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Saturday, December 24, 2011

MICHAEL FEINSTEIN: THE SINATRA LEGACY -- DVD review by porfle


Every once in a while we get something like this to review, and while my initial reaction is decidedly less than enthusiastic, it usually ends up appealing to that small part of me which actually enjoys this kind of stuff.  First it was Barry Manilow, then Stephen Sondheim, and now comes Image Entertainment's MICHAEL FEINSTEIN: THE SINATRA LEGACY (2011), a concert film that fans of Frank Sinatra and/or Michael Feinstein should like at least as much as I did.

Five-time Grammy winner Feinstein, referred to by many as "the keeper of the classics" and an authority on what's known as The Great American Songbook, takes the stage of the beautiful and spacious Palladium in Carmel, Indiana for this tribute to Sinatra and his musical legacy.  Backed by musical director Bill Elliott and an orchestra which is, as you might assume, impeccable, he pays homage not only to the man himself but also to the many influences that shaped his style and those that he himself influenced.



The show opens with the rousing "Once in a Lifetime", which introduces novices such as myself to the energetic singer and his easy way of connecting with the audience.  Feinstein doesn't have the powerhouse pipes of Sinatra, Tony Bennett, or Dean Martin, but he loves to belt out a pop standard or showtune with emotion and a style that alternates between hammy and intimate.  His performance never gives way to empty bombast, thank goodness, although a song's finale will sometimes find him standing on the piano working one of those sustained breath-busting end notes.

This lively opening segues into the cool jazz of the Sinatra standard "I Thought About You", followed by "Fly Me to the Moon", which Feinstein performs as a slow ballad the way it was originally intended.  The arrangement is very sparse--guitar and plucked bass only--and it's interesting to hear the song done in this way.

After doing a dead-on impression of Paul Lynde that should please his fans (myself included), he delivers a simmering version of "Put On a Happy Face/A Lot of Livin' to Do" from "Bye Bye Birdie" which starts with him showing off his considerable skills on the piano.  The Lynde imitation is our first sample of Feinstein's knack for both mimicry and getting laughs out of his listeners. 

After explaining why Cole Porter, a Gentile, wrote the most Jewish-sounding pop songs of his era we get a demonstration by way of a virtuoso piano intro to Porter's "So In Love."   A later instrumental number, Ary Barroso's "Brazil", will be an even bigger workout for Feinstein's nimble fingers.



Taking time out to recount a funny anecdote about the first time he actually met Sinatra as a young up-and-comer, he performs a lesser-known Sinatra tune, "There'll Be Some Changes Made", which was first recorded by Billie Holliday and Ethel Waters.  Feinstein uses this as an example of how musical influences are passed down from one singer to another over the years.  Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine", a hit for Sinatra in the 40s which he then dropped from his repertoire, is given a fantasy arrangement in the style of Sinatra's collaborations with Nelson Riddle in the 50s.  

"For Once In My Life", a later hit for the legendary singer, is included to show his desire to keep adding new songs to his arsenal rather than resting on his laurels.  Feinstein then performs "Maybe This Time" from "Cabaret" as a nod to his friend Liza Minelli, and finally finishes with the usual bells and whistles of "New York, New York" while standing on the piano and belting out another one of those final notes that almost make you run out of breath yourself just listening to it.  The show ends with Feinstein making a quick exit and leaving them wantin' more.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 16x9 widescreen with Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 sound.  There are no subtitles or extras.

If The Great American Songbook doesn't do anything for you, then you probably should regard MICHAEL FEINSTEIN: THE SINATRA LEGACY the same way a little kid does when presented with a hot, heaping plateful of spinach.  I happen to like spinach, though, and this batch goes down pretty easy.


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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

After hearing Michael Feinstein on several CDs it never occurred to me that he could sing with a big band. This performance tells me he can do it and more. He can make you laugh and he's one helluva entertainer. Bravo to Michael Feinstein. Your review is dead on.

porfle said...

Thanks, that's nice to hear especially since I haven't reviewed that many musical performance DVDs.