Tonight Michael Feinstein brings his encyclopedic knowledge, relaxed humor and veteran talent to a selection of songs written for Hollywood Musicals. Seeing as he’s one of the all time appreciators of the American Songbook, many are eclectic and/or the films from which they derive all but unknown. We open with an earnest, jaunty “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” (Irving Berlin) setting an upbeat tone. …Let me sing of Brooklyn’s charms/of the Jersey Shore/and bubbie’s arms/and I’m haaa-p-eeee…
“Here’s a song about terpsichore by the Gershwins,” Feinstein continues easing into a cha-cha “Shall We Dance?” (from the 1937 Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film of the same title.) Tedd Firth’s fingers do indeed dance across the piano keys while the host croons. Hollywood as a movie town began around 1912 with filmmakers going west to defy equipment patents. When The Jazz Singer started a craze for musicals, songwriters moved to California. Some liked it, others not so much.
Harry Warren called the town Schenectady with palm trees. Raymond Chandler said Hollywood has the personality of a paper cup. Walter Winchell remarked, They shoot too many pictures there and not enough actors…
There aren’t any magic/Ajec-tives to tell you all you are…Johnny Mercer wrote in “Too Marvelous for Words” (with Richard Whiting for Ready, Willing and Able). Drum stick rhythm, bass thrum and easy swing piano support this one. Aside from the familiar chorus, lyrics are a mouthful necessitating Sondheim-like breath as arranged. Feinstein has it down.
Guest Alex Gitlin, one of our bright, young up-and-comers, offers “It Goes Like It Goes” with powerful (not pushed), vibrato-driven alto and just the shadow of a sob. (David Shire/Norman Gimbel from 1979’s Norma Rae.) Gitlin’s second song, “How Lucky Can You Get?” emerges mischievous sizzle. The lady strolls, dips and flirts. She’s graceful and appealing. A brief stall when Fanny Brice questions herself arrives suddenly, then dissipates. We feel determination as the character pushes on. Honky-tonk sounds and an unwavering long note take us out. (John Kander/Fred Ebb from Funny Lady.)
Guest Erich Bergen’s rendition of “Time” (Dave Grusin/Alan and Marilyn Bergman from Tootsie) is cottony tenor. Phrases linger like memories. When emotion rises, there’s a sandy quality to his vocal. A Burt Bachrach/Hal David medley is also light. Infectious pleasure in the songs floats out across the audience. Bergen is personable, he connects.
“Puttin’ On the Ritz” (Irving Berlin) was performed by Harry Richman, Clark Gable, Fred Astaire, and Frankenstein in various films. “Mel Brooks is the only person who could get Berlin to give him the rights for Frankenstein to sing the song,” Feinstein notes. Aptly paired with Berlin’s “Let’s Go Slumming,” piano is immensely playful.“When I Fall in Love” (Victor Young/Edward Heyman) and “Beware My Foolish Heart” are deeply sighed, closely held, moonlit.
Feinstein’s third guest, Christine Ebersole, has just completed a run with him at his namesake club down the street. A buoyant “On the Atchison Topeka and The Santa Fe” (Harry Warren/Johnny Mercer from The Harvey Girls), with words like “reckon” and “lotsa” sounding just right, is followed by a selection at the other end of the spectrum. “Little Boy Lost,” accompanied only by piano, is grave without being weighty; utterly lovely. (Michel Legrand/Alan & Marilyn Bergman)
The two then duet “Thanks For the Memory” with full, rarely heard verse. (Leo Rubin/Ralph Ranger, introduced by Bob Hope in The Big Broadcast of 1937.) The foxtrot is performed with great affection.
Feinstein takes the piano seat for Johnny Mercer/Richard Whiting’s “Hooray for Hollywood!” Meant to be tongue in cheek, we’re told, its writers never suspected the song would become an anthem. It’s easy to imagine a line of satin tap-panted chorines. Firth takes over the keyboard and our host finishes up front, exuberant, but somehow also respectful.
The show is great fun.
Opening photo by A.J.Mast courtesy of Carnegie Hall
Carnegie Hall presents
Standard Time with Michael Feinstein– Hooray for Hollywood
Tedd Firth-MD/Piano, Phil Palombi, bass, Mark McLean-drums
October 24, 2018 Zankel Hall
NEXT STANDARD TIME February 6, 2019