Feinstein's at the Regency reopened for the fall with the cleverly titled Love & Payne, starring two hitmakers of the 1960s, Darlene Love and Freda Payne. Working together for the first time, in a show conceived and created by Allen Sviridoff, these two pop divas join forces for an evening of rollicking rock 'n' roll. But rather than recreate their own famous songs of the past (the one exception is Payne singing "Band of Gold"), they have great fun with a full spectrum of pop tunes.
In a show dominated by duets, Love and Payne still manage to establish their own, distinctive musical styles. Darlene Love doesn't just raise the roof, she raises the standard by which the song "At Last" will be judged from now on. If this were a gospel number, half the audience would have been baptized before they finished their dessert, and the newly converted would have seen angels when Freda Payne gave her heartfelt rendition of "Angel Eyes."
When singing together, Love and Payne are unpretentious and delightful. At the end of her solo section, Freda sings "Where is the Love?" Darlene calls back "Here I am" and returns to the stage. Among their duets, the combination of "A Song for You" and "All in Love is Fair" is as musically satisfying as anyone could possibly imagine: The women sing in counterpoint, with Love taking the deep notes and Payne soaring high in harmony, and the two tunes meld into something at once nostalgic and timeless. The talents of these two performers combine as smartly as their names.
One might say that the arrangements are the unsung heroes of this show -- except that they are, in fact, sung, and exceptionally well. Credit goes to Earl Brown for the vocal arrangements and Matt Catingub for the musical arrangements. In almost every instance, songs as diverse as "Sometimes When We Touch" and "It's in His Kiss" are made to sound fresh even as the arrangers stay true to the spirit of the original compositions. The five-piece band is as musically committed as the two divas, creating not just a wall of sound but an entire cabaret room of sound.
And, speaking of the room: It's fair to say at this juncture that Feinstein's at the Regency has emerged as New York's premier nightclub. The room has great sight lines, attentive service, excellent food and drink, and it is consistently booked with provocative and/or highly entertaining acts. In short, it's proving itself worthy of the man who lent it his name.
[More cabaret reviews by the Siegels can be found at www.cabarethotlineonline.com]