by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Michael Feinstein returned to Feinstein’s/54Below with Swingin’ With The Season, delivering timeless songs punctuated with jolts of surprise. Standing in front of the piano for most of the show, Feinstein was backed by musical director/pianist Tedd Firth with Phil Polumbi on bass and Mark McLean on drums. Opening with the first triple-time lines of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” by Edward Pola and George Wyle, he promised a show of graceful holiday spirit, moving right into Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley‘s inspirational “Pure Imagination.” While relatively few traditional holiday songs were included, the personable Feinstein delivered a bright package of good time music, stories and name-dropping tributes to some mentors.
Many segments tied up two songs with one theme. The ’60’s “Dancin’ In the Streets” (Marvin Gaye, William “Mickey” Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter) was followed by the 50’s “Come Dance With Me,” (with one of the catchiest song lines, “Hey there cutes/Put on your dancin’ boots”) by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. Backed by a calypso pulse, he imagined a scenic 1934 “Winter Wonderland” (Felix Bernard/Richard B. Smith) with the 1927 “smiling face, a fireplace, a cozy room” of “My Blue Heaven,” (Walter Donaldson and George Whiting).
In a salute to Victor Young, who was, said Feinstein, one of our most prolific composers yet largely forgotten, his songs were featured in over 300 movies and apparently, his reputation as a Lothario spiced up the flavor of his ballads. Feinstein sang two of Young’s best love songs, “When I Fall In Love” (lyricist Edward Heyman) and “My Foolish Heart,” (with Ned Washington), combining the idealism of the former with the lustiness of the latter.
Feinstein has a strong vocal tone and strong breath control, shown in elongated final lines. An interlude devoted to Nat King Cole, included the swinging “L-O-V-E” (Bert Kaempfert/Milt Gabler) and Lerner and Loewe’s “It’s Almost Like Being In Love,” with a hefty backup by the trio. Also included on Feinstein’s most-loved singers list was Jo Stafford and with a luscious piano interlude by Firth, he delivered “You Belong to Me.” Remembering Jim Croce, Feinstein sang “Time In A Bottle,” written by Croce for his newborn son and performed by Feinstein here as gently as a baby’s kiss. Firth added touches of “Greensleeves,” making this Croce hit one of the timeless highlights of this show.
Moving for a solo at the piano, Feinstein began a tender “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” (Michel Legrand/Alan and Marilyn Bergman). This was followed by rhythmic snippets in, “You’ve Come a Long Way from St. Louis,” and “Runaway, Baby.” Feinstein then joined Firth on the piano bench for a boogie-woogie/rock duet.
He saluted Leonard Bernstein with “There’s a Place For Us” and a full version of “Hooray for Hollywood,” recalling his childhood love for old movies and ending with a big wowie-bring it home ending.
Of course, being a cabaret show, every ending needs an encore and every holiday show needs Michael Feinstein singing “Hanukkah in Santa Monica” before going into “White Christmas.” Ending this delightful show was a swinging, “Just One of Those Things,” not at all a holiday song but “a trip to the moon on gossamer wings” for any time of the year.
Swingin’ With The Season is running at Feinstein’s/54 Below 254 West 54 St. (cellar) through December 30.
Tickets: 646 476-3551
Treat yourself to a Happy Holiday musical feast.