Michael Feinstein: Showstoppers

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Michael Feinstein


Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, August 9, 2017

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors for Cabaret Scenes

Michael Feinstein

Linking together the decades of the American Songbook, Michael Feinstein returns to his New York home for Showstoppers, a name that speaks for itself.  From “Swanee” to “Hello, Young Lovers” and “Come Back to Me,” this opening medley can mix and match show tunes over the upcoming performances, recalling the numerous moments over the years that have brought audiences to their feet. 

Feinstein’s/54 Below is the type of venue where Feinstein, a man of many talents, seems to fit best. He easily engages the audience, shines with personality, tosses out the most obscure bits of intriguing musical minutiae, and he moves to the piano where this evening, he sang most of his ballads. These included “It All Depends on You” (Ray Henderson/Buddy G. DeSylva/Lew Brown) from 1926 and “If,” a 1971 hit by David Gates of Bread. Particularly touching was “Fifty Percent” from Billy Goldenberg and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s Ballroom, with a rewritten version the Bergmans did just for Feinstein. Early in the show, I sensed the spirit of the late Barbara Cook beginning to waft through the show when he delivered “Losing My Mind” by Stephen Sondheim (Follies). 

Feinstein’s voice has evolved into a secure tone, smooth with a touch of smoke, nuance, strong breath control and long vocal lines that bring maximum impact to the song’s essence. In his uptempo opener, his vocals rode the vigorous tide of his trio with arrangements by the ubiquitous music director Tedd Firth on piano, and support by Phil Palombi on bass and Mark McLean on drums. He took on the tongue-twisting lyrics of “Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)” by Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill (Lady in the Dark), and added a fired-up “one-more-time.” He then delivered the five labyrinthine refrains of Cole Porter’s “Can-Can.” “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t (My Baby)” by Louis Jordan and Billy Austin was a sassy R&B classic, and Feinstein delivered a finger-snapping, rhythmic “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” to close the show. 

In a segment for special guests, young Julia Goodwin, a winner of the Feinstein songbook competition for teens, showed her poise and training, choosing, “My Mama Says No No,” a song with humor and swing and suitable for her youth and musicality.

Just about the time the lights were about to dim on Broadway in homage to the death of Barbara Cook the day before, Feinstein went to the piano to offer her memorable trademark songs from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, “Till There Was You” and “Goodnight, My Someone.” Her spirit was definitely there when, Feinstein asked for requests for his encore.

“Send in the Clowns!” someone called.

“I’d rather slit my wrists,” quipped Feinstein.

Into the Woods”!

From that show, Feinstein chose “No One Is Alone,” leaving with a memory of another Barbara Cook classic. 

Showstoppers has the many facets that have made Michael Feinstein a leading performer and curator of American music for over three decades. It is running at Feinstein’s/54 Below through Sept. 3. Don’t let this one go by.

Elizabeth Ahlfors

Born and raised in New York, Elizabeth graduated from NYU with a degree in Journalism. She has lived in various cities and countries and now is back in NYC. She has written magazine articles and published three books: A Housewife’s Guide to Women’s Liberation, Twelve American Women, and Heroines of ’76 (for children). A great love was always music and theater—in the audience, not performing. A Philadelphia correspondent for Theatre.com and InTheatre Magazine, she has reviewed theater and cabaret for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia City News. She writes for Cabaret Scenes and other cabaret/theater sites. She is a judge for Nightlife Awards and a voting member of Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.