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Many faces of a cabaret crooner

Michael Feinstein creates a Valentine with classic romantic tunes

By Ward Morehouse III Special to The Christian Science Monitor / February 9, 2001



NEW YORK

There are probably three - perhaps even four - Michael Feinsteins. One is the crooner whose career began modestly in New York two decades ago; the second is a veritable walking encyclopedia of musical knowledge of George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, and others; the third is an all-around entertainer whose wit and timing is somewhat reminiscent of the late Victor Borge.

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Lastly, there's Michael Feinstein the nightclub impresario and partner in Feinstein's at the Regency, located in the Regency Hotel on Park Ave. In the less than two years since it opened in October 1999, Feinstein's has become New York's premiere upscale cabaret. Feinstein himself is performing there tonight through Feb. 17 in a show called "A Valentine's Romance."

"In earlier years, I was drawn to songs from the 1920s and 1930s because of their beautiful melodies," says Feinstein, who some say is the greatest living interpreter of such classic tunes as George and Ira Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "Strike Up the Band."

"As I grew older and better able to understand lyrics, I came to appreciate the variety of ways in which there were so many eloquent expressions of romance. I remember Ira Gershwin telling me the task he set for himself was always to try and find a way of expressing 'love' that is fresh. He felt his greatest achievement in that realm was writing the song 'They All Laughed' because it never uses the word 'love.' "

Feinstein, who has recorded 20 CDs since 1985, including "Nice Work If You Can Get It: Songs by the Gershwins," is best known for his renditions of time-honored pop standards like "My Funny Valentine." "No cabaret performer has worked harder than Feinstein to transcend the role of singing pianist and become an all-around entertainer," music critic Stephen Holden wrote in a recent edition of The New York Times.

As the late Ira Gershwin's assistant for six years in the 1970s, Feinstein helped catalog the lyrics Ira wrote for the music of his brother, George. "I think of Ira everyday," he says.

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Feinstein didn't find New York appealing at first (his primary residence is Los Angeles). But his early views of New York as cold and overwhelming have changed.

He loves the images of the Big Apple that are "preserved in many of my favorite songs," he says, citing Burton Lane's "Anything Can Happen in New York."

As for the future, Feinstein will perform in Jerusalem in March with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and is working on a four-part TV series on American composers.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society