; I was in awe of him."

Days of awe await: Lazar is trying to light more than the piazza — he's hoping to light up all of the Avenue of the Arts.

The natural follow-up for Feinstein's at the Regency?

What would be better, he claims, than "bringing this act to Peter Nero's Philly Pops."


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