Broadway and Vine: the best of two worlds

Sasha Paulsen

Aug 26, 2021

Here's a new address for the valley: Broadway & Vine. I predict it is going to be a popular one in the coming months.

Here's a new address for the valley: Broadway & Vine. I predict it is going to be a popular one in the coming months.

The inspired project of a New Yorker-moved-to-Napa, Jacob Langfelder, made its debut in St. Helena on Monday night. It was the first of a series, in which Langfelder, a Tony Award nominee, aims to combine "the best of Broadway with the best of Napa Valley" Stars performed, well, in the vines, and food and wine abound.

Oh, was it fun. For the first show, he presented Tony Award winner Tony Yazbeck ("He's a modern-day Gene Kelly," Langfelder said) who, with Emmy Award winning composer Lance Horne on the piano, provided a polished, gladsome hour of song and dance. The elation of the audience to be at a live show again was possible only surpassed by the performers. ""My first time performing solo 18 months," Yazbeck exulted. "No Zoom boxes. I'm loving this."

It would have been superb entertainment anywhere but the setting outdid any Broadway stage, at least in this writer's view: Outside, with a backdrop of the Mayacamas Mountains, surrounded on three sides by vines heavy with purple fruit, the setting sun and a blue late summer sky turning to sunset. Well, yes, one helicopter circled overhead once, but no one can quibble with such a lookout for wildfires in August. "Maybe they like us," Yazbeck quipped. Langfelder introduced the show, recounting how he arrived in New York, with his master's degree in theater, set to become a star, and quickly learned about the intersection of arts and hospitality in "my first job in a restaurant." Moving back and forth between shows and serving, underscored for him the symbiotic relationship of food, wine and arts -- and time spent in Napa Valley, hatched his idea to bring Broadway to Napa.

He first announced his plans in February 2020 and "you all know what happened," he told the audience. These many Zoom-filled months later, he is ready to go again.

The plan for the evening began with a wine reception on the grounds of Tre Posti on St. Helena's Main Street with wines from Peju, Far Niente and Trinchero.

It was a lot of locals who filled every available seat when the show began. The charismatic Yazbeck created a prompt rapport with the audience. "I can see you," he explained. "Usually I just have a bright light shining in my eyes." He interwove his songs with stories of his show biz journey, which began when he was 4 ("My first real memory") and watched Fred Astaire in "Shall We Dance." He thought, "I want to do that," and indeed, he could, as he demonstrated with a medley of George Gershwin's music from the show.

Yazbeck got his first Broadway role at 11 in "Gypsy," and went on to perform in shows like "A Chorus Line," "Neverland," and the revival of "On the Town," for which he received the 2015 Tony Award and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations for lead actor in a musical. He stars next in the upcoming Broadway production of "Flying Over Sunset." "So I became a hopeless romantic," he said as he sang and danced spectacular tap routines that, Fred Astaire like (or Gene Kelly) appeared effortless, until he paused to wipe the sweat off his face.

During one of these intervals, while he got his breath back, he turned the spotlight on to magic-fingered Lance Horne, who performed a song from a musical he is writing, "Revelations." A haunting, poetic song, it begins with the speculation, "What if this were my last day on Earth." A thought, no doubt, that has crossed the minds of many during this pandemic. The poignancy of these last months threaded its way through the show in an oddly uplifting way as Yazbeck added in some of his own favorite songs, including "Something's Coming" from "West Side Story" to underscore his conviction that better times lie ahead.

As Yazbeck described going to Times Square after being away for six months and being the only person there, it was a magnetically unifying moment, a realization that whether we were in in New York or Napa, we'd all shared this strange time together.

"I used to go down to my studio and just dance," he said. "It gives me joy. Get a pair of tap shoes and try it."

Or watch him dance. That's pretty joyful too.

When the show finished, the final part of the night was a vintner's dinner, outside, prepared by chef Nash Cognetti's Tre Posti team, and served with wines from Frank Family, Arietta, Peju, and Far Niente.
Langfelder's plan is to present monthly shows while the weather holds, and while the artists are in town, they'll also be providing lessons and master classes for local youth. (And staying at the Carneros Resort," Yazbeck reported. "Wow. What a place. I am going to bring my wife here.")

The next show on Sept. 21, stars Shoshana Bean, who has performed in "Waitress," "Wicked," "Hairspray" and "Beaches." Scheduled for Oct. 18 is Taylor Iman Jones ("Hamilton," "Head Over Heels," "Groundhog Day") who is co-staring of the upcoming Broadway production of "The Devil Wears Prada." Tony Award winner Beth Leavel ("The Prom," "The Drowsy Chaperone"), also co-staring in "The Devil Wears Prada," will perform on Oct. 19.

Find more information and tickets at broadwayandvine.org. And I'll see you at the intersection of Broadway and Vine.