Theatre Royal Haymarket, London SW1
Opened 14 September, 2004

Barbara Cook kicked off the Haymarket's "Singular Sensations" strand of short-run concert presentations with her second West End appearance this year, and now Michael Feinstein plays a fortnight with the unfussily titled In Concert.

Feinstein's programme biography describes him as "one of the premier interpreters of American popular song", which is fairly indisputable, and "a household name since...1988", which isn't, at least in the UK. On this side of the Atlantic, he simply isn't that well known beyond a circle of aficionados, a state of affairs which showed in an unpacked opening-night house. Despite his professed Anglophilia, too, he seems on occasion to expect rather more adulation than he receives: bigger laughs at his jokes, perhaps a round or two of "American" applause when he merely namechecks a legend. He scarcely lets it show, though, maintaining an easy and well-honed line in between-songs patter. Musing on how many of the great Christmas songs were written by Jews, he remarks, "I think it's going to be the subject of Mel Gibson's next movie."

He is an adept interpreter of the songs of Johnny Mercer, Rodgers & Hart and the like: his voice is at once breathy and resonant, and is agreeably light on tremolo. On slower numbers, though, there's a hint of the old stager's affliction of being too busy "interpreting" to actually come in on the beat at the beginning of a line. His piano-playing, too, tends towards syrupy arpeggios; wider-ranging are the arrangements when musical director John Oddo takes the keyboard to lead Feinstein's backing sextet. (Band numbers and solo vocal-and-piano outings alternate fairly regularly one-to-one.)

Almost all the numbers in Feinstein's set come from stage or screen musicals, but despite the occasional throwaway remark it's clearly the songs that he's interested in rather than the shows. It struck me as rather neglectful that in an evening which included remembrances of both Ira Gershwin (who archivist and assistant Feinstein had been) and his "second mother" Rosemary Clooney, he made not even the briefest allusion to the death scant days ago of lyricist Fred Ebb, half of possibly the last great Broadway songwriting team. Still, on occasions like this I fall back on Miss Jean Brodie's observation: "For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like."

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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