Michael Feinstein and Friends at the Palace Theatre, London.
Small, dapper and a ridiculously young-looking 57, Michael Feinstein bounded on to the Palace stage and gave us a two-hour trawl through the Great American Songbook with brief assistance from Elaine Paige and Julian Ovenden in this flagship event of the first London Festival of Cabaret.
It was quite a coup for Festival mastermind Neil Marcus to get this past-master of the genre over here for a one-off concert and to act as one of the Festival’s patrons, and the good news is that the second Festival is already being planned for next May.
In truth, Feinstein doesn’t have the greatest voice in the world but, like Sinatra, he makes the most of what he has. And anyway, it is not just the voice with Feinstein, it is the whole package of knowledge, timing, repartee, stories of Broadway’s great and good, interplay with the audience and some very tidy piano-playing.
A near full house lapped up a very safe programme, starting with ‘Luck Be A Lady’ from Guys and Dolls (which was a cue for that great line about “the evil of two Loessers”) and followed by ‘How About You?’, the Burton Lane/Ralph Freed number from Babes On Broadway which Feinstein updated with refererences to Barry Humphries and Graham Norton.
Jerry Herman’s ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ was next up with Feinstein admitting he got one of the the words wrong “which Jerry will let me know all about when I tell him”.
Later came a priceless introduction to ‘I Love a Piano’, leading the audience on to believe they were going to get some intimate detail about his private life, and there was a big moment when he performed his one British song of the evening ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I?’ from Stop the World – I Want to Get Off with the lyricist Leslie Bricusse, at 82 still sporting a full head of hair, in the audience.
In between, he introduced his first guest, the versatile Ovenden, currently in Downton Abbey but here displaying his considerable singing skills in two Noel Coward songs demonstrating the Master’s serious, melancholic side, ‘If You Could Only Come With Me’ and ‘I Travel Alone’, before being joined by the host to duet ‘I’m Nothing Without You’ from City of Angels. This prompted the line: “Yes, I do sometimes do songs by living composers!”, referring to the fact that the lyricist of that show, David Zippel, is still very much with us.
As indeed is Jerry Herman whose ‘Hello ,Dolly!’ was the highspot of the second half with Feinstein doing a brilliant impersonation of Louis Armstrong’s gravel voice for the first few bars.
It was a nostalgic return to the Palace boards for Elaine Paige who recalled that it was at that theatre she had been a chorus girl in Jesus Christ Superstar and performed her final audition for Evita, the part that made her a very famous lady indeed. Getting away from Lloyd Webber at last, she gave us a lively version of that 1926 Irving Berlin classic ‘Blue Skies’.
It was more than appropriate that Feinstein should major on the works of George and Ira Gershwin, taking requests from the audience before he finished, as he worked for the latter for six years, cataloguing and securing the legacy of the brothers’ enormous contribution to popular song. It was amusing to hear him relate the howler perpetrated by one announcer that “coming up next is ‘Summertime’ written by Porgy and Bess”!
The one nod to Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim came with the encore ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story which was the cue for Feinstein to say he would be coming back to London for a Bernstein tribute show next April. He will always be most welcome.
No review would be complete without a very positive mention of Feinstein’s five-man band – Clive Dunstall on piano (when Feinstein wasn’t), Pat White on trumpet, Howard McGill on reeds, Andy Pask on bass and Mike Smith on drums – who really made the evening swing.
Check out reviews of other performances in the London Festival of Cabaret: