Michael Feinstein strides onto the stage of Feinstein’s at the Regency as if — well, as if he owns the joint. As he launches into a medley of upbeat Christmas tunes (“Winter Wonderland,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Jingle Bells”), the season to be jolly has officially arrived on Park Avenue. The singer’s black tie glitters thanks to silver strands woven into the cloth. Feinstein glitters, too, as does his well-chosen material.
The energetic opening medley, complete with a wild Kay Thompson vocal arrangement, quickly captures the house. After a patch of amusing patter — quoting his grandmother, the title of the show comes out something like “home for the challahdays” — Feinstein artfully switches gears. As his six expert musicians (led by pianist-arranger John Oddo) and three singers sit silent, Feinstein goes to the piano and delivers a spellbinding rendition of Hugh Martin’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” No gimmicks, no brass, just direct from the heart.
The singer then turns around and performs the pert 1925 Gershwin song “That Certain Feeling,” utilizing a swinging arrangement made for Bob Hope in 1956.
Other joyfully upbeat tunes include the Jack Teagarden hit “Christmas Night in Harlem,” a sample of 1930s swing; and Feinstein’s highly aerobic boogie-woogie workout on “Pig Foot Pete,” a Martha Raye number in the style of the Andrews Sisters. (What does this number have to do with home for the holidays? The Oscar-nominated song — the only nom ever earned by an Abbott & Costello film? — lost to “White Christmas.”)
No matter how fast and lively the evening grows, Feinstein continually reins it in by quietly sitting at the piano bench. Most affecting section is a combination of Bernstein’s “Some Other Time” and Styne’s “The Party’s Over” as a tribute to Betty Comden, the co-lyricist (with Adolph Green) who died on Thanksgiving. These are both melancholy ballads about lost affairs; Feinstein demonstrates restrained emotion more bitter than sweet, making for an unusual but striking rendition. Then it’s on to a Gershwin request section.
As a bonus at the opening, Feinstein pulled Neil Sedaka from his table and importuned him to sit at the piano. Sedaka obliged with “A Lonely Christmas in New York,” a touching ballad with a sweet melody and a melancholy tinge. Sedaka then launched into “Love Will Keep Us Together,” with the band joining in while Feinstein sang backup with his trio. By the time the tune ended, the Park Avenue crowd was singing along as if they were sitting around a fireplace.
In his eighth annual December stint at the Regency Hotel nightclub that bears his name, Feinstein demonstrates he’s not mainly a singer or musician or walking encyclopedia of American popular song. He is an entertainer, and a grand one at that.