For the last year or so, Feinstein has had a club that bears his own name: Feinstein's at The Regency. Mr. F. himself is now appearing there (through April 22), singing songs of romance.
During the early part of this engagement, Feinstein will be specializing in Romance on Film; later, he'll segue into Romance on Broadway. During his last week, he will likely combine material from both shows, because he's scheduled to record a live, 2-CD set at the club. We saw the Romance on Film evening and found ourselves carried away--as always--by Feinstein's dreamy song stylings and his entertaining, enlightening patter.
He establishes his theme right at the top with "I'll Take Romance," hitting the final note of that Ben Oakland/Oscar Hammerstein II with the force of a declaration. Feinstein doesn't simply take romance; he grabs it. And he does so again in "Hooray For Love" (Harold Arlen/Leo Robin), ending that tune with another vocal exclamation point, staking his territory with the enthusiasm of a young lover. Only then does Feinstein stop to say hello to the audience and tell a fascinating story about his next selection, "Long Ago and Far Away" by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin. This lovely ballad, Feinstein tells us, was the most successful song Ira Gershwin ever wrote, surpassing all of his hits with brother George and other collaborators--yet the song wasn't really finished to Ira's satisfaction when he had to dictate the lyrics over the phone to an anxious movie producer. Such are the tidbits you are served at a Michael Feinstein show; his anecdotes enrich the songs he sings. He brings to his performances a context, a history, and a genuine love for The Great American Songbook that is his stock and trade.
Audiences respond to Feinstein because he gives them what they want. He doesn't take a standard like "My Foolish Heart" and deliver it with a calypso beat; that approach would never occur to him. Instead, he offers classic songs in familiar style. The element of surprise is often provided by the inclusion of a rarely heard verse; these intros illuminate familiar songs like Kern and Dorothy Fields' "A Fine Romance" in brand new ways.
Feinstein doesn't sit behind the piano nearly so much these days as he did during his early years in cabaret. Including his encore, he only accompanies himself on three numbers in his current gig. The rest of the time, he stands comfortably in front of his exceptional band, and is so relaxed on his feet that he even takes a request from the crowd. (On opening night, someone called out "Laura," and Feinstein--accompanied only by the legendary guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli--performed a haunting version of that song.)
In the course of Romance on Film, Feinstein sings perhaps too many slow, pensive ballads. There are a few up-tempo numbers, but not enough to provide sufficient contrast to the show's otherwise impeccably chosen material. This is a problem that will inevitably be addressed as Feinstein brings his Romance on Broadway songs into the mix.