Among the things the cherished soprano Barbara Cook and the cabaret saloon singer and pianist Michael Feinstein possess in abundance—aside from the pleasure of singing, sharing the stage with other respected artists and spreading joy—is an undiminished passion for preserving the classics in the Great American Songbook. Their annual holiday shows at Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency no longer have a seasonal bent. They’re just a welcome excuse for some favorite songs, served up in tinsel and holly. It’s not until the encore at the end of the evening that they examine their first and only nod to the festive season of eggnog and mistletoe, with Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” Still, if you can afford the outrageous prices, the show will leave you with a Yuletide glow through the end of December.
Fresh from her triumph at the Kennedy Center honors, Ms. Cook is fresh as a daisy as she opens with two other Berlin sunflowers from Annie Get Your Gun, “I Got the Sun in the Morning” and “I Got Lost in His Arms.” Mr. Feinstein, who acts as gracious host and tour guide through a program of year-round delights, takes advantage of the new age of sexual freedom of expression to turn Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s passionate lyrics to “Fifty Percent of Him” into a declaration of same-sex love. It stops the show all over again, just like it did every night when Dorothy Loudon sang it in the Broadway show Ballroom, only with a different slant. Together, they feed each other like kids sharing an ice cream cone on bouncy duets like “Deed I Do” and “Do Do Do.” Caveats? Mr. Feinstein’s blends “Let Me Love You” with “Let There Be Love” as a tribute to mentors Bobby Short and Mabel Mercer in an arrangement that seems a bit rushed, and I wish Ms. Cook would ditch the ossified “Here’s to Life” as her new theme song. Overdone, oversung and overexposed on every CD by every singer of the past decade, it’s a tune that has been wrung dry. On the plus side, neither performer is a jazz singer, but with the great Mike Renzi at the keyboard (don’t forget he was the accompanist of choice for Mel Tormé, Lena Horne and Peggy Lee and currently works with Jack Jones) even Ms. Cook swings her way through the Duke Ellington classic “I’m Beginning to See the Light” with the best big-band pluck since Kitty Kallen made the song famous with the Harry James Orchestra. A nod to Fred and Ginger follows with no dancing on the postage-stamp stage, which is good, but a warm, sharing kind of sweetness on “The Way You Look Tonight” is even better. For a finale, you can almost see children everywhere counting the hours until the arrival of Santa on Christmas Eve as their vices meld exquisitely on the Beatles’ lovely lullaby “Good Night.” And that’s exactly what it is, this mutual admiration society of charm, music and artistry that is rather like folding in the egg whites in a Christmas soufflé.
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