NEW YORK — A dapper man, an elegantly elongated Steinway piano, lovely music and songs – and then, a Jimmy Durante impression. Such is the eclectic mix presented by Irish musician Phil Coulter, in his warm-hearted holiday show "The Songs I Love So Well," part of the 25th-year celebration of the Irish Repertory Theatre.
For Coulter fans, the intimate, genially nostalgic production is a rare chance to see him up close in an intimate setting. Long known as an internationally successful songwriter, pianist, and music producer, here he alternates his own work with classic Irish folk music, interspersed with polished anecdotes and sly references to how many records he's sold over the years ("gazillions," in case you weren't aware.)
A practiced showman, Coulter is completely at ease on the small stage. In addition to celebrating his career, (the show opens with filmed tributes from celebrity friends), he pays homage to the resilient spirit of people in Northern Ireland, primarily Derry, where he's from.
Accompanying himself under his own musical direction, Coulter performs personal favorites, including "Coultergeist" and the moving, "Scorn Not His Simplicity," written about his son with Down syndrome. Classic Irish folk numbers include "Gold and Silver Days," "Spinning Wheel," and the rousing anthem, "Ireland's Call."
Taking aim at the easy-listening/Muzak criticism that's been aimed at his work, he jokes that his "Tranquility" series of recordings made its way "to elevators around the world." His projections include Irish landscapes or aerial shots of his own hands playing the piano.
Late in the second act he brings on his wife, Geraldine Branagan. An accomplished singer, she beautifully performs a couple of songs, including `Silent Night' in both English and Irish Gaelic ("Oiche Chiuin.")
The elegant set beneath a resplendent stained glass window, all designed by Charlie Corcoran, is actually in place for the return in January of Brian Friel's "The Freedom Of The City," which, most fittingly for Coulter's roots, is set in an ornate guild hall in Derry.