by Milton W. Hamlin -
SGN A&E Writer
Two allegedly dying art forms drew intense, supportive, and appreciative audiences last weekend in the Emerald City. The Great American Songbook demonstrated its continued popularity as Michael Feinstein, modern America's cabaret king, packed Benaroya Hall in a top-notch pops concert. And Paramount Theatre house organist Jim Riggs performed an amazing program of all-but-forgotten theater and pop songs of the silent movie era.
The most popular, important, and influential male cabaret performer of the past 25 years, Michael Feinstein has visited Seattle many times. SGN readers may fondly remember his appearance with the Seattle Men's Chorus, where the openly Gay superstar opened his guest spotlight with, 'Well, I just found 185 new boyfriends.'
Feinstein, who feels he has been 'burned' by the media over the years, limits his press interviews to two per city. In a visit to Seattle some years back, he picked SGN (and The Seattle Times) over the daily P-I and two city weeklies with higher circulation figures. (Years later, this journalist had a chance to ask Feinstein the reason for his choice. He laughed and said, 'SGN was a natural for me, and Bobby Short and Eartha Kitt said, 'There's this guy in Seattle who knows what cabaret is and has been and should be.' What an honor.)
Feinstein's July 27 performance at Benaroya Hall, billed as a tribute to Frank Sinatra (his latest CD is titled The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life), found a near-capacity crowd - Gay men, straight couples, and music lovers of all stripes - out in full force. It was a first-rate, first-class salute to the Great American Songbook. Feinstein travels with his own musicians, a 17-piece big-band orchestra that simply couldn't be better. He is a class act in every department - talent, looks, and wardrobe.
A terrific overture started the high-spirited evening. Feinstein quickly entered to George and Ira Gershwin's immortal 'S Wonderful.' Hit after hit followed - the classic 'Let There Be You,' 'Maybe This Time' (from the film version of Cabaret), Benny Goodman's iconic 'Sing, Sing, Sing.' Act Two opened with 'More (Theme from Mondo Cane)' - a beautiful song and a huge hit in its era, from a justly forgotten movie.
The long-awaited Sinatra tribute proved to be a 'Greatest Hits' retrospective covering four decades, from the 1940s into the '70s, featuring songs recorded by or otherwise associated with the Chairman of the Board. 'Fly Me to the Moon' (officially titled 'In Other Words,' Feinstein charmingly noted) was an obvious audience favorite. It was followed by 'Come Fly With Me,' 'Witchcraft,' 'A Foggy Day (in London Town),' 'I've Got the World on a String,' 'Summer Wind,' 'All or Nothing at All,' 'I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plans,' the sad and weary 'Angel Eyes,' the melancholy 'One for My Baby (and One More for the Road),' 'Night and Day,' 'You Make Me Feel So Young,' 'I've Got You Under My Skin,' and 'That's Life.' 'New York, New York' was strangely short, the reason for which later became apparent.
At the piano, with or without vocals, or at the stage-center microphone, Feinstein ruled the night. 'Alexander's Ragtime Band,' Irving Berlin's first hit (in 1911), literally stopped the show. A lovely tribute to Nat 'King' Cole brought 'When I Fall in Love' and 'My Foolish Heart' center-stage for an emotionally charged change. Then - yes, there was more - a Louis Armstrong tribute featured 'Hello, Dolly!' complete with perfectly rendered, politically incorrect accents. Another quiet outing followed with the Gershwins' '(My Sweet) Embraceable You,' 'Nice Work if You Can Get It,' and a wistful 'Someone to Watch Over Me.' 'Summertime,' from Porgy & Bess, opened with a topical quip - 'Today, we call it Fifty Shades of 'Summertime.' Bows, applause, more bows, more smiles. Exit music. And then - the topper of the evening. 'It's a song made famous by Frank Sinatra but forever owned by my good friend, Liza Minnelli,' Feinstein charmed, setting the crowd up for the obvious. To say that 'New York, New York' blew the roof off Benaroya is a serious understatement.
What a night. What a show. What memories. Way to go, Seattle Symphony! Way to go, Michael Feinstein!
Check with the Symphony for upcoming events at (206) 215-4747 or www.seattlesymphony.org. Tell 'em SGN sent ya.
JIM RIGGS AND PAUL HANSEN
Riggs Rocks the Paramount! featured organist Jim Riggs at the Paramount's Mighty Wurlitzer with drummer Paul Hansen complementing the percussion elements of the theater organ. To misquote a Hollywood classic, it was a matinee to remember.
Riggs, house organist for the Paramount's 'Silent Movie Mondays' series, has been a movie theater organist for over 30 years. In that time he has played at every major silent movie palace in the nation.
After brief introductory comments, Riggs and Hansen opened the afternoon benefit with 'Isn't It a Lovely Day.' With Seattle's summer weather at its best, it truly was - both in the glorious Paramount and outdoors.
A delightful, unexpected bonus found today's high-tech era teamed with yesteryear's silent movie staple, the Mighty Wurlitzer. The Paramount is one of a very few movie palaces to retain its original Wurlitzer organ. It no longer rises dramatically from below the stage, but all its parts, all the tweets and toots and marimbas, are in place and in working order. The highlight of this performance was the use of live video cameras to show how the special sound effects are generated. Video close-ups of the contraptions that create horses' hoofs, boat whistles, train whistles, castanets, wind chimes, gongs, marimbas, bird calls - the list goes on and on - provided a true 'once in a lifetime' event for organ fans.
The song list was heavy on the forgotten or near-forgotten: 'With My Sweetie in the Moonlight,' 'Moonlight on the Ganges,' 'Isn't It Heavenly?' and the title to top all titles, 'When Your Little Pomeranian Met My Little Pekinese.' A salute to Glen Gray and His Casa Loma Five, a long-forgotten big-name orchestra from the 1920s, brought 'Smoke Rings' to center stage. A lengthy and moving Civil War tribute featured 'Dixie,' 'Home, Sweet Home,' and 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'
Details on all events sponsored or supported by the Puget Sound Theatre Organ Society are available at www.pstos.org. Tell 'em - well, regular SGN readers know what to say.
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