By Sarah Downs
Michael Feinstein has a confession to make. He loves New York – and he doesn’t care who knows it! In I Happen to Like New York Feinstein celebrates this dear old dirty town in all its glory (sights! lights! nights!), with a perfectly curated show that is as easygoing as its structure is precise. Youthful and effervescent, Feinstein is ageless. He is a consummate performer, singing with such confidence and lack of affectation you are immediately drawn in. He forces nothing, maintaining his authenticity even in those quiet moments that can so easily feel manipulative.
Feinstein also pays homage to another cabaret icon, Bobby Short, an original proponent of what he called the Great American Song. Short held court at the Cafe Carlyle for 37 years until his death in 2005, defining cabaret in New York City throughout the 1970s and 80’s,
Running nearly an hour and a half, the evening still felt too brief. Feinstein bounced onstage to the tune of “Another Hundred People” from Stephen Sondheim’s Company, instantly evoking the craziness of New York City in the image of crowded subway trains. Then it was on to Broadway. It’s not just that the Great White Way is central to cabaret; it’s central to New York City. Indeed, what show about New York would be complete without “The Lullaby of Broadway” from 42nd Street.
For the first week of his engagement, Feinstein is sharing the stage with the legendary Marilyn Maye. Every inch the glamorous café doyenne in her elegant sequins, Maye has gravitas and humor in equal measure. She adds another layer of sparkle and depth to the evening. Her interpretation of “If He Walked Into My Life” from Mame was heartbreaking.
I Happen to Like New York has a little bit of everything, jazz standards, Burt Bachrach even Billy Joel. Nothing is off limits. Feinstein successfully harmonizes unlikely musical bedfellows, such as James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely” eliding into Bachrach’s “One Less Bell to Answer.” He keeps an optimistic tone going throughout in songs like Cole Porter’s “From This Moment On” and even a display of his virtuosity at the keyboard in a surprising, joyful boogie-woogie number with Maye.
The arrangements are killer, including a wonderfully detailed ‘Broadway Medley’ that effortlessly weaves together what feels like a dozen individual songs. The music has been scrutinized down to the precise measure that most effectively leads us seamlessly from one idea to the next. Every note paints a picture.
All of the arrangements have a neatness that reflects meticulous attention to detail and musicianship. I so appreciated the frisson of the final sextet from Leonard Bernstein’s On The Town that Feinstein interpolated into the lead-in to “Somewhere” from West Side Story. Talk about ageless. This is a song as relevant today as it was in 1957. Feinstein sings it with simple delicacy, holding us all enrapt.
When he first hit the scene in the 80’s Michael Feinstein introduced the Great American Songbook to a new generation, reinvigorating the cabaret world. You can still feel the wonder of discovery after all these years. He brings joy to the stage and a song to the heart. Resistance is futile.
Michael Feinstein, I Happen to Like New York, at Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th St., August 6th – 23rd, with special guests as follows: August 6-13 – Marilyn Maye; August 15-20, Melissa Manchester; August 21-23 Jackie Evancho. For tickets go to www.54below.com