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by Michael Portantiere

Michael and Cheyenne and Frank

  • Feinstein-Michael-edit.jpg

    Michael and Cheyenne and Frank

    As the moving force behind one of the few successful high-end nightclubs in NYC and a renowned performer in his own right, Michael Feinstein has a vast knowledge of and appreciation for the singers and songwriters of the past as well as the present. This will be fully demonstrated over the next few weeks, in two different cities: From June 2 through 12, Michael will team up with hot-hot-hot Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson for the first time in a duet show at Feinstein's at Loew's Regency; and on June 19 and 20, he'll bring his "Sinatra Project" to Boston's Symphony Hall, where he'll perform this acclaimed tribute to Ol' Blue Eyes with the world-famous Boston Pops. I recently had the opportunity to chat with him about these exciting endeavors.


    BROADWAYSTARS: Michael, I'm planning to come see you in Boston.

    MICHAEL FEINSTEIN: That's gonna be fun. The orchestra's so great, and I love the city.

    STARS: I have the Sinatra Project CD, and I love it, but I didn't get to see the show when you did it at Feinstein's. How many musicians did you have there?

    MICHAEL: I had a 17-piece big band. We actually moved the show into the ballroom, where we could fit the band comfortably. It was fantastic; the power and the glory of such a group of musicians was very exciting. It was the only way I could have paid proper tribute to Sinatra.

    STARS: The arrangements on the recording are fabulous.

    MICHAEL: Thank you. I'm very proud of that project. I really wanted to take a fresh approach to the music.

    STARS: What kind of reaction have you gotten to the show and the CD?

    MICHAEL: Well, the CD was nominated for a Grammy. People in the industry really got that the project was not only about Sinatra as a singer but also about the sound and the engineering. We recorded in two-track stereo, with the band playing live together in one room without isolation, the way Sinatra recorded in the '50s. And the arrangements are an hommage to his taste without copying his charts. The audience response was particularly gratifying for me; that we were able to satisfy people who were Sinatra enthusiasts but not necessarily part of my fan base was, in some ways, the greatest satisfaction.

    STARS: I'm assuming you have separate sets of charts for the various bands and orchestras?

    MICHAEL: Yes, I actually have three sets. The recording session charts were for a band with string. Then there's the standard set for a big band, and then there are the symphony charts. It's a lot of music.

    STARS: I hope you don't have to cart all of them around yourself.

    MICHAEL: Well, the various shipping services are getting rich off of me, Let's put it that way.

    STARS: Now, to Cheyenne Jackson! I can't wait to see you guys perform together.

    MICHAEL: We're having an incredible time. I've seen him in a number of things, most recently in Finian's Rainbow. He's a tremendously talented, instinctive singer with a great ability to organically interpret songs. It's been exciting for me to work with him on standards, to come up with routines, key changes, and other ideas that really make the songs fresh, and also to work on more contemporary material. I think the combination really shows the best of what each of us is about.

    STARS: To me, what makes Cheyenne so special is that he absolutely possesses the voice, looks, and manner of a leading man but he also has a hilarious sense of humor

    MICHAEL: He's formidably talented. And when it comes to learning new songs and arrangements, he's like a sponge I have tremendous admiration for him.

    STARS: Can you tell me some of the stuff you guys will be singing?

    MICHAEL: Yes. The opening number is "I'm Nothing Without You" [from CIty of Angels], with a slightly tweaked lyric. Then we're going to do the famous Frank Sinatra/Sammy Davis Jr. duet version of "Me and My Shadow," but I've extended it and kind of Feinstein-ized it. You can't copy something like that without tweaking it a little bit, or else it will be mercilessly compared to the original.

    STARS: What else?

    MICHAEL: We have a couple of numbers that will be presented in different contexts. There's a Rodgers and Hammerstein song that relates to cultural changes in our world; I don't want to give away too much, but it's about people having the freedom to love in whatever way they choose.

    STARS: Speaking of which: I heard Cheyenne sing at the marriage equality rally that was held in midtown a couple of weeks ago.

    MICHAEL: I was there, too. Cheyenne sang "If I Can Dream," a song that Earl Brown wrote for Elvis. Earl was a friend of mine, and he happened to be gay, so I think he would have been very moved by Cheyenne's performance at that event.

    STARS: Will you two guys be doing any kind of a "friends" medley at Feinstein's?

    MICHAEL: No, we won't be doing anything so "Julie and Carol" -- not that there's anything wrong with that! We're trying to do things that are equally fun but perhaps a little more sophisticated, if you will. I'm really looking forward it.

    Published on Friday, May 29, 2009

    Michael Portantiere has more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has interviewed theater notables for NPR.org, PLAYBILL, STAGEBILL, and OPERA NEWS, and has written notes for several cast albums. Michael is co-author of FORBIDDEN BROADWAY: BEHIND THE MYLAR CURTAIN, published in 2008 by Hal Leonard/Applause. Additionally, he is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several major websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.) He can be reached at [email protected]

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