Michael Feinstein at London Palladium

Michael Feinstein with his Big Band and special guest John Barrowman performing songs by Frank Loesser, Jule Styne & Stephen Sondheim, Rube Bloom & Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen & Ira Gershwin, Jimmy Van Heusen & Sammy Cahn, Jimmy McHugh & Dorothy Fields, Einar Swan, Cole Porter, Jerry Herman, Gretchen Cryer & Nancy Ford, Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, Ron Miller & Orlando Murden, and John Kander & Fred Ebb

Michael Feinstein – Singer
John Barrowman – Guest Singer

John Oddo – Musical Director & Piano
Phil Lee – Guitar
Alec Dankworth – Bass
Elliott Henshaw – Drums
Howard McGill & Jamie Talbot – Alto Saxophones & Flutes
Andy Panayi & Paul Jones – Tenor Saxophones, Clarinets & Flutes
Jay Craig – Baritone Saxophone & Bass Clarinet
Simon Gardner, Martin Shaw, Noel Langley & Tony Dixon – Trumpets
Andy Wood, Ashley Horton & Liam Kirkman – Trombones
Pete North – Bass Trombone

Brian Daniels – ProducerAndy Brittain – Production Manager & Sound Engineer

Presented by and in aid of New End Theatre, Hampstead

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 1 November, 2009
Venue: London Palladium

Michael FeinsteinBrian Daniels of the New End Theatre in Hampstead has been trying to put cabaret back on the map. Last year he combined his efforts in conjunction with the American singer-pianist Michael Feinstein by opening a London branch at the Shaw Theatre in Euston Road based on Feinstein’s own nightclub at the Loews Regency Hotel in Manhattan. A lot of good people including the late Eartha Kitt, Dionne Warwick, Chita Rivera, Elaine Stritch, Boy George, Barbara Dickson, Ute Lemper, Barb Jungr, Elkie Brooks and, indeed, Michael Feinstein played seasons – but still London didn’t support cabaret enough to make it commercially viable.

Michael Feinstein returned to London recently to give a concert in aid of Daniels’s New End Theatre, an 84-seater fringe venue on the site of the old mortuary that used to be opposite the former New End Hospital. This year the theatre celebrates its thirty-fifth anniversary, having been a vital part of London’s theatre scene by offering the chance for young playwrights, actors, directors, stage-management and others to develop their careers. The list of luminaries, who have appeared at New End includes Dame Judi Dench, Michael Williams, Dame Eileen Atkins, Stephen Fry, Gloria Grahame, Susannah York, Maureen Lipman, Steven Berkoff, Richard Dreyfuss, Emma Thompson, David Soul, Jerry Hall and, from next month, Lionel Blair. It is one of the friendliest theatres in London but it works with absolutely no public subsidy, so needs to raise £50,000 a year through donations, fundraising events and subscriptions. The proceeds from Michael Feinstein’s concert at the London Palladium will go towards helping the New End to continue its work as a thriving community theatre.

Ever the man on a mission to save the Great American Songbook from extinction, Michael Feinstein has created his own Foundation “to preserve and gain appreciation of the great American music, lyrics, culture, history and artists created during the twentieth century for present and future generations.” It is unlikely that the songs of Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, Rodgers, Hart & Hammerstein and the Gershwins will ever be lost, but, just to make sure, Michael Feinstein carries on playing and singing and spreading the word about these great songwriters.

Last year Feinstein recorded an album of songs associated with Frank Sinatra and at the Palladium concert he sang many of these. He also paid tribute to his old friend and former neighbour, Rosemary Clooney, and indeed he even has Clooney’s musical director, John Oddo, working with him. Oddo is a dab hand at arranging material to suit Feinstein’s particular voice. He often arranges in the style of Nelson Riddle, with whom Sinatra worked extensively.

The evening began with a Sinatra item, ‘Luck be a Lady’ from Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls” (Sinatra did the film), coupled with ‘All I Need Is the Girl’, the Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim number from “Gypsy”. This was a typical over-the-top opener for Feinstein who nowadays tends to sell a song in a big way and in the process perhaps unnecessarily oversells it. His voice comes across better when it is just him at the piano, as it was when he started out as an entertainer. He performed Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s ‘Time After Time’, which Sinatra sang in the film “It Happened in Brooklyn”, accompanying himself on the piano and which worked perfectly as a wistful romantic ballad. Other Sinatra songs that Feinstein included were Cole Porter’s ‘It’s Alright With Me’ (from “Can Can”), Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s ‘All the Way’ (“The Joker Is Wild”), Rodgers & Hart’s ‘The Lady Is a Tramp’ (Sinatra in “Pal Joey”) and finishing with Kander & Ebb’s ‘New York, New York’, which became something of a signature song for Frank, along with ‘My Way’. An odd coupling came with Einar Swan’s ‘When Your Lover Has Gone’ interwoven with a version of ‘The Man That Got Away’ (Harold Arlen & Ira Gershwin) which Sinatra once recorded as ‘The Gal That Got Away’! Here Feinstein sang only a few selected lyrics and avoided any gender references by singing ‘theirs’ instead of ‘his’ or ‘hers’ – which just made it sound odd.

Special guest was John Barrowman who, being a musical theatre star, has the stronger voice. He sang Cole Porter’s ‘Anything Goes’ and Jerry Herman’s ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ (“Mack and Mabel”) and joined Michael for a duet of Cole Porter’s ‘You’re the Top’, complete with big hugs between numbers. Both are quite adept at chatting to the customers and the evening went with an informal swing. The Big Band, all seventeen of them, played brilliantly under Oddo’s direction. Later there was more Cole Porter in ‘At Long Last Love’ and ‘Begin the Beguine’ plus, in tribute to Rosemary Clooney, ‘Just One of Those Things’. Recently Feinstein has been looking back to once-popular songs from the 1960s. Here he did ‘What Kind of Fool Am I?’, the Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse hit from “Stop the World…”, and ‘For Once In My Life’, a kind of torch-song anthem by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden, a hit from 1967: it’s good to hear them again. Michael’s solo in the second half was one of his favourites, and a song popular with many cabaret artists, namely ‘Old Friend’, the poignant Nancy Ford-Gretchen Wyler song from “I’m Getting My Act Together…” about the break-up of a relationship. Sung simply at the piano, the words said it all without band accompaniment, showing that this is really what Michael Feinstein does best.

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