From Steven Lutvak at the Duplex, True Stories in Witty Songs
By Stephen Holden, The New York Times
Published: April 5, 2006

An upper-middlebrow Billy Joel crossed with a lower-highbrow Tom Lehrer with a pinch of Debussy: that's how you might place the music of the singer, songwriter, pianist and raconteur Steven Lutvak in the artistic hierarchy of contemporary songwriters.

With one eyebrow cocked, a sly grin flickering over his cherubic face, Mr. Lutvak expertly wove his songs into an entertaining semiautobiographical narrative on Friday evening at the Duplex, where he performed his pointedly witty, occasionally misty-eyed reminiscences and told some of the true stories behind them.

With his bright, clear voice and a piano style that flows seamlessly from the pumping edge of rock into a semiclassical lyricism, Mr. Lutvak has a musical command comparable to that of fellow underappreciated masters of the serious popular song like Jason Robert Brown, John Bucchino and Craig Carnelia. Mr. Lutvak composed the title song for the documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom," and he has multiple musicals floating around in various stages of development. But he is still awaiting his well-deserved big moment.

In "The Dinner Party," an uproarious comic number that suggests Mr. Lehrer by way of Mel Brooks, he remembers embarrassing a roomful of snobs trumpeting their aristocratic bloodlines by blurting out his ancestors' occupation as bagel makers to generations of Russian monarchs. Before the song culminates with a hilarious rhyme of finales and bialys, Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great and Anastasia have put in appearances.

On a more introspective side, the ballad "Museums" recalls his enchanted boyhood visits to art museums with a father who taught him how to look at paintings but was otherwise remote. "Beware the Anger of Soft-Spoken Men" declares that under their niceness and agreeability, nice guys (like himself?) often harbor an explosive rage. "We will surprise you again and again," he warns. "There's Genghis Khan under all that Zen." In other words, boys will be boys. Not to address their needs is to risk a volcanic eruption.

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