Over the years, I have had the great pleasure of seeing five-time Grammy nominee Michael Feinstein perform so many times, that I’ve lost track of the number, but when I do, I am never disappointed. Saturday was no exception. That’s when I saw Feinstein perform with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra in “That’s Entertainment” at The Palladium at the Center for The Performing Arts in Carmel.
The concert was Feinstein’s first ever with the CSO, with music director Janna Hymes conducting. Having seen Feinstein perform numerous times before, I have also witnessed him perform solo, with piano accompaniment, trios, quartets, big bands and symphony orchestras, but it is the latter that really showcases his talent and the Great American Songbook songs and arrangements that are his specialty, if not his passion. And to their well-deserved credit, the CSO, under Hymes’s expressive baton, more than proved themselves with their lush, dynamic sound that complemented the artistry of world-class entertainer Feinstein.
Choosing songs for his set list that neatly reflected the show’s title, “That’s Entertainment,” Feinstein, who could easily teach a college course in music history, introduced each tune with facts and anecdotes about its origination. Often delivered with dry humor, the background information he provided only added to the enjoyment of each selection.
Setting the tone for the evening, Feinstein opened Act 1 with “That’s Entertainment” from the 1974 MGM documentary of the same title, paying tribute to music director-pianist-arranger John Oddo, who died on April 2. Informing the audience his long-time colleague was supposed to have performed at the concert, Feinstein sang “I Concentrate on You,” and “How Little We Know,” both arranged by Oddo. Alternating between upbeat numbers and ballads, Feinstein also sang Irving Berlin’s nearly century-old “I Love a Piano,” Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” and George Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm.”
A highlight of the first act was a performance by 2016 Songbook Academy Finalist All-Star and Inspiration Award winner Sam Mulligan from Mount Zion, Illinois who sang a moving rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile.”
“Hooray for Hollywood,” from the 1937 film “Hollywood Hotel,” with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, was Feinstein’s opening selection for Act 2. Singing in his signature style featuring a delivery with a dreamy quality, he also sang Richard Rodgers “Isn’t It Romantic?” “The Way you Look Tonight” by Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern, Jerry Herman’s “I Won’t Send Roses.” Radiating joy, Feinstein and the orchestra were potent together in “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” another Irving Berlin classic. Concluding the concert on a poignant note, he sang “Somewhere” from “West Side Story” and appropriately, for an encore, he beautifully interpreted “Softly as I Leave You,” made famous by Frank Sinatra.
Another impressive performance from a Songbook Academy All-Star was 2017 participant Caleb Freeman, who won the Celebration Award. Standing out in Act 2, he sang a powerful rendition of “Who Can I Turn To?” from the musical “The Roar of The Greasepaint — The Smell of the Crowd.”
Feinstein’s collaboration with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra and the appearance of the Songbook Academy All-Stars was a reminder of how very fortunate we are in Central Indiana to have in our midst, the renowned artistic director of the Center for the Performing Arts, the accomplished local orchestra, which is one of its resident companies, and the American Songbook Foundation headquarters. It’s a pretty heady set of circumstances and resources that should not be taken for granted.