Sunday, June 04, 2000

Concert review

Feinstein caresses American standards

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Although Michael Feinstein got his start with Gershwin, he finally got around to Gershwin a dozen numbers into his show Friday night with the Cincinnati Pops. With his legs crossed on his piano bench, and the lights down low, he delivered a slow-motion “S'Wonderful” that made us savor every word and every note, before going up-tempo.

        The formula was about the same for each tune in Mr. Feinstein's American songbook grab bag. The Ohio-born singer eased into Irving Berlin's “Alexander's Ragtime Band” very slowly against the wail of a muted trumpet, before bringing it to a piano-pounding, swaggering climax.

        After all, these tunes are all about the lyrics, and Mr. Feinstein has the art of communication down to a science. With Erich Kunzel and the Pops as backup, Music Hall was his cabaret.

        The singer's clear diction, husky voice and stylish turn of a phrase brought to mind another crooner, the late Mel Torme. The standard “Laura,” for instance, had a breathy quality, sung with dead-on intonation and sincerity.

        Maybe it was that sincerity — or the silly grin that accompanied every song — that made Mr. Feinstein so appealing. A schmaltzy pianist, he opened with an upbeat “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” then rippled through “Let Me Sing and I'm Happy.”

        His vocal range was versatile. He struck a quiet mood in “As Time Goes By,” sinking into soft bluesy chords while singing a high falsetto.

        “That's Entertainment” started as an intimate ballad. Michel Legrand's “How Do You Keep the Music Playing” was mellow and beautifully phrased. It all made you listen to the words, and he knew how to color a note to make you listen harder.

        After a suave arrangement of “They Can't Take That Away From Me” (orchestrated for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, he said), his big finish came in “Fascinating Rhythm.” Despite a standing ovation from 2,971 listeners, there were no encores.

        Incidentally, while Mr. Feinstein is here, his friend Rosemary Clooney is headliner at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York.

        In the first half, longtime stage door security officer Kitty Love carried the flag to introduce an armed forces salute by Mr. Kunzel and the Pops.

        The Pops repeats at 8 p.m. tonight. Tickets: 381-3300.



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