Singer, pianist and musical historian Michael Feinstein flies through the incarnations of the Chairman of the Board and his many friends, and adds all-important context to the songs of a great era in American music.
There’s no slow start to Sinatra and Friends as the band of no less than 17 musicians bursts into life and Feinstein enters singing Luck Be A Lady. Immediately the audience is left without a doubt as to Feinstein’s showman prowess and powerful voice.
Happily, the show only gets better from there, satisfying an afternoon audience with a strong set ripped from the pages of the Great American Songbook, or as Feinstein likes to joke, the Rod Stewart Songbook. He’s not used to performing in the afternoon he says, grinning ear to ear, joking that, “this is the time I normally get up!”
Running just over time, Feinstein packs this set with a broad array of 20th century hits and forgotten gems from Sinatra and those he sung with, hung out with, or was inspired by. It’s a balanced collection of songs, and Feinstein cleverly pushes the audience’s emotional buttons, performing low-key, more delicate numbers throughout the swing and bombast of Ol’ Blue Eyes. Every audience member will pick a different favourite, but for this reviewer, a stripped back, surprisingly moving version of Fly Me To The Moon was the standout.
The setlist isn’t a chronological, historical review, or some sort of dissection of genre, but more a entertainingly diverse collection of songs that feel timeless. As Feinstein himself says, the oldest song of the show from WC Handy, St Louis Blues (written in 1914), feels like the most contemporary of the performance.
Beside the songs themselves, Feinstein’s insightful interludes into the industry and stars with which he has worked for decades is a fascinating component of the show. There’s name-dropping galore, of course, but it’s not out of place, as Feinstein recounts tales both melancholic and hilarious. His tale of witnessing the romance between close friend Liza Minelli and Peter Allen is particularly moving.
With Sinatra and Friends, Feinstein manages to perform a show that is at once enlightening, crowd-pleasing and surprising. It’s a helluva show.
Michael Feinstein performed Sinatra and Friends at Her Majesty’s Theatre in a matinee performance on Friday, June 23