“Is it the good turtle soup,” Michael Feinstein asks in the words of Cole Porter channeling Frank Sinatra, “or merely the mock?” Verdict: It’s the real turtle soup laced with sherry, all right, as Feinstein celebrates Sinatra backed by an unprecedented 17 musicians at his eponymous nitery on Park Avenue.
Special one-week engagement kicks off the launch of Feinstein’s new Concord CD, “The Sinatra Project.” At the same time, show marks the 10th anniversary of Feinstein’s at the Regency, which the singer and the Tisch family have built into one of the prime rooms on the New York circuit. Club has been moved across the lobby to the Regency’s ballroom for this event, as the nightclub space is too small to fit all those trumpets and trombones. The ballroom itself makes a tight fit, as the room was crammed with an elegant crowd at the gala opening night.
Feinstein rejects the notion of simply singing Sinatra songs in Sinatra’s manner with Sinatra’s arrangements; no singer, no matter how good, is going to equal Frank. So Feinstein and arranger-musical director Bill Elliott have transplanted Sinatra hits from one era to another, taking the ’30s hit “Begin the Beguine,” for example, and recasting it as a late ’50s Nelson Riddle arrangement.
Thus we get the Sinatra style, influence and dressing without an attempt at imitation. This works swell; Porter’s hit doesn’t sound much like a beguine in this take, but it really swings in the manner of — well, one of those 1950s Sinatra collaborations with Riddle. Feinstein doesn’t sound like Sinatra, either, but the essence of the style is apparent in a dozen songs that make an exuberant 80 minutes of classy entertainment. Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers, Van Heusen, Mercer, Cahn: Songs come from the usual suspects, with one rarity — “The Same Hello, The Same Goodbye” — commissioned (but never sung) by Sinatra from John Williams and the Bergmans.
Band is topnotch, filled with some of New York’s best players (many on leave from orchestra pits around town). Seventeen musicians is, as Feinstein points out, more than you’ll hear at some Broadway hits (including “Jersey Boys,” “In the Heights,” “Chicago,” “Mamma Mia” and “Hairspray”). Standing out are Aaron Heick on tenor sax, George Rabbai on trumpet and the ever-valuable guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli. Elliott has them well in hand, and his arrangements deserve much of the credit for the evening.