by Alix Cohen
“It Only Takes a Moment” (Hello, Dolly) Michael Feinstein croons. Vocal is fleecy, music, a waltz. Life is a celebration “With You On My Arm,” he continues jaunty, emphasizing good/great/grand with an extended arm. (La Cage aux Folles). The opening medley of Jerry Herman songs ends with a full out “Mame.”
Our host was a great admirer of recently deceased Jerry Herman. Twenty-seven years ago, after recording a CD of the writer’s songs, he interviewed the honoree for posterity. We hear a few, brief audio excerpts tonight. The singular expression of Herman’s soul came from his musician mother, we’re told. She taught him piano when he was “too sharp” with his teacher. Feinstein notes Herman’s two favorite kinds of songs were the classic, upbeat 2/4 show songs and ballads that expressed character, offering information not in libretti.
“Here’s Bernadette Peter’s 11:00 o’clock song at 7:47” introduces “Time Heals Everything” (Herman’s favorite show, Mack and Mabel about to be revived by Encores). Tedd Firth’s soft-as-fur piano buoys the vocalist’s intimate interpretation.
Herman evidently dismissed songwriting as a hobby. Instead of pursuing it as a career, he matriculated at Parsons School of Design. One day, through the friend of a friend, his mother surreptitiously made an appointment for him to perform his work for Frank Loesser. The young man balked, but went, playing song after song all afternoon. “What are you doing in design school?!” the incredulous composer asked. “He literally changed my life,” Herman says.
A rendition of “Hello, Dolly” sung, in part, as Louis Armstrong was apparently Feinstein’s favorite childhood performance choice at Bar Mitzvahs. Sandpaper emulation is pretty good. We hear later verses and an up-tempo ragtime add-on that speeds by with unaccustomed whoosh.
Guest Ron Raines offers two songs from Herman’s first, 1961 Broadway show, Milk and Honey. “Shalom” and “Let’s Not Waste a Moment” emerge deep, resonant, warm; affecting.
Raines puts his heart in his voice. One can hear surprise, delight and hope in the second selection. “What I could do with a voice like that!” Feinstein comments.
Often disparaged for being old fashioned, the honoree audibly responds: “That’s the greatest compliment in the world to me…When somebody calls me old fashioned, I feel I’m doing my job.” Dear World (Herman’s musical of The Madwoman of Chaillot) Feinstein notes, is closest to having an operatic feel. “Kiss Her Now” arrives in quivering tenor, with Firth barely touching piano keys. The delicate song unfortunately swells up, as do several other quiet numbers tonight.
Guest Marilyn Maye (whose birthday show lands at Feinstein’s/54Below in April) greets the roar of applause with “It’s Today!” (Mame), taking the microphone off its stand so she can stroll, better connecting with fans. She’s even got Firth grinning. Hallelujah, it’s too dA A A A A, she sings. Maye played two of Herman’s leading ladies. “We’re so grateful to him,” she notes. “Before the Parade Passes By” (Hello, Dolly) begins slow then, whomp! the band comes in. Ray Marchica’s drums palpably march, Firth’s piano sounds like fireworks.
Feinstein’s third guest, Cole Winston, is an alumnus of his American Songbook Academy.
“If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be here today,” the self-possessed young tenor tells us. “I Belong Here” (Grand Tour) is heartfelt; control excellent.
Feinstein takes to the piano for the “Hello, Dolly” first act closure that was cut out of town in favor of “Before the Parade Passes By,” but restored during the show’s last Broadway revival. It cleverly describes Horace Vandergelder’s route to success, starting with a penny in his pocket. The artist is obviously having a good time.
A group of songs spotlights Herman’s illusively uncomplicated expression of emotion- that which made him universally accessible. From La Cage aux Folles we’re treated to “Look Over There” by Feinstein and “Song On the Sand” by Raines. Maye returns with a poignant “If He Walked Into My Life.” (Mame). At the piano, our host’s “I Won’t Send Roses” is feather light. One forgets what a fine pianist he is.
The evening ends with a rousing company version of “The Best of Times” (La Cage aux Folles), the song with which Herman preferred to end all his concerts. Above the company’s heads, a giant photo of Jerry Herman looks astonished and gleeful sitting behind three enormous desserts- just the way he saw life.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Carnegie Hall presents Standard Time with Michael Feinstein
Jerry Herman: Celebrating an Extraordinary Musical Legacy
Special Guests: Marilyn Maye, Ron Raines, Cole Winston
Tedd Firth- MD/piano, Phil Palumbi-bass, Ray Marchica-drums
Zankel Hall 881 Seventh Avenue
NEXT Standard Time March 18, 2020- I Love a Piano with Ann Hampton Callaway,
Peter Mintun, Natalie Leclair