For his annual summer engagement at Feinstein’s/54 Below, the eponymous multi-platinum Grammy-nominated artist celebrates the songs, entertainers, and musical history of our city in Michael Feinstein: I Happen To Like New York. And what a celebration it is! Joined by a series of special guests throughout the month (beginning with Marilyn Maye, followed by Melissa Manchester, who appeared on the date I attended, and closing with Jackie Evancho), the golden-throated and ever-charming Feinstein shares not only his encyclopedic knowledge of New York’s classics, but also his personal reminiscences of the iconic numbers, people, and moments that made him a lifelong fan and advocate.
The mood of the evening was upbeat, warm, and personable, as the enthusiastic Feinstein introduced his selection of songs to the audience with fascinating tidbits about their creation, the significance of their lyrics, the stars who made them popular, and his own experiences and thoughts on performing them. Opening with an ebullient medley featuring New York-themed lyrics (including Stephen Sondheim’s 1978 “Broadway Baby” and “Anything Can Happen in New York” from Busby Berkeley’s Babes on Broadway, along with the title song from the 1941 film), Feinstein returned to the subject of The Great White Way later in the show, with standards spanning a 100-year history (from the 1915 ballad “There’s a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway” to “Broadway Melody” of 1929, the 1935 favorites “Lullaby of Broadway” and “Broadway Rhythm,” and the 1963 hit “On Broadway,” written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, in collaboration with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller).
In a heartfelt segment in between, Feinstein paid special tribute to the acclaimed cabaret singer and pianist Bobby Short, whose rendition of Cole Porter’s “I Happen To Like New York” (1930) inspired the name of the present show. Hailing from Danville, Illinois, Short became a fixture at Manhattan’s Café Carlyle, performing and preserving “The Great American Song” of the first half of the 20th century, inspiring Feinstein to continue his mission and to honor him on the cabaret stage with blockbuster versions of “I’m Confessin’” and “From This Moment On,” which numbered among the many highlights of the evening.
A natural entertainer, Feinstein never failed to impress with his engaging style and masterful voice – flawlessly melodic, smooth, and refined, with an outstanding richness, range, and capacity to hit, and to hold, the big notes. He also brought bits of comic relief to his performance, presenting a hilarious parody of Kander and Ebb’s wildly popular “New York, New York” of 1977, with revised lyrics begging us not to make him sing it again (for the millionth time!), and sharing funny anecdotes about Harvey Fierstein, Jackie Mason, and Ethel Merman, whose speaking voices he imitated to a T. It all served to immerse the audience in the unforgettable memories, music, and spirit of old New York.
Singer/songwriter Melissa Manchester, born and raised in the Bronx, was the perfect choice to join Feinstein in his homage to her native city. Her expressive solo set included “Come in from the Rain” and “Through the Eyes of Love,” written with longtime friend and collaborator Carol Bayer Sager (and the latter with Marvin Hamlisch), about whom she reminisced. She and Feinstein, who’ve known each other for 30 years, also told the story of her hiring him to play at her father’s birthday party for $200 (their mothers were old friends; he didn’t take the money) and sang a harmonious duet on one of her latest releases, “A Better Rainbow” of 2018, enhanced with colorful rainbow lighting on the wall behind them. She later returned with an affecting performance of her 1978 hit “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and another meaningful duet with Feinstein on “Whenever I Call You Friend,” which she co-wrote with Kenny Loggins in the same year – a song that Michael McDonald (formerly of The Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan) told them was “okay.” And was it!
If you’ve ever wondered why one of Manhattan’s premiere nightclubs, Feinstein’s/54 Below, was named in his honor, be sure to catch Michael Feinstein: I Happen To Like New York there and you’ll have your answer. He is the consummate cabaret performer, dedicated champion of “The Great American Songbook,” and enthusiastic devotee of the city and its musical legacy. And if that weren’t enough, he also has great taste in guest stars. Melissa Manchester appears with Feinstein through August 20, and Jackie Evancho joins him from August 21-23.
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, without intermission.