At first blush, every performer would love to have fans as adoring as the woman who was so rapturously attentive to Michael Feinstein at the opening of his new show, Winter Dreams, last night at his self-named club at the Loews Regency Hotel. At second blush, what seems so cute can very easily turn poisonous when the fan becomes disruptive. But the star showed what years of experience — and a quick wit — can do for a performer at a perilous turn. He poked good-natured jabs at the woman, getting laughs from the audience without embarrassing his loutish fan. Then, when she still wouldn’t quit, he wisely stopped giving her his attention, purposefully not responding.
Fortunately, the woman didn’t ruin one of Feinstein’s most impressively entertaining holiday shows in recent memory. True, he does relatively little of the traditional holiday fare. To set the mood, he does indeed open with a pairing of Christmas songs by Jerry Herman (“We Need a Little Christmas” with “The Best Christmas of All”), but after that, he only performs three more — and even then he doesn’t do them in a conventional manner.
His “Jingle Bells” has a wild and wonderful arrangement by Kay Thompson, further adapted by Feinstein’s musical director, John Oddo. When he sings “That’s What I Want for Christmas” you ultimately discover that it’s really more of a love song than a holiday number. But he goes a bit too far by folding “White Christmas” into “I Love a Piano,” since refusing to sing the former completely is the equivalent of turning off the television in the middle of watching It’s a Wonderful Life.
In past holiday shows, Feinstein has always come up with a quirky choice to represent Hannukah, such as “Hannukah in Santa Monica.” More recently — perhaps because of the dearth of good Hannukah numbers — he has turned to more serious songs to satisfy his sense of balance. This year, he sang a stirring number written by Holocaust survivor Leo Fuld titled “Where Can I Go?”
After that, it’s clear sailing for the Scrooges in the audience who have already had enough of the Christmas season. Although Feinstein finds clever ways to tie some of his songs to the season, he’s just singing the American Songbook, which is what he does best. From the torchy romanticism of “Begin the Beguine” to the unabashed declaration of love found in a song like “The More I See You,” Feinstein taps into the emotional underpinnings of his material with a warm voice and a delicate sense of interpretation.
Consummate performer that he is, if Feinstein simply sat at the piano and performed for an hour, it would be heaven for pretty much everyone in the audience. Instead, though, he has nine top-notch people on the stage behind him, including Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar, Jay Leonhart on bass, Mark Vinci on reeds, and backup singing queen Margaret Dorn.
Best of all, his patter is funny, his information is fascinating, and his voice is versatile — which all combine to create the winning package that is Michael Feinstein.
[Editor’s Note: Feinstein will perform a separate show, By Request, at his late shows, 11pm on Friday and Saturday nights.]