Michael Feinstein in Concert
The sprawling lawn and outdoors stage at the gorgeous Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Arcadia, California, was alive with the sounds of music from cabaret superstar Michael Feinstein, award-winning composer-conductor Marvin Hamlisch, and the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening, July 21. The occasion was "Michael Feinstein in Concert," the second al fresco concert in the current four-show summer season of the Pasadena Pops.
As if to mirror the approval of the crowd, proud peacocks strutted across the grounds, offering squeals of apparent delight to the music. Likewise, a capacity crowd expressed warm approval for the melodic and high-spirited evening, which focused on the music and lyrics of iconic Broadway songwriter Cole Porter ("Kiss Me Kate," "Anything Goes," "Can-Can").
The unpretentious and fast-paced presentation reveled in the treasure trove of Porter classics, featuring many of the prolific tunesmith’s most familiar creations, as well as outstanding lesser-known numbers from his canon. Following a performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" by the orchestra, the maestro Hamlisch got down to business.
He shared some interesting facts about Porter’s remarkable life and career-including the tragic accident in which the songwriter’s legs were shattered by a fall from a horse at the peak of his popularity. He also spoke of the well-known raciness of Porter’s lyrics, which were ahead of their time, and he made the observation that though Porter is one of the few gentiles among Broadway’s most renowned songwriters, many of his songs had a "Jewish" sound to them. Hamlisch offered a few examples of this on the piano, convincingly supporting his assertion.
Then the concert got started in earnest. One surprising aspect of the presentation was that most of Porter’s more lighthearted show-tunes, such as in a terrific orchestral medley from "Anything Goes," were performed strictly on piano and/or the orchestra, while the songs crooned by Feinstein were dominated by the master’s romantic ballads and wistful numbers with a bittersweet quality.
After Hamlisch’s opening banter, he treated us to a terrific sampling of Porter tunes on the piano, such as "I Get a Kick Out of You." Then he led the orchestra in a compilation of sundry Porter melodies followed by the indelible overture from the sprightly 1953 musical "Can-Can."
The highlight of the first act was a knockout number from 16-year-old Nick Ziobro, who won this year’s Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative. Performing a non-Porter number, the enchanting Frank Sinatra standard "All of Me," from 1931 (written by Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons), the youngster from Indiana demonstrated an appealing vocal style, a powerful voice and a radiant presence. He supplied ample evidence of why he was victorious in Feinstein’s star-search endeavor.
Ziobro had earned $3,000 and a trip to sing in New York City with Barry Manilow, followed by performances in cities throughout the country over the next year. His appearance at the Pops was a welcome bonus for audiences, whose appreciation was evident during a prolonged standing ovation.
Following intermission, the ever-charismatic Feinstein took to the stage to delve into the rich Porter songbook, melding his charming and polished singing style with his impeccable abilities as a pianist. His splendidly chosen set included evergreen Porter numbers: "At Long Last Love," "I Concentrate On You," "It’s All Right with Me," "After You, Who," "Ev’rytime We Say Goodbye," "So in Love," "I Love Paris," "From This Moment On," "Begin the Beguine" and "Just One of Those Things." Jazz styles, old-fashioned Broadway glamour and pizzazz, and the sophistication that makes Porter’s canon so durable were evident throughout Feinstein’s charismatic interpretations of the songs.
The encore turned out to be a welcome extended segment. First, a second piano was wheeled out, so that Feinstein and Hamlisch could indulge in a smashing musicians’ duet, which included "Chopsticks," followed by a boffo performance of another non-Porter classic showbiz ditty, "Tea for Two" from "No, No Nanette." To cap off the evening, Feinstein acknowledged the presence of famed lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman in the audience, followed by an exquisite delivery of the evergreen Barbra Streisand hit, "The Way We Were," which this duo wrote in collaboration with composer Hamlisch.
The marvelously entertaining and upbeat evening whetted one’s appetite for the two remaining concerts in the Pops summer season: "La Dolce Vita," conducted by Michael Krajewski, and featuring the vocal trio Poperazzi (August 18), and "Gershwin on the Green," conducted by Hamlisch, and featuring pianist Kevin Cole and the JPL Chorus (September 6). A pre-show announcement provided anticipation for next year’s Pops summer season, highlighted by "Bernadette Peters in Concert" (June 29, 2013).