The Great American Songbook is a constantly evolving canon that arguably spans almost 100 years of music. It is a collection that includes work by some of the greats of the music industry spanning decades but also genres. Many have embraced elements of the GAS, from collections of specific composers to attempts at covering the canon itself. No one has encountered as many artists, pieces of music or indeed understands the collection quite like Michael Feinstein.
From being Ira Gershwin's personal assistant to being befriended by and amplified by Liza Minnelli whom Feinstein credits his career to, the role of Ambassador is one which fits Michael Feinstein like a glove.
Opening with Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson's Most Unusual Day, Feinstein is clearly at home and creates an instant rapport with his small audience at St. George's Bristol. What follows is not only a music education but also a who's who of performance. Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner's Almost Like Being in Love gives way to Ascher and William's hit for Helen Reddy, You and Me Against the World which is followed by Martin and Blane's The Trolley Song.
This is not only a show that spans the work of others but also the work of Feinstein himself. Old Friends from his 1986 album Live at the Algonquin is just one example of how prolific Feinstein is before slipping effortlessly into George and Ira Gershwin's 'S Wonderful.
Without missing a beat and never losing his piano bar charm, Feinstein regales his audience with anecdotes about those he has crossed paths with during his career. Rosemary Clooney called him the Angel of Death on account of the fact that he would meet people in the industry, often in their twilight years, just before they pass away.
His account of bearing witness to Liza Minnelli and Peter Allen's reunion, followed by You and Me was a moving tribute.
It is an open-hearted sensitivity and authenticity that makes Feinstein such a polished and engaging performer. His work is a tribute to all those who have come before. He reclaims Fly Me to the Moon for Bart Howard, honours Billy Austen with a glorious version of Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby and finishes the evening with an astonishing tribute to Sinatra by stringing together a dozen tracks without taking a breath.
His encore was a tribute to the late Leslie Bricusse who passed away less than a week prior to Feinstein's tour commencing.
Joined on stage by James Powell, Don Richardson and Kennedy Aitchison, this was an evening to celebrate the legacy of the Great American Songbook, the class and generosity of Michael Feinstein and the joy of live performance. An experience not to be missed.
Michael Feinstein continues to tour the UK until 28 October. Full details can be found here
Originally published on Broadway World.