Michael Feinstein (Photo: Matthew Wexler)
By Matthew Wexler
Michael Feinstein, master of the American Songbook, just concluded a three-week run at the supper club that bears his name, this time reinventing himself once again to a present a loosely structured evening around the theme of “Showstoppers.”
Theater fans sit on the edge of their seats, waiting for a performer to transcend the material and stop a show in its tracks. This often happens as the “11 o’clock number” — the big tune near a musical’s end that can have you in tears or leaping from your seat for a standing ovation. But to construct a 90-minute cabaret of showstoppers, Feinstein broadened the lens to consider different types of showstoppers, from reflective ballads to patter songs and beyond.
The evening began with a thin overture of greatest hits, played by a trio of piano, bass and drums led by Ted Firth. Had I not recently heard Jason Robert Brown’s dynamic orchestrations for Prince of Broadway I might have been wowed, but in this instance, the hardworking musicians couldn’t quite muster the evening’s theme. Feinstein burst onto the stage to begin with an opening montage of “Hello Young Lovers,” “It’s All Right With Me,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Come Back to Me” — perhaps not showstoppers, but the veteran performer threw down the gauntlet for the night.
Feinstein, in addition to being a master of the American Songbook, is a master storyteller, and he peppered the evening with anecdotes about show-stopping moments in Broadway shows and concerts as well as the personalities behind them. He paid tribute to Barbara Cook’s recent passing with a heartfelt rendition of “Losing my Mind” from Follies, accompanying himself at the piano.
Feinstein also showed a penchant for the patter song and delivered several, including “Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)” from Lady in the Dark and the title song from “Can-Can” featuring the full five choruses of lyrics by Cole Porter.
Throughout the run, Feinstein welcomed a range of guest stars including Erich Bergen, John Lloyd Young and Tony Award winner Betty Buckley. I was thrilled to see the latter in this intimate setting, but unfortunately her vocals and choice of material didn’t feel in sync with the evening’s theme. Buckley sang a jazz arrangement of a song from Jason Robert Brown’s The Bridges of Madison County and “Chanson” from Stephen Schwartz’s The Baker’s Wife. She told a long-winded tale from her experience in CATS and what it was like to see the show after having performed it. Charming and perhaps a little bit loopy, I longed for the bigger sound that Buckley is known for, particularly given the “Showstoppers” theme.
Feinstein saved his rendition (with slightly altered lyrics) of “50 Percent” from Ballroom for his own 11 o’clock number and it was well worth the wait. Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire” and additional duets with Buckley rounded out the evening but Feinstein was at his best when firmly planted in his American Songbook and Broadway roots.
Coming up at Feinstein’s/54 Below:
Norbert Leo Butz
Two-time Tony Award-winner Norbert Leo Butz returns to Feinstein’s/54 Below with a new and updated version of his hit show Memory & Mayhem. The show features pop, folk, musical theatre, rock ‘n’ roll and blues songs of various vintages linked by the subject of memory.
Lindsay Mendez, recent star of Broadway’s Significant Other makes her return to the Feinstein’s/54 Below stage in her new solo cabaret show. Known for her tremendous, roof-raising voice and searing stage energy, Lindsay will share golden age Broadway favorites you’ve never heard her sing, beloved tunes from her collaborations with current musical theatre writers, and more.
Maria Friedman Sings Sondheim and Bernstein
Three-time Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman makes her Feinstein’s/54 Below solo debut. Maria explores the work of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim in her critically acclaimed show Lenny & Steve, comparing and contrasting songs from their separate catalogues, as well as their joint masterpiece West Side Story.