Michael Feinstein purposefully started his Standard Time with Michael Feinstein Carnegie Hall…Celebrating 125 Years program at the celebrated venue’s Zankel Hall Wednesday night with George and Ira Gershwin’s “They All Laughed”–which he cleverly mashed up with their “I’ve Got Rhythm” before ending it with a bit of “Rhapsody in Blue.”
The Gershwin biographer then explained that while so much of Carnegie Hall’s history concerns classical music, it isn’t all classical, hence the Gershwin start. Also, Feinstein related that his first Carnegie Hall appearance, in 1978, was a Gershwin tribute that took place while in Ira’s employ.
Of course, Feinstein’s performances are typically full of such music showbiz memories. He prefaced “I’ll Never Smile Again,” recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1940, with a funny story about seeing Sinatra, at the Irving Berlin Centennial concert at Carnegie, recoil after Leonard Bernstein kissed him full on the lips. Susan Powell, Feinstein’s first guest, also invoked the Berlin birthday celebration when she came out and sang “I Got Lost in His Arms” from Annie Get Your Gun.
Liz Callaway followed, accompanied by composer/pianist John Bucchino (when Feinstein wasn’t playing piano, Tedd Firth did, in conjunction with bassist Sean Smith and drummer Mark McLean). She said it was a special treat to sing “It Feels Like Home” with the composer at the piano, and the pair put out a lovely version. Turning to the evening’s theme, Callaway referenced the famous Judy Garland 1961 Carnegie Hall concert prior to singing “The Trolley Song,” backed by Feinstein’s trio. The host then returned with Bucchino to sing a collaboration commissioned for the Carnegie Hall 125th: a moving tune about his father seeing him play Carnegie Hall.
After Feinstein meshed “My Funny Valentine” with a full-throated “I Won’t Send Roses,” Christine Ebersole emerged, also nodding to Garland in her rendition of the Oscar-winning “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe,” which she sang in the 1946 film The Harvey Girls. Relying on Feinstein to voice historical background on her songs from offstage, Ebersole, quite simply, was adorable, even making the band start over after she flubbed the first verse of Rodgers & Hart’s 1937 Babes in Arms musical show tune “Johnny One Note” (“in Carnegie Hall!”)–also sung by Garland in the Rodgers & Hart biopic Words and Music.
Feinstein joined her for the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You,” their take including snippets from 14 other songs by the brother team. He closed out the program appropriately with a lively “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” by Irving Berlin–“the father of American popular song as we know it,” he said, with knowing authority.