Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, King William Road, Adelaide
Season: one performance only
Duration: 90 mins (actually ran 115 mins)
Michael Feinstein was the big event to close the Cabaret Festival for this year and a packed house showed that he was just the right person for the job. Michael Feinstein’s performance went beyond the songs of Frank Sinatra to include some associated with others who influenced, or were influenced by Sinatra. His closest inner circle, of course, was known as the Rat Pack and included Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr.
Feinstein was backed by a swinging 17 piece band made up of members of the Adelaide Art Orchestra, a group that he acknowledged several times during the evening, clearly impressed by their playing. Frank Sinatra began as a big band singer, first with Harry James and then with Tommy Dorsey. In the 1960s he worked with Count Basie to produce an album simply called Sinatra-Basie, that gained huge critical acclaim. It was great, therefore, to see Feinstein working with this large ensemble.
The performance got off to a rousing start with Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Once in a Lifetime, from Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, going straight into a medley of Frank Loesser’s Luck Be a Lady, from Guys and Dolls and All I Need is the Girl from Gypsy, with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Feinstein then told of how he met Sinatra when he was hired to entertain at a function that Sinatra was hosting. This anecdote led into a rendition of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s Time After Time. He continued his narrative with plenty of good humour as well as the information and personal recollections throughout the performance. Switching to a Latin beat he then sang a 1953 song that was recorded by Dean Martin, a mambo by Pablo Beltrán Ruiz simply called Sway. Next came Bart Howard’s Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) which was a hit for Sinatra, among others, and was always in his repertoire. This was a very sensitive rendition and included a fine guitar solo.
Feinstein then raised a few laughs by pointing out that most of the composers at the time were Jewish but Cole Porter, a Gentile, wrote the most Jewish sounding music. This was a cue for So In Love, in a driving version that had the audience applauding wildly, not for the first time. This was followed by a song with a similarly romantic sentiment, but a different approach, in The Way You Look Tonight by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. Then came some humorous interaction with a member of the audience leading into Put on a Happy Face and Such a Lot of Livin’ to Do, from Bye Bye Birdie.
Feinstein is also an excellent pianist and he thrilled the audience with Ary Barroso’s Aquarela do Brasil, now known simply as Brazil, adding some Gershwin and Boogie Woogie variations along the way. Back to the top of the concert again for Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s What Kind of Fool Am I, another hit song from their show, Stop the World – I Want to Get Off. Then it was time for some George and Ira Gershwin songs and lots of laughs were raised when Feinstein announced that he would play a selection from titles called out by the audience, with a big laugh coming right at the start, when the first song called out was written by Irving Berlin, and a lot more followed as he joked with the audience. A brief piano introduction on Nice Work if You Can Get It led into the songs Someone to Watch Over Me, Summertime, Embraceable You, But Not for Me and, after briefly speaking about George Gershwin’s early death, told over a piano accompaniment, ended with Our Love is Here to Stay.
He moved on to speak of Liza Minnelli and sang Maybe This Time, from Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret, a very appropriate choice of musical, considering the Festival which this concert was closing. Lyricist Sammy Cahn wrote extensively for Sinatra and a couple of his songs followed, All My Tomorrows, from A Hole in the Head, and All the Way from The Joker is Wild. Then it was back to Cole Porter for Begin the Beguine, a Latin number that he made popular, then abandoned. It seemed as though the concert might be all but over, with Once in My Life bringing huge applause, but Feinstein allowed himself to be called back and spoke of meeting Peter Allen, through their mutual friendship with Lisa Minnelli, singing his I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love. For a big finish, Feinstein had saved Kander and Ebb’s New York, New York, a song that really had the audience leaping up for another standing ovation.
Michael Feinstein is a musicologist who specialises in the Great American Songbook, his knowledge of the songs, their writers, and the lives of the singers that made them famous is enormous, and this shows in his informative presentation, but his acute sense of humour and effervescent personality is a vital ingredient in making that presentation fun. His impressive skill on the piano and terrific interpretations of the songs, backed by a great band and some superb arrangements, all adds up to a perfect ending to a marvellous Cabaret Festival.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.