His two sons, Elliot on the piano and Ian on the xylophone, opened the program with a sassy, rousing overture, joined by Jay Berliner on guitar, Ed Sterbin on bass and Martin Fisher on drums. “Mambo Jambo” (Perez Prado), a humorous take on that dance, featured Ian’s virtuoso xylophone, throwing in a few measures of classical musical themes for fun. Elliot was featured on a moving “I’ll Be Seeing You” (Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal), somehow mining this old chestnut for all its deeper meanings.
The highlight of the “boys’” half of the show was a long Gershwin medley featuring not only songs by George and Ira, but recognizable bits of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Each musician had a chance to show off. There was a jaunty “Lady Be Good,” a dreamy “Summertime,” a rousing “I Got Rhythm,” as well as bits of “Strike Up the Band” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” It was a bravura performance.
Finkel needed only minimal help to get up on the stage after recovering from a short illness. He began with patter about how Jews don’t usually drink because it interferes with their suffering. He also quoted humorist Sam Levenson’s retort to an anti-Semite. Levenson suggested that this person refuse to take advantage of all the cures and tests for illnesses discovered by men such as Sabin and Salk and their Jewish medical colleagues.
He tossed off “S’Wonderful” (Gershwins) and a hearty “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore” (Lerner & Loewe).
Of course, he had to include songs from Fiddler on the Roof (Bock & Harnick), a show that has occupied a great deal of his professional career, starting with the original 1964 production on through several national tours in the title role.
At his age, “If I Were a Rich Man” is more a rumination than an excited utterance, but his zesty “L’Chaim,” which ended the show, had a deep resonance.
As he left the stage, he invited the audience to join him at his 98th birthday celebration!
Fyvush Finkel (March 7 & 8, 2016)
Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-206-0440 or visit http://www.metropolitanroom.com
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission