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: Christine Ebersole

People who are only familiar with the fabulous Christine Ebersole from her Tony-winning turn in Grey Gardens may not be aware that she’s also an astonishingly good cabaret performer, who can sing jazz with the same elegant power she brings to musical theater. I’m delighted to report that, in her latest jazzy cabaret act at Cafe Carlyle, featuring a five piece band led by the ever-tasteful John Oddo, Christine is her usual, spectacular self.

Oddo was musical director for the late, great Rosemary Clooney and he worked with jazz legends like Woody Herman, and it shows in the tight, elegant and powerful arrangements and piano playing he brings to the table. Christine refers to the band as “John Oddo’s Society Orchestra” aptly describing this small combo that often sounds like a big band.

This also finds her reuniting with top class cabaret director Scott Wittman, who has his own Tony for co-writing the score of Hairspray, and who has directed several acts for Christine. In a new twist, Christine has conceived and written the show herself, and like everything else she has turned her hand to, she’s done an amazing job, creating patter that is witty and cuttingly satirical. She structures the evening with a loose conceit that she’s performing a “cabaret at the end of the world”, and delivers the whole thing with an utterly natural, sparkling élan.

The big showstopper here is her genuinely breathtaking version of “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” She intensifies all of this Depression-era ballad’s power, evoking whole worlds of drama and dreams deferred, displaying more interpretive power than just about any other singer I can bring to mind. Wow.

For tickets, click here.