Performing Arts

Review: Jason Alexander with Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra

Jason Alexander, shown presenting at the 69th Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York on June 7, performed Saturday night in Fort Worth.
Jason Alexander, shown presenting at the 69th Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York on June 7, performed Saturday night in Fort Worth. The New York Times archives

This show was about the other Jason Alexander.

Although just about everyone who has ever owned a television knows the character of George Costanza from Seinfeld, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of “An Evening with Jason Alexander” at Bass Hall on Saturday was all about that actor’s much less well-known talents as a musical theater performer. Because even people who can (and certainly will) quote all the catchphrases from the famous sitcom about nothing, may not know that his many substantial stage achievements include a Tony Award for best actor in a musical (Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in 1989).

Anyone who bought a ticket Saturday now knows that Alexander not only has an exceptional voice and a thoroughly honed gift for selling a song, but he can also be surprisingly light on his feet and work a room with an ease that any standup comedian would envy.

Looking not a day older or a pound heavier than the last time we saw him on the small screen, Alexander sang, danced, joked, reminisced and did some audience participation shtick in a breathless, 80-minute set supported by the orchestra that touched on many of the high points of his impressively varied show business career. About the only thing he did not discuss was Seinfeld, which received only one brief, unelaborated mention late in the show.

The 56-year-old entertainer offered tunes from a wide range of Broadway shows that provided early influences, such as The Music Man (which he remembered seeing as a 5-year-old growing up in New Jersey), Pippin and the Billy Joel jukebox musical, Movin’ Out.

But he made the greatest impression with selections from his first Broadway show, Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along. Alexander did not take the easy way out in any of the numbers he performed, leaning toward trickier, more interesting show tunes, instead of just easy targets. But the Sondheim material was absolutely the best showcase for his considerable skills.

His between-tunes patter was as funny as was expected, but he also managed at least one moment of poignancy when he discussed the passing of his father and performed a song in his honor. But, rather than milk that mood, he immediately followed with his silliest bit of the night — a prop-heavy medley of songs from musicals that he felt he was unjustly denied. They included Show Boat, Evita, Oklahoma! and Jesus Christ Superstar. How could those myopic Broadway producers fail to cast him in lead roles for those shows that obviously needed his help?

While billed as an evening with the star, it was, more exactly, most of an evening with Jason Alexander. The concert opened with a half-hour set of television-related tunes by the orchestra under the baton of former symphony associate conductor Ron Spigelman, who is always a welcome sight on the Bass Hall podium. The selections offered, which included the theme music from series such as Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, were nicely rendered with an appropriate sense of fun. But, ultimately, it was a shame to take a minute away from the headliner, even for a good cause. And the choice of material turned out to be highly ironic because Alexander so steadfastly avoided the subject of his televised past. To a fault, in fact. Seinfeld was too big a deal to be as ignored as it was in this highly biographical show.

Also, while Alexander’s exceptionally well-structured show, supported by the husband-and-wife team of pianist Keith Harrison and singer Laura Harrison, revealed a great deal about the actor that most people do not know, it was only the tip of the iceberg. In addition to what was seen on stage, Alexander is also a crafty poker player, an award-winning music video director and a tireless humanitarian. If he were born in another time, we would probably refer to him as “a man of parts.”

George Costanza, he is not.

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