Michael Feinstein's 'Holiday Keepsake'

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP  |  Dec. 9, 2002 at 7:00 AM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- Cabaret king Michael Feinstein knows what he'll be doing for Christmas.

He is playing host and entertainer at his own club, Feinstein's at the Regency, on Park Avenue through Dec. 28, presenting a songfest titled "A Holiday Keepsake" with an assist from a guest artist, Gloria Reuben. His only other holiday appearance in the Big Apple was the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in which he sang from his own float.

The ever-handsome tenor, whose signature attire is a black velvet jacket worn with a gray foulard tie, has been a major vocal attraction ever since he made his New York debut at the Hotel Algonquin's Oak Room a generation ago.

He still has the youthful, innately modest persona he started out with in spite of international fame as a CD recording star with more than 20 albums to his credit. His latest, a Concord release titled "Michael Feinstein With the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra," was released last May.

Feinstein began his career as assistant for six years to lyricist Ira Gershwin and acquired an archivist's scholarly knowledge of the pop classics. When he began a singing career after Gershwin's death, the Gershwin estate granted him access to many unpublished Gershwin songs that he has performed and recorded.

He is considered the premier interpreter of works by Ira Gershwin and his composer brother, George, and has performed and recorded a formidable repertory of music by Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, Johnny Mercer and Jerry Herman. But for his current show at the Regency he is in a jazzier, bluesier mood.

That is obvious as soon as he launches into an irrepressible rendition of "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus," an obscure novelty number by Leon T. Rene that he has resurrected for the occasion.

He accompanies himself at the piano for this one, letting his six-musician band -- including legendary guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli -- play for most of the other numbers he performs.

He falls back into his accustomed smooth pop style for Frank Loesser's "Baby It's Cold Outside," sung in counterpoint with Gloria Reuben, and a lovely sentimental number, now seldom heard, "The Secret of Christmas" by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. Reuben gets her first solo, "Merry Christmas, Darling," sweetly rendered in an appealing musical style.

Reuben is best known as an actress for the roles of Lisa Fabrizzi on CBS-TV's "The Agency" and Jeanie Boulet on NBC's "ER." She switched gears two years ago to music, singing with Tina Turner on tour. And she's working on a debut album.

Feinstein, who has a reputation for promoting new voices, is giving her a chance to display her promising talents in a cabaret setting singing jazz standards such as "Angel Eyes."

After a somewhat draggy, off-beat duet arrangement of "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town," Feinstein gets to the really serious stuff, starting with "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," from "It's A Wonderful Life," accompanied by film clips shown on video screens. He follows this with a medley of blues-oriented favorites including "Blue Christmas!" and "The Christmas Blues."

He pays respect to another aspect of the holidays with a Hanukkah song, "Dreidel," a swinging, hand-clapping number by Kenny Ellis, a Los Angeles cantor. And he throws several Christmas carols into the balance including "Silent Night" and "Sing Out the Glory of Christmas" along with "Winter Wonderland."

Toward the end of the show he pays tribute to Rosemary Clooney, Ira Gershwin's next-door Beverly Hills neighbor, who Feinstein says "became my second mother and dearest friend."

Clooney died last June, and the tribute includes several of her favorite songs -- Jimmy Webb's "Time Flies" and Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," a standard made popular by Clooney and Bing Crosby in the movie of the same name that gives Feinstein a chance to float some lovely tones in his own best crooning manner and to screen a few more film clips.

An encore duet with Reuben ends an enchanted evening with a sentiment that never seemed timelier -- "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

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