Julian Fleisher & Tedd Firth—”Six of One, Half a Dozen of Another”

July 23, 2023

About seven years ago, in my review of Julian Fleisher and Tedd Firth, I described them as “…a partnership for the ages.”  This month they returned to Joe’s Pub to prove the validity of that observation with Six of One; Half a Dozen of Another. They were aided and abetted in the endeavor by a stellar line-up of musicians including Sean Murphy on bass, Dave Berger on drums, and Pete Smith on guitar, with Firth dazzling as always on the piano (but to these ears, his brilliant playing rises to another lofty plain when he is paired with Fleisher).  They have “conversations” that enlighten and reinvent existing songs and bring the singer’s originals up to the same level. 

Firth is one of the most in-demand arrangers and accompanists around, which explains the rarity of the event at hand and made it all the more special.  Fleisher is one of the treasures of the New York music scene, whether appearing with “His Rather Big Band,” creating the delightful and much-missed podcast The Naked American Songbook, or playing host to an excited and varied group of performers in various revues and variety shows. He is a witty, savvy, charming vocalist who manages a unique blend of haughtiness and humility, style and substance, classic and cutting edge. He is also a self-confessed Broadway baby—totally in the thrall of the original cast albums of his youth and the product of a lifetime of show-going.  

Julian Fleisher (Photo: J.D. Urban)

The show was cannily constructed from the first moments as the drummer entered alone and began to play as he was joined in succession by the bass, and then the guitar, followed by Firth, and lastly Fleisher who immediately grabbed the crowd with “Simple Joys” (Stephen Schwartz, from Pippin); it was an irresistible celebration not only of the joys enumerated in the lyrics, but also of the more complex musical joys that the stars and their cohorts had to offer. “N.Y.C.” (Charles Strouse, Martin Charnin, from Annie) might seem an unusual choice to represent the Broadway hit but it immediately transformed into a perfect choice when sung to the chords of “Ease on Down the Road” (Charlie Smalls, from The Wiz) until the latter song exploded out of the former with a volcanic display of scat singing interspersed with blasts of falsetto.  It was a legitimate showstopper right at the top of the show.

Fleisher took advantage of his encyclopedic knowledge of the American popular song throughout the evening, especially in his choice of “You’ve Got the Right Key, but the Wrong Keyhole” (Eddie Green, Clarence Williams) introduced in 1924 by Virginia Liston. The bluesy, dirty-minded glee of the performance made it seem like a lost musical number from Reefer Madness.  It also pointed out the liberating freedom with which he presents himself proudly as a gay man on stage.  Beginning with the terrific “When the End Begins,” he humorously and with more than a touch of wishful thinking, introduced each of his self-penned numbers by calling them “global hits,” and while it got funnier with each successive mention, the quality of each of the songs made it seem all the more possible as well.  By the third or fourth time the audience was saying it right along with him.  

Tedd Firth (Photo: Kevin Alvey)

Acknowledging the passing of Burt Bacharach, he included “Arthur’s Theme” (Bacharach, Christopher Cross, Peter Allen, Carole Bayer Sager) sung so openly and warmly that it led into the first of what turned out to be the most palatable sing-alongs I have experienced in cabaret. The singer and musicians (and the audience) gloried in it being “cheesy as f**k.”  It was a special treat throughout the show when his innocent, glowing love of music peeked out from beneath the knowing, acerbic, sharp-tongued, self-deprecating exterior. Extending the eulogy, Tina Turner’s “The Best” (Mike Chapman, Holly Knight) came next in a very Elvis-influenced, very exciting reinvention. Introduced as a world premiere of a global hit, “River Bends” (Fleisher) combined brilliant rock/blues power with the sensibilities of a classic cabaret thanks to a haunting orchestration and gorgeous vocals.  

A rapid-fire “Thou Swell” (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart), was added on the spot to the set; the interplay was thrilling as the singer held his own impressively against Firth’s brilliant improvisation on the keys.  As he did in a few other places, Fleisher added his own guitar to the mix on his next would-be hit (global, of course), “You Broke It Now You Bought It” that, with any justice, should be showing up in cabarets and piano bars around the city.  It made me more eager than ever for a new Julian Fleisher recording. Naughtily describing his time in upstate New York during COVID—where he offered assistance and seductive alternatives to individuals suffering from the stress of enforced “coupledom” due to lockdowns and quarantines and pandemics,—he did his own hot and hilarious “Sidepiece” complete with pre-recorded track, and filled with irresistible hooks and ear worms and even a bit of choreography. 

For a welcome bit of whiplash, he then embraced Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” (Peter Rafelson, Gardner Cole) which was a joyous close to the show. As an encore, the singer recalled the show I had previously reviewed in which his father, who was an acclaimed classical pianist, guest starred. Performing an arrangement that had been written for the elder Fleisher but sadly never done, Fleisher and Firth did a stunning “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) which, to these seasoned ears, set the gold standard for this oft-sung, oft-recorded classic. The beauty of the moment and of the connection between the two artists will stay with me a long time.  

The heartwarming ending to the night, another sing-along, was Joni Mitchell’s exquisite “The Circle Game” which cemented the appreciation the audience felt for the talent, the taste, and the heart that were so evident and so magnanimous and welcoming throughout Six of One; Half a Dozen of the Other.  I hope that I don’t have to wait another seven years to revisit the inspired partnership of Julian Fleisher and Tedd Firth. 


Presented at Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette St., NYC, on July 12.


About the Author

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”