Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Review: Michael Feinstein and Peter Cincotti and Carnegie Hall! (Could there be a more perfect NYC moment?)

Some (a lot of?) back story is required in order for this review to make any sense so readers can understand why watching Michael Feinstein and Peter Cincotti on stage together (sadly, the only thing the concert missing was a duet…I expect one the next time) was a bit like Christmas for me.

When I was a child and living in New York City, my family wasn’t in the car much…but when we were, we listened to a lot of Michael Feinstein (and Sinatra and showtunes and Mandy Patinkin.)

My sister had a Walkman. My sister escaped being brainwashed by our parents’ taste in music, and, therefore, my sister escaped becoming a very young 85-year-old, as I have been for most of my life.

My sister was normal. 

My father passed away when I was a teenager, and some things always triggered memories of him and would make me particularly sad…particularly baseball movies, Revolutionary War battle re-enactments (what?) and Michael Feinstein’s voice.  It reminded me of being a kid and being safe and being in my dad’s car on the way to someplace special…(usually New Jersey!)

I couldn’t listen to Michael Feinstein for a long time after my dad died.

I found myself working “on Broadway”as an assistant to a producer and a publicist for several years, living a life one could very much compare to Ugly Betty, and one very magical day I learned my office was going to be doing the publicity for Michael Feinstein’s musical All About Me.

My co-workers weren’t familiar with Michael and were confused as to why I was so excited.(They must have had Walkmans when they were kids..)

On the first night of performances, a mock talent show was held, and I was pulled from the audience to sing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as Michael played the piano. It might have been one of the silliest things I have done that month, but I was standing on a Broadway stage as Michael Feinstein played the piano and I sang the theme song from the movie I watched every day as a little kid.

(Did I mention I was also wearing a huge Elvis wig? The older man next to me had a Lady Gaga wig on.) 

That was pretty awesome. I had come a long way from that little girl in that car.

Backstory part 2 begins when I worked at Barnes and Noble in college and they would play the same three albums over (and over) again on a loop. One month, it was Peter Cincotti. And listening to the album at work wasn’t enough…I bought it and listened to it constantly at home, too. I made everybody around me listen to him as well. There was something about him that was very special. He was a young, cute Italian kid who I thought sounded like Harry Connick, Jr. at the time, and that normally would have been enough for me, but even at 18, I recognized that he was a completely brilliant musician and songwriter. I think it was when I read an interview with him in which he said that he wished he was around in a day and age when people would go-out to dinner and wear nice hats, as well as when I learned that he, too, lost his father as a child (and documented the emotions in a song) that I felt that besides being a brilliant talent, Peter Cincotti was also a kindred spirit.

In 2007, I heard Peter’s song “Cinderella Beautiful” for the first time, and found myself fixated on one of the lines. “You know I don’t like Christmas.” This line inspired an entire play…my Pigeons, Knishes and Rockettes, which became my off-Broadway debut. I’ll always feel very grateful to Peter for the inspiration. (In case the title isn't obvious, it was a sweet, happy NYC love story set during the holidays. The main character's name was Peter...I really tried changing it, but I found I couldn't.)

I see Peter whenever he’s performing in the city…(He's in Europe a lot. Italians have good taste, he’s very popular over there!) and every show is better than the last. He’s absolutely captivating to watch and it’s been fun watching him grow-up from 18.

When I heard these two men would be appearing at Carnegie Hall together, I knew I couldn’t miss it, and that it would likely be one of the best experiences I have ever had in a theatre…

…and I wasn’t disappointed at all. In fact, it was even better than I thought.

Michael and Peter sang songs from the Shapiro Bernstein catalog, with Michael telling tales of the catalog’s history. Michael Feinstein certainly knows his stuff, and he’s also hilariously funny at times (I’m notorious for laughing a very loud, “HA!” at very random things, and I did so many times at this show.)

The lady next-to-me…who was probably in her 50’s…joked to me that she and I were the “youngest people in the room.” (She wasn’t far-off.) I’m pretty sure Peter WAS the youngest in the room. (You know who else was in the room? Tony Danza. He’s a big supporter of Peter’s work. He’s got excellent taste.)

And the standards…oh, the standards! Michael performed “Melancholy Baby”, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and “The Way You Look Tonight”, among many others in that beautiful, clear voice.

(I also melted when I noticed the older couple in front of me reached for the other’s hand when he sang “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”. Isn’t that what it’s all about?)

When he introduced the young Mr. Cincotti, Peter came-out and joked that he dared not talk like he knows anything about music when he’s in a room with Michael Feinstein who “probably knows what kind of shampoo Cole Porter used”…(“It was Prell”, Feinstein quipped.)

Peter opened with “Until the Real Thing Comes Along” and then went on to sing his “favorite World War II love song” “White Cliffs of Dover”. (Hold on! I thought I was the only person of my generation who HAD a favorite World War II love song!) He also debuted a new original song of his called “Heart of the City”, another love song…to Manhattan. (Look out, Billy Joel, there’s a new pianoman on the block singing about the city…and he’s quite remarkable.)

Watching these two guys on stage, both of which have very much impacted me personally and artistically, was a very special experience for me…and when it’s combined with some of the most beautiful music ever written and performed, which has stood the test of decades in a place like Carnegie Hall…well, what could really be any
more magical?

I ran into a friend of mine…another youngster…at the show. We emailed that night, and I feel the need to quote him:

We are among the few non-octogenarian bastions of good taste. Looking out at that sea of silver hair, the White Cliffs of Zankel, I found myself a little depressed. Who will carry the torch?  I don't mean the performers, for they will always be there. The audiences. Who will fill the seats? Sigh. 

That made me sad to read that and consider that he’s probably right…but I also consider myself one of the lucky ones that I appreciate this music so much.

I’m so glad I didn’t have a Walkman on those cartrips. I’m so glad I know all of these songs by heart, and as long as guys like Feinstein and Cincotti keep on doing what they do best, there will be plenty of people falling in love with and (and perhaps with the help of!) their music.

An absolutely gorgeous and lovely night of music. I’ll never forget it.

Diana Rissetto