By Brian Scott Lipton
Rarely has there been as much truth in advertising for a cabaret show than Michael Feinstein: Home for the Holidays. First, the legendary crooner is performing in his New York home, Feinstein’s/54 Below, and the singer has never seemed more relaxed in his decades of performing, making all of us feel like we’re sitting in his living room. Secondly, this superb show will put you in a warm, celebratory mood even if it’s noticeably shy of too many Christmas favorites. As Feinstein told his jam-packed opening night crowd early in the show: “You’re probably sick of all this holiday music by now.”
In fact, rarely has Feinstein – aided by a trio led by the brilliant pianist/musical director Tedd Firth – traversed both familiar terrain and new ground with such comfort. In truly fine voice and exhibiting first-rate musicianship, Feinstein wows the crowd with his exciting rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” a gorgeously romantic trio of Harry Warren ballads (“I Know Why”/”The More I See You” / “There Will Never Be Another You”), and most especially, a stunning medley of nine songs written by George and Ira Gershwin that were introduced by the one-and-only Fred Astaire, including such classics as “S’Wonderful,” “They All Laughed,” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”
Conversely, has Feinstein ever opened a show with such a sassy up-tempo tune as “The Joint Is Jumpin’” and then followed it up by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s saucy ode to infidelity, “When in Rome”? (I think not.) And making a rare foray into pop music, Feinstein beautifully performs four exquisite ballads from the 1960s and 1970s, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “I Wanna Make It With You,” “Close to You,” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” noting that he now appreciates much of the music from his childhood he once ignored.
Of course, those who come to specifically get in the holiday spirit won’t be completely disappointed, even if they might be slightly surprised by some of the selections. No fear, he does perform his most-requested “holiday song,” Tom Lehrer’s clever “Hanukkah in Santa Monica,” which he turns into a joyous singalong. Feinstein also serves up some soul with “That’s What I Want for Christmas” (made famous by the late, great Nancy Wilson) and later raises the rafters with two great Jerry Herman tunes: “We Need a Little Christmas” and “The Best Christmas of All.” And yes, Virginia, he does sing a snippet of the ultimate Yuletide tune, “White Christmas” which flows seamlessly into another, lesser-known and even more beautiful Berlin song “Heavenly Peace.”
Heavenly. That is the perfect word for this wonderful evening.
Michael Feinstein: Home for the Holidays continues through December 30 at Feinstein’s/54 Below (254 West 54th Street). Visit www.54below.com for tickets and information.