Michael Feinstein
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Michael Feinstein
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Returning to the nightclub that bears his name for a rare summer engagement, Michael Feinstein has brought in a very special show, Celebrating Bobby Short, dedicated to the memory of the late, great singer-pianist. While there have been a number of cabaret shows about Short since his death in March 2005, this is the first one that really makes you understand the nature of the man and his passion about the music.

Throughout his career, Feinstein has always exhibited a Peck's Bad Boy demeanor; he's that charming wiseguy who can be both funny and endearing even as he's making cutting remarks. Not this time. Heartfelt and downright humble, Feinstein has made this show a full-on tribute to the music and the memory of New York's most famous nightclub icon. Although he never explicitly says it, Short's previously unprecedented success as a piano-playing nightclub singer -- which included a 35-plus-year stint at the Café Carlyle -- surely paved the way for Feinstein's own even greater success.

Feinstein always has interesting historical information at his fingertips, salting his shows with wonderfully obscure but telling anecdotes. However, he goes a bit further than usual in this show, turning it into the kind of show that a Mary Cleere Haran or an Andrea Marcovicci might perform. Feinstein tells us about seminal moments in Short's life and smoothly reveals the man's essential musical influences. Particularly touching is the story he tells about Cole Porter going out of his way to thank Bobby Short for playing his songs throughout the years; and the last time, in 1960, is just about heartbreaking.

Backed by some of the best musicians in New York, including his much-admired musical director, John Oddo, Feinstein reaches some very impressive peaks in this show, including his performances of "Isn't it a Pity," "At Long Last Love" (with a slew of sensational alternate lyrics by Porter), and a jumpin' version of "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing" as part of a tribute to Duke Ellington, whom Short first met when he was a 12-year-old boy. The eclectic line-up also includes "I Can't Get Started," "Lydia (the Tattooed Lady)," "Can Can," and "Losing My Mind."

In what some might consider a measure of overkill, Feinstein plans to bring special guest stars to each show, allowing them to join him in celebrating Short's contributions to American popular song. On his opening night, the legendary Elaine Stritch performed a small duet with Feinstein (complete with some snippets from Company). It was a sweet gesture, but Feinstein is a big enough star all by himself that he can pack the room -- and celebrate Bobby Short -- without any help.