Michael Feinstein at Leicester Square Theatre – The Great American Songbook

An evening of songs by André & Dory Previn, Burton Lane, Arthur Freed, Alan & Marilyn Bergman, Cole Porter, Matty Melneck, Johnny Mercer, Gus Arnheim, Abe Lyman, Ted Snyder, Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse, Alan Jay Lerner & Frederick Loewe, Ron Miller & Orlando Murden, Vincent Youmans, Billy Rose, Edward Eliscu, Harry Warren, Mack Gordon, Stephen Sondheim, Charles Strouse & Lee Adams, George & Ira Gershwin, and Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens

Michael Feinstein (singer & piano)

The Band: Toby Cruse (musical director & piano), Mitch Dalton (guitar), Dave Olney (bass), Kevin Campbell (drums), Mark Armstrong (trumpet) & Bob Sydor (reeds)

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 5 April, 2011
Venue: Leicester Square Theatre, London

Michael FeinsteinFrom The White House to Buckingham Palace, from Hollywood Bowl to Carnegie Hall, from Royal Albert Hall to the London Coliseum, Michael Feinstein has played them all, big houses, small houses, and now he is at Leicester Square Theatre, a medium-sized venue that is just the right size for his intimate style of cabaret, a home-from-home from his own Feinstein’s at the Regency, the Manhattan hotel night-club where he entertains artists from across the popular-music field, but in particular the stars from the heyday of the Great American Songbook. His commitment to this classic material has been his career’s work, from his early days when he became the amanuensis and archivist to Ira Gershwin (George’s brother and lyricist). Feinstein has been a major part of keeping the interest going in the Great American Songbook material, joining others such as Bobby Short and Steve Ross who in their time have done the same for America’s popular songsmiths. When it comes to choosing his material Feinstein’s taste is impeccable.

Feinstein opens with an unusual and rare choice, ‘You’re gonna hear from me’, with music by André Previn and lyrics by his ex-wife Dory, a song that featured in the film “Inside Daisy Clover”, with Natalie Wood. Things then become more familiar with ‘How about you?’ and some interesting chat about Cole Porter, the only major songwriter from the 1920s to 1940s era who was not Jewish. Having no success early on with his songwriting career, Porter was advised to make his songs sound more Jewish and once he had done that he never looked back. To demonstrate the point, Michael then sings ‘So in love’ from “Kiss me, Kate”, not that it sounds too Jewish.

Feinstein’s great friend Rosemary Clooney (he calls her his second mother) gave him a Christmas present of a “revenge” medley with ‘Goody goody’, I Cried for you’ and ‘Who’s sorry now?’, three classics that fit together perfectly. The Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse number ‘What kind of fool am I?’ gets the full treatment that is more over the top than even Newley himself. This seems to be characteristic of Feinstein’s performances now, in that he seems determined to sell a song by giving it his all. At times I wish he would quieten down and just sing without too many fancy arrangements Liberace-style. Sometimes he eschews the band (good as it is) to accompany himself on the piano, and it works very well indeed, as it always did.

‘I’ve grown accustomed to her face’, ‘It was just one of those things’ and an encore of ‘My favourite year’ are outstanding in this set while good-old songs such as Harry Warren’s ‘The more I see you’ and Vincent Youmans’s ‘Without a song’ provide cheerful interludes. Sondheim’s ‘Losing my mind’, which is not usually sung by a man, has a warmth and emotional resonance hitherto not encountered elsewhere. With Lerner & Lane’s ‘What did I have that I don’t have?’ and a fitting selection of Gershwin numbers, chosen by the audience, Feinstein well and truly demonstrates the power of his art, accompanied in no small measure by a band of six musicians who produce a terrific sound.

Musically it is an evening to cherish and Feinstein is an instructive and authoritative musicologist as well as being a first-rate entertainer.

  • Performances until Sunday 10 April 2011 nightly at 7.30 p.m.
  • Tickets 08448 733433
  • Part of Art of Song Festival, which also includes Cleo Laine (16 April), Norma Winstone, Tina May, Lee Gibson & Kenny Wheeler with the songs of Duncan Lamont (15 April), Stacey Kent (18 April), Fran Landesman with Ian Shaw & Gwyneth Herbert (19 April), plus late shows of the songs of John Barry (16 April), Earl Okin & Georgia Mancio in jazz and Brazilian song (15 April), Estelle Kokot & Kate Shortt (9 April) and a new writers’ night (8 April)

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