Michael Feinstein & Christine Ebersole

September 10, 2009

“Good Friends”

Feinstein’s at Loews Regency  –  September 8 – 12

It makes sense (and much accumulated cents) to have Michael Feinstein—who lends his name to the Feinstein’s at Loews Regency tag—appear several times during the cabaret season. He’s guaranteed to pack the house or almost pack it at every performance, a boon during stressed economic times.

Since, however, he’s showing up more than once in a twelve-month, he and the other boite decision-makers seem to have concluded that variety is needed, and that it’s gained by sometimes pairing him with other performers. His sidekick last spring—in a set that was cleverly political but never less than entertaining—was Cheyenne Jackson. Together the men were nothing short of same-sexy, especially during their “I Have Dreamed”–”We Kiss in a Shadow” face-off.

Feinstein’s fall-season-’09 opener has him singing duets and swapping solos with Christine Ebersole. Their objective appears to be nothing more than providing a swellegant-elegant and emotionally varied party. Or as Ebersole put it at the end of their jubilant kick-off hour, “It’s been absolutely enchanting to make music with you.”

She was speaking for herself, but she could have been speaking for the audience as well. Feinstein and Ebersole—so professional you want to have the Better Business Bureau send them gold medals—obviously don’t have to work at enjoying each other’s company. More than that, they give the impression that each is challenging the other to operate at maximum strength—or more.

Actually, something so unprecedented occurs during the show that I won’t wait another paragraph to report it. Two-thirds of the way through, Feinstein delivers the Anthony Newley-Leslie Bricusse “What Kind of Fool Am I?” Those who’ve been following the cheerful fellow’s development know that over the last decade he’s increasingly left the piano to warble big-band-style. The result is that he now has two voices—the at-the-keyboard voice (where he plays and sings ballads with his velvet vibrato) and the away-from-the-keyboard manner (where he belts as if there’s no tomorrow and sustains reverberant final notes).

Well, he shapes “What Kind of Fool Am I?” as a blend of both voices, starting off (while John Oddo accompanies) softly and tenderly and then building to high-wattage power. That isn’t the half of it. Throughout the song, Feinstein acts as perhaps no one in the room has seen him act. He gets inside the self-chastising anthem as if emoting in a heavy drama.

Has he been taking acting lessons? Does he connect with the lyrics in a way nobody would have imagined for a man so relaxed and accomplished on the bandstand that he effortlessly ad-libs imitations of other performers (Lauren Bacall, for instance, doing the Johnny Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael “How Little We Know”)?

Against the Feinstein whirlwind, Ebersole more than holds her own—as will surprise nobody. She follows the Feinstein tour de force with a quiet, heartfelt version of John Wallowitch’s “This Moment,” making the moment hers. Expert actress that she is—and also a spontaneous cut-up—she’s already crowd-wowed with a determined rendition of the Bob Merrill-Jule Styne “The Music That Makes Me Dance.”

Which is not to scant the many duets, often marked by devilish counterpoints, as when they alternate lines on “Where or When” (Lorenz Hart-Richard Rodgers) with snatches of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “I Get a Kick Out of You.” It shouldn’t work, but it does. Indeed, the whole shebang scintillates like a chain of Tiffany charms.


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