If hot music means more to you than heated politics, the place to be this past Tuesday wasn't Charlotte, North Carolina but New York City and Feinstein's at Loews Regency where Michael Feinstein and Marilyn Maye were -- as the title of their tandem show has it -- "Swingin' the Night Away." The good news about a rousing set they said at the beginning would champion optimism is that it extends through September 22 and is an example of the heady heights to which out-and-out, no-holds-barred entertainment can reach.
From start -- a medley of Jerry Herman's "Big Time" and "Open a New Window" -- to finish--a medley of "When You're Smiling" and "Smile" -- the pair varied the moods but in no way held back. And that extended not only to the bold and brassy belting that went on but to their bright badinage. Of course, neither of them can be said to be shy or reticent when it comes to working a room until it squeals with delight.
That lucky Regency space was worked to a fare-thee-well. The first and last medleys weren't the only ones. Feinstein and Maye also raised the ceiling a few feet with tributes to songs about: 1) rainbows ("Why are there so many songs about rainbows?" the lyric goes in "The Rainbow Connection"); 2) being wonderful ("Mr. Wonderful" just one ditty that allowed Feinstein to kid himself); and 3) boogie (with Maye going to town on "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy").
When Feinstein and Maye weren't dueting in superb demonstrations of the old axiom about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts, they took turns soloing and thereby flaunting many colors that don't appear in the rainbows they'd already ballyhooed. Feinstein, whose skill at impersonations is sharply honed, did Louis Armstrong singing 'Hello, Dolly" before delivering it as himself -- with new Herman lyrics, no less. He paid his respects to Tony Martin as an influence on him and segued into kudos for Marvin Hamlisch with "The Way We Were."
Maye, who never bolsters her clarion approach by sacrificing an intuitive understanding of lyrics, was tough but tender on the Ralph Blane-Hugh Martin "Ev'ry Time." The age-defiant octogenarian also sizzled on "Take Five," and if she'd sung it any faster, the ringside tables would have spun.
That's hardly all. The top-flight band boasted Ken Peplowski on woodwinds, Tom Hubbard on bass, Albie Berk on drums, Glenn Drews on trumpet and the marvelous Ted Firth hunched at the piano. Furthermore, in the midst of all the vocal jollity, Feinstein brought up a guest, Nick Ziobro, the 16-year-old winner of the Feinstein Initiative, which the room's namesake founded as yet another way for him to help perpetuate the American Songbook.
Tall and good-looking, Ziobro, who'll return September 14, gave "All of Me" a going-over that started smoothly and then caught wildfire. The upshot was, the lad -- looking as if he's been doing this for more than 16 years -- proved that handled properly, he wouldn't take long to earn the sort of wide-spread appreciation Michael Bublé has now.
Or Feinstein has. Certainly, the argument can be made that Feinstein is currently our leading male vocalist -- with his pure, gutsy pipes and love of sustaining final notes from here to East Jabip. And the reason he has the edge on just about anyone crooning today is that he doesn't simply draw on standards as first-rate material but that behind his singing is an undiluted commitment to insuring these songs stand the test of time for the foreseeable and unforeseeable future.
More power to him -- not that either Maye or he needs more power, as together and separately they swing the bracing night away.