Standard Time with Michael Feinstein
Les Girls…Celebrating Cole Porter
Zankel Hall, NYC, February 22, 2017
Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes
“Cole Porter, in my mind, cannot be celebrated enough. His music and lyrics only seem to get better with age…” — Michael Feinstein.
Tonight’s honoree had successes and failures—he was nominated for an Oscar four times, but, like the Gershwins, never won. Staying power, however, may speak louder than a lifetime’s reception.
Host Michael Feinstein opens with a slightly updated version of Porter’s “At Long Last Love,” adding references to such as Cremora. Examples of the iconic songwriter’s sincerity, wit and “naughtiness” follow. “Part of the fun was getting around the censors,” Feinstein explains. Still, when the play The Gay Divorce became a move, it was re-titled The Gay Divorcee, censors having declared there was nothing gay about divorce. “Little did they know,” he quips.
Three West Coast-based special guests perform between the vocalist’s own offerings.
Paula West delivers “You’ve Got That Thing” with an über-cool bass arrangement that almost makes up for her physical stiffness by providing musically swinging hips. The version lacks suggestion. West fares better with a later “It’s De-lovely” interpreted on the side of jazz.
Marti Stevens, resplendent in red, actually knew Porter. She relates that “his beautiful wife, Linda, referred to him as a mischievous elf…” and that his favorite actress was Ethel Merman because, he said, “I hear every note the way I wrote it. “Cole didn’t stand for sloppiness.” Stevens sings “Make It Another Old Fashioned, Please” segueing into “Goodbye Little Dream, Goodbye.” She may not hit every note, but phrasing showcases deep comprehension of the author’s intention.
Slow, warm, and breathy, “I Love Paris” is contributed by the statuesque Rachel York, who practically purrs. “I love Paris,” she sings, sighing into sentiment. “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” from Porter’s wildly successful Anything Goes swells as it emerges from the vocalist’s open throat. Rousing phrases like “Come on, you sinners” arrive with oomph.
Feinstein alternates solos at the piano with full-band numbers out front. To my mind, the best of the former are “Why Shouldn’t I?,” which the artist makes sound personal, and a rendition of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” quivering with regret. A “triptych” of moods for “Night and Day” seems over-complicated, while “Come Along with Me” is infectiously sophisticated and carefree. The latter attitude increases to become blasé for “Just One of Those Things” in which the singer appears completely unaffected by the lyrical break-up.
Amusing and informative anecdotes pepper this evening. When Ira Gershwin suggested collaborating with Porter, he was told that lyrics were easy, but music was a delicious task the latter would never give up. Irving Berlin sent the following telegram: “Anything I can do, you can do better.”
M.D./pianist Tedd Firth with Mark McLean on drums and Phil Palombi on bass, furnish excellent backup.
The evening was mixed, but who can complain about Cole Porter?!