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Michael Feinstein and Jimmy Webb

Michael Feinstein, an elegant connoisseur and performer of songs often grouped in cabaret repertoire as the Great American Songbook, finds himself in a more contemporary mode. The usual diet of tunes by Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and Jule Styne, among others, has been set aside to collaborate with songwriter-singer Jimmy Webb.

Launching a national tour, troubadours Michael Feinstein and Jimmy Webb paired at Feinstein’s at the Regency to celebrate the release of their Concord CD, “Only One Life — The Songs of Jimmy Webb.” Feinstein, an elegant connoisseur and performer of songs often grouped in cabaret repertoire as the Great American Songbook, finds himself in a more contemporary mode. The usual diet of tunes by Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin and Jule Styne, among others, has been temporarily set aside to collaborate with songwriter-singer Webb.

Webb’s distinctive legacy spans the last quarter-century, and several of his compositions conjure a kind of picturesque landscape of Americana. Certainly “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” boast a wistful, rural flavor. There is a decidedly homespun intimacy in the telling of Webb’s road songs, and they are not diminished in the classy supper club surroundings. Frank Sinatra once tagged “Phoenix” as “the greatest saloon song ever written.”

Webb’s “Didn’t We” and “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” are sublimely trenchant torch songs, and Feinstein beautifully croons them, mapping a direct route to the heart. A teasing preview of Webb’s forthcoming Broadway venture, “Belmont Avenue” finds Feinstein singing a midnight Bronx love song beneath the L.

Program, dedicated to the memory of Rosemary Clooney, is not without its bow to the pop song legacy. In a reflectively subtle mood, Webb reprises a lovely standard, “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year.” The Frank Loesser ballad dates back 60 years to “Christmas Holiday,” a lurid crime melodrama that paired a grown-up Deanna Durbin with Gene Kelly as a convicted killer.

Feinstein, the resident master of classic pop literature, pauses for a medley of songs by George and Ira Gershwin culled from aud requests. “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “For You, for Me, Forevermore” define romanticism, and they are accented by fleeting piano quotes from “Porgy and Bess” and “Rhapsody in Blue.”

There’s a fun piano duet (a tribute to the legendary keyboard duos of Arden and Ohman and Eadie and Rack) that begins with “Chopsticks” and a little boogie-woogie and winds its way to the inevitable “Heart and Soul,” stretched out to concerto proportions.

These guys are having a really good time, and the musical bond they share makes for a most appreciative dinner crowd. The 14-city tour includes one-nighters in Chicago, Detroit and, of course, Phoenix.

Michael Feinstein and Jimmy Webb

Feinstein's at the Regency; 150 capacity; $60

Production: Presented inhouse.

Creative: Opened, reviewed Oct. 14, 2003. Closes Oct. 18.

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