By Sheryl Aronson
The stage at the Pasadena Pops rests among the bucolic setting of the Los Angeles Arboretum. In the distance, The San Gabriel Mountains guard the peaceful surroundings like two watch towers. Guests are rejoicing with delicious food and drink as the sun begins to set and the evening air cools off. The cacophony of voices echo excitement and delight of the summer night, awaiting Michael Feinstein performing with the Pasadena Pops.
The lights fade to dark, the Pasadena Pops inundates the air with their luscious orchestration…the stage door opens and Michael Feinstein walks out with a beautiful smile on his face. He looks dapper in a black fitted suit ready to perform his Grammy –nominated The Sinatra Project. The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook’s voice resounds with a rich, romantic, old fashioned feel and we’re off and running as he croons, Something’s Gotta Give.
For the next two hours Michael Feinstein transfixes and mesmerizes the audience with his superb vocals and vast knowledge of Frank Sinatra’s musical career.
Feinstein elaborates how Johnny Mercer, the composer/lyricist, expressed exactly what Frank Sinatra wanted to say in his music. In the next song, about revenge, I Wanna Be Around, Feinstein delivers just the right tone and feel to the dramatic flavor and the Pops band add a swinging rhythm.
“Frank Sinatra was responsible for a lot of songs becoming standards,” Feinstein explains. “He would pluck them from obscurity and make them popular.”
One such tune was I’ve Got a Crush on You, which was from the musical Treasure Girl. For this number, the vocalist plays the Steinway Grand Piano, and with a sweet, falsetto voice that casts a spell on everyone, he makes us all feel what a crush does to the heart. Changing the mood, a tad, the Pops show their talent by playing a swing arrangement of Pennies From Heaven. Feinstein informs us that this special piece was done by Sinatra because, “Frank liked to take a ballad and swing it.”
A clarinet solo rings out with the upbeat tempo and Michael Feinstein leads the crowd in singing back to him, “Pennies from Heaven…” We also hear the Nelson Riddle’s arrangement of If I Love You which again Feinstein silences the audience using his dramatic flair to reach out and pierce our emotions with the climatic rise of vocals then falling into a soft refrain.
The other songs following were Day In, Day Out, Three Coins In a Fountain, Too Marvelous for Words, and ending the first set with Maybe This Time. The song choice was perfect because the Pasadena Pops performs the composition with a bluesy feel as Michael Feinstein commands the stage, building to a heartfelt peak of emotion. When he finishes the tune singing, “Maybe this time I will win!” the fans clap thunderously.
Returning to the stage for the second set, Feinstein decks himself out in a sparkly tux and bowtie Las Vegas style that was befitting for the next delivery of music. We learn that the one person Sinatra was intimidated by was the legendary Louis Armstrong. Feinstein reveals, “Frank felt overwhelmed and terrified singing the Birth of the Blues with Louis Armstrong.” Feinstein showed off his jazz chops crooning his version.
As Feinstein delivered the fabulous love ballad, The Second Time Around, I could see his eyes glimmer with feeling. His rendition was mellifluous…evoking pure tenderness. Adding a touch of humor to the show, Michael Feinstein tells a story about Frank Sinatra’s dealings with the infamous, “Rat Pack.” In the movie, Robin and the Seven Hoods, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin sang, You’ve Either Got or Haven’t Got Style. The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook displays why he was named this title. Feinstein performs this number with perfection.
“Sinatra invented the term…saloon song,” Michael Feinstein told the audience. “These were songs about heartbreak sung with a glass of vodka in one hand and a cigarette in the other hand. Frank Sinatra said, ‘I am the most transparent when I sing.’
The evening ended with a medley of Sinatra Standards which epitomized the glory and grandeur of Frank Sinatra’s musical career. All of these divine, hit melodies soars out of the performer’s mouth with such composure and finesse: Fly With Me, Witchcraft, A Foggy Day, I’ve Got the World on a String, Summer Wind, All or Nothing At All, Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, Angel Eyes, That’s Life, Night and Day, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, and You Make Me Feel So Young.
The audience demanded an encore and Michael Feinstein crooned like “Ol Blue Eyes, Young At Heart, and everyone walked out of the concert feeling exactly that sentiment.
For more information regarding the Summer series of the Pasadena Pops go to:
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Photo Credit: Sheryl Aronson/The Hollywood 360