Michael Feinstein

By Patricia E. Finger

When everyone else in his high school class was listening to Billy Joel, Cat Stevens, Seals and Croft, Judy Collins, or some other pop artist of the Seventies, Michael Feinstein was busy dancing to the beat of an older drummer, collecting and memorizing thousands of LPs and pieces of sheet music from the 1920s through 1940s. On March 10, Sunday evening, at Kentucky Center for the Arts, he proved just how much choosing "the road not taken" can be the road to great success.

Feinstein's style evokes the nostalgia of the era he so obviously adores. Every song he performs is a testimony to the geniuses of George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin through his superb piano technique and the tremendous emotion he projects vocally. Feinstein hasn't the perfect voice associated with the art songs preceding the art deco era, but he possesses a voice quality perfect for these great cabaret and show tunes. Amazingly, he managed to invoke the warmth of a small nightclub in Whitney Hall.

Feinstein included historical anecdotes throughout the evening, giving the audience a delightful music history lesson which made each song special while also revealing his wonderful sense of humor. Feinstein played and sang "Swanee," George Gershwin's first big song hit which made him famous. After performing this in the "clenched teeth" style of Al Jolson, Feinstein laughed and asked, "Why'd he talk like that anyway?" One favorite comedy song of Ira Gershwin (and Michael Feinstein), "Blah, Blah, Blah," was written as a pun on the pop tunes of that, which overused certain words such as "croon, swoon, moon, etc."

Ira Gershwin intentionally wrote these lyrics:

Blah, blah, blah, blah moon, blah, blah, blah above

Blah, blah, blah, blah croon, blah, blah, blah, blah love,

Tra, la, la, la, la, cottage for two, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah

Darling with you!

In some instances, Feinstein made his own puns from a Gershwin tune, for example, "You say Feinstine, I say Feinsteen ..." or sang lyrics he had discovered while cataloging George and Ira Gershwin's music for six years for Ira Gershwin. Feinstein sang the original lyrics to "The Man I Love," from the show Lady, Be Good!, which was originally titled "The Girl I Love." Feinstein also sensitively performed the lyrics to songs which had been omitted in the shows which made them famous, such as "If I Only Had A Brain," the music of Harburg and Arlen from The Wizard of Oz.

It would have been impossible to perform all the great songs from those days, but Feinstein managed to hit some terrific high points, combining many songs into medleys, such as "Embraceable You," "Liza" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Some newer songs were included with the oldies and Feinstein also sang some favorites of Richard Rodgers "Isn't it Romantic," Cole Porter's "Night and Day," and Burton Lane's "On A Clear Day You Can See Forever."

Feinstein ended the show with a wonderfully energetic performance of Irving Berlin's "I Love A Piano," which he admits is as close to a theme song as he can find. It would indeed be difficult to find a better interpreter on the piano of these wonderful old tunes than Michael Feinstein.