BWW Interview: Michael Feinstein Talks THE GERSHWINS AND ME at The McCallum Theatre and More
Cabaret Icon Michael Feinstein returns to the McCallum Theatre with his highly anticipated "The Gerswhins And Me" for two performances - Friday, March 7 and Saturday, March 8 at 8:00 pm. Michael Feinstein, the multi-Platinum, two-time Emmy and five-time Grammy nominated entertainer dubbed "The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook," is one of the premier interpreters of American standards. His 200-plus shows a year have included performances at Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, the Hollywood Bowl, the White House and Buckingham Palace. I had the chance to catch up with Michael as he was preparing for his Palm Desert engagement.
Here are a few excerpts from that conversation:
DG: You have been described over the years with so many superlatives by fans and critics and the press - how would you best describe yourself?
MF: Ah ... how would I describe myself? Singer. Musician.
DG: Do you remember the first time you ever sang in front of an audience?
MF: The first time I sang in front of an audience. I remember family gatherings - singing for family gatherings. I don't remember the first time I sang in front of an audience, outside of my family.
DG: When did you first KNOW that this was going to be your career?
MF: I always knew I wanted to do something with music. I would say that - well, even when I got out of high school and I started playing at piano bars I knew that I wanted to make a career in music, but it wasn't until I was performing at The Mondrian Hotel in 1985 that I realized that I could make a steady living, a good living, performing in piano bars. It was that same year that I got booked at The Plush Room at The New York Hotel where I was actually doing a show, as opposed to a piano bar set, where I realized I could actually do performances where people were there just to listen to music without all of the distractions. So that was '85 when I realized I could actually have a career doing that.
DG: What can audiences expect from the show at The McCallum this weekend?
MF: It's called "The Gershwins And Me". It's a show that is a time travel --- sort of a retrospective of the career of the Gershwins in a unique way in that it's with a seventeen piece band. And these days even Broadway musicals do not have seventeen pieces in the orchestra. They often have ten or twelve, at most. And so we have not only the seventeen piece band - but it's the finest players in the area. These are incredible musicians who I am humbled to work with, The show itself is one that spans the gamut of Gershwin canon from a little ragtime piece by George through all the songs of the 20's and 30's, Porgy and Bess, and up through George and Ira's last song. And it's an anecdotal show because it's based on the book that I wrote - Gershwins And Me - that was published two years ago, and so there's a lot of personal anecdotes and stories that put the songs in context. There's one section where I take requests from the audience, so it's very interactive. And, it's not only a high energy show because of the big band, but also I do several numbers just at the piano - so, it's a nice balance of all kinds of musical emotions.
DG: Out of your many career accomplishments, what would you consider to be your proudest or finest?
MF: Working with songwriters, Making recordings with composers at the piano - most recently with Andre Previn, doing an album of with songs is something I'm proud of because it wouldn't have happened otherwise -- if I hadn't approached him -- and I feel like it's preserving something special to be able to hear the way a songwriter performs their own work. And having done that previously with Jules Styne and Jerry Herman and Hugh Martin and Burton Lane - those are something that I think is very important as a legacy for people who want to know how composers play their own songs.
DG: Absolutely. Is there something that you haven't yet accomplished that you're looking forward to taking on?
MF: Well, I'm pretty much in the moment. I have been working on a number of different musical ideas. I wrote a musical called "The Gold Room" that they're talking about producing in London later this year. And, I've been working on some other theatrical projects and that is something that would be fun to do. Certainly, I know I have a talent for writing for character so I suppose that will be the next musical challenge in my life.
DG: I'm glad to hear that. I was just about to ask if you would ever consider writing for the Broadway stage?
MF: Well. I'm not even sure it would be for the Broadway stage, but for some stage somewhere.
The McCallum Theatre Michael Feinstein's THE GERSHWINS AND ME on Friday, March 7 and Saturday, March 8 at 8:00pm. Tickets are available at the Theatre's web site at www.mccallumtheatre.com, or by calling the McCallum Theatre box office at (760) 340-ARTS.