Review: Michael Feinstein & Christine Ebersole

When Michael Feinstein does duet shows with Broadway stars, its a situation where everybody wins, including the audience. Feinstein, the great archivist of “The Great American Songbook,” gets to suggest songs that he’s always wanted to hear these great artists sing. And these artists get to pick Michael’s encyclopedic musical mind, describing an idea of the kind of song they want to sing, to which he responds with an impossibly perfect song.

For the second time, Michael is teaming up with Broadway legend Christine Ebersole, with a travel-themed show called “Two for the Road.” The obscure gem he’s sharing with Christine this time is “Why Don’t We Try Staying Home” a song Cole Porter cut from his 1929 Broadway hit Fifty Million Frenchmen, the intro to which says “We’re always opening plays / or closing cabarets.” That’s literally true for this act – the last performance at the old Feinstein’s at the Regency was them.

For himself Michael dug up a George Gershwin collaboration with lyricists Buddy DeSylva and Irving Caesar “Yankee Doodle Blues.” In keeping with the evening’s theme the song’s patter includes lines like “They say that Europe’s wonderful with all its ancient junk…I had to move from Paris ‘cause I couldn’t eat a frog…I went from there to old Cologne and started on the rounds / But old Cologne don’t smell as sweet and pretty as it sounds…Hey there Miss Liberty I’ll say you’re a bear.” Silly stuff, and Feinstein delivered it with just the right light touch.

One the evening’s most musically stunning moments is a surprising quodlibet of Songbook tunes, in which one of them sings a classic melody, while the other one sings another classic melody in counterpoint. Christine sings Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” while Michael answers with Rodgers & Hart’s “Where or When.” Truly lovely.

There’s room for spontaneity in this show, and one of the warmest moments came when Michael played piano while Christine sang Kern & Hammerstein’s “The Folks Who Live On the Hill.” Totally unplanned, but it’s a song they’ve both sung and even recorded many times before, and this rendition was absolutely magical.

Michael’s own heart-on-sleeve rendition of “Where Am I Going?” from Sweet Charity is definitely a highlight. He’s been truly blossoming as a singer for a long time, going from strength to strength, and this latest topper is easily the most vocally accomplished performance I’ve ever heard him give – with held high notes that would make an opera singer envious. Dazzling, and highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Michael Feinstein

Feinstein Xmas 2014 73-atjmbo

The foremost conservator and champion of the Great American Songbook, Michael Feinstein has made it a tradition to do a musically exciting Christmas show in New York City. For many years that was in the cabaret that bore his name at the Regency hotel. Last year and this year it’s at Birdland – and next year it will be at “Feinstein’s On Broadway” in the same building that houses Birdland.

Each year is somewhat different – this year is a swinging edition with a 17-piece big band, all slow burns and steady builds. One of the first Christmas shows I saw at Feinstein’s was Rosemary Clooney’s, in her later years a close friend to Michael. For this show, Feinstein movingly reprises two Irving Berlin songs from White Christmas, in which Clooney starred.

His reading of the song Clooney shared with Bing Crosby, “Count Your Blessings” is gentle and sweet. The uptempo “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” gets a really expansive big band treatment. For years, Feinstein has also included non-holiday stardards in these seasonal sets, and this act climaxes with a big Sinatra medley, to kick off the celebration of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ centennial.

Where some of Feinstein’s previous Christmas shows had an unstoppable optimism just under the surface, this one has a more rueful undertow. Oh, it’s still a genuinely swinging good time, but any show that includes the melancholy “After the Holidays” is paying attention to the darker side of this time of year. Above all, however, this is simply a really engaging show that adds both heartfelt warmth and swinging fun to the holiday season.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

Review: Michael Feinstein

Michael Feinstein takes up residence in the New York nightclub that bears his name every year in December, to celebrate the holidays, though not necessarily to sing holiday songs. This year’s edition is somewhat bittersweet, since it will be the last at the Regency Hotel, as Michael and company look for a new venue.

Titled “A Gershwin Holiday”, this show features Feinstein singing only songs by George and Ira Gershwin, without any actual holiday songs until the encore (George Gershwin had passed away before Christmas songs came into vogue). Michael draws on his recently released book The Gershwins and Me, which itself draws on his six years (1977-1983) working as an archivist for Ira.

Unusually for cabaret, Feinstein has an opening act, the 16-year-old Nick Ziobro, the winner of the Michael Feinstein Initiative’s 2012 Great American Songbook High School Competition. Ziobro’s an astonishingly assured young singer, with a high tenor reminiscent of Feinstein and Fred Astaire – and even Harry Connick, Jr. when he really gets going.

Michael’s show is both shorter (to make room for Ziobro, of course) and more understated than past holiday offerings. That’s not to say that it doesn’t swing: Musical Director Alan Broadbent leads a 5-piece ensemble of tasteful jazz players who play elegantly but never for a moment lose sight of the rhythmic vitality and invention that was one of Gershwin’s hallmarks.

The only song in the show that doesn’t have music by George Gershwin is one that Ira co-wrote with Kurt Weill, “Tchaikovsky”, which Michael includes as a salute to Danny Kaye, who celebrates his centenary this year. Feinstein executes that song’s brutally difficult lyrics quite well, but the evening’s most musically stunning moment is a sort of “Gershwin fugue” built around “Embraceable You,” which features Michael singing that song, while he and the band play tidbits of not one but 15 other Gershwin songs. Dazzling.

For tickets, click here.