Brian Jacobson

Michael Feinstein’s Sinatra Project, at the Riverside

By - Mar 4th, 2012 04:14 am
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Michael Feinstein can hold a note once he gets there.  His devilish good looks go into a kind of wild contortion to get there, but once he hits it he can stay there until the number wraps up and the applause begins.  This was key to the evening, as the audience was treated to 18 songs that ran the gamut of his larger Great American Songbook series on PBS—which was recording at the Riverside Theater on Saturday night for its third season.

Feinstein came out in a velvet dinner jacket and tore into “Luck be a Lady.”  The artist as soloist has the uncanny ability to go spot on into these covers, although they always reach this fine level of satin and Broadway showmanship that is more Barry Manilow than Frank Sinatra. But Feinstein wasn’t there to match the masculine swagger and bravado of Ol’ Blue Eyes—he was there to be Michael Feinstein. This often meant a banter between numbers that was part history lesson, part behind-the-scenes on Sinatra, and part autobiography on his long and intimate associations in the business.  Feinstein would never introduce a song by calling out the title by name. Instead, he would give the background on a composer, the arranger, what movie or record it came from, and then segue into the song by saying something like “and it means so very much to play this song for you here tonight.”

Michael Feinstein at the piano. (Photo: StatueLibrtyNPS via flickr)

Not that it was hard to figure out once launched: “Just One of those Things,” “I Remember You,” and “When Somebody Loves You” were all on the playlist. But so was “All My Tomorrows” by Sammy Cahn (who, Feinstein noted, wrote 88 compositions for Sinatra), “The Music Never Ends” (which Frank gave to Tony Bennett who made the song a hit and then Frank decided to record it), and even an ambitious instrumental version of “Brazil.”

Feinstein is accompanied on the road by conductor Sam Kriger and a few specialty musicians, but the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra owned the heart of the music.  It was fun watching Frank Almond and the rest of the string section add to the big band horns and percussion, definitely leading many arrangements to the Nelson Riddle era of the 1950s.  They were a notable force on such numbers as “Begin the Beguine” and inevitable encore showstoppers, such as “New York, New York.”

However, Michael Feinstein is most interesting as a performer when he is behind the piano, playing while singing Cole Porter numbers, notably “It’s Alright with Me.” At these moments, distracted by doing two things at once, he becomes more raw and tangible. It’s a wonder to witness someone knock a number out of the park on its own merits, but it’s something to behold once the musician begins to own the song.

Feinstein was in the lobby right after the show, signing copies of the newly released DVD/Blue-Ray of the PBS American Songbook series, as well as copies of the second installment of the Frank Sinatra Project. If you cannot wait for the next time MPTV airs an episode, you can order a copy online here.  To learn more about his nationally-funded Initiative, click here.

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