OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Michael Feinstein reprises “Sinatra Project” at L.A. Arboretum

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

FesinsteinMichael Feinstein performing the music of Frank Sinatra would seem to be a perfect fit. After all, Feinstein has made a career of curating, promoting and performing “The Great American Songbook” and no one belongs in that genre more than “Ol’ Blue Eyes.”

For the second consecutive year it was a perfect fit as Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops, led by its resident conductor, Larry Blank, presented “The Sinatra Project, Vol. 2” last night at the Los Angeles County Arboretum.

For the second consecutive year it also was boffo box office as a sold-out audience packed the tables and sprawled on the The Giant Lawn of the Arcadia facility.

As usual, Feinstein, the orchestra’s Principal Pops Conductor, mixed Sinatra favorites with pieces that had been unperformed for decades — or at all. Feinstein provided his typically erudite commentary, which was compact enough that the entire program clocked in at slightly more than just two hours, even allowing for CEO Laura Unger’s gushing thanks to the evening’s sponsors and a lugubrious rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, led by Concertmaster Aimee Kreston.

One thread to the evening was Feinstein’s use of arrangers indelibly linked to Sinatra, including Nelson Riddle and Ruby Bloom. Blank also offered a couple of his arrangements and led the Pops as it played well both as an orchestra and a ’30s-style jazz band.

As is typical of Feinstein programs, he offered a couple of “discoveries”: Blank’s arrangement of Orange, and a complete performance of Three Coins in the Fountain (Sinatra recorded the title song for the 1954 movie but what was used wasn’t the complete version that Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne created).

Throughout the evening Feinstein played every role but conductor: singing some of the songs (such as Something’s to Give) accompanied by the orchestra, some (e.g., I’ve Got a Crush on You) from the piano, and Birth of the Blues, where Feinstein offered a spiffy piano solo.

Perhaps the most poignant piece was If I Loved You, from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s movie Carousel. Feinstein preceded this by noting the familiar story about why Sinatra elected not to appear as Billy Bigelow in the movie — he didn’t want to have to record each scene twice, once in standard format and the other in widescreen, which was necessary in those days.

However, Feinstein offered a different version, courtesy of Shirley Jones (the female star), who said Sinatra was afraid that his wife, Ava Gardner, would have an affair with Humphrey Bogart while they were overseas making a movie, so Sinatra withdrew to join her. It was a typical Feinstein historical note.

The evening concluded with a medley of Sinatra songs, a reprise from the conclusion of last year’s Sinatra Project. If there is to be a Volume 3 it won’t be next year. Instead, Feinstein is slated to sing an evening of Swing Music on July 29 as the third concert in the 2017 summer season.

This year’s season continues on August 20 with Feinstein conducting the Pops in music by Cole Porter (INFO) and concludes on September 10 with an evening of music from Warner Bros (INFO).

For next season, the pattern from Feinstein’s first seasons seems to be well entrenched. 2017 will open with Feinstein conducting the Pops in Broadway: the Golden Age on June 17 and continues with music from Jersey Boys and Beyond on July 15, with Blank leading the Pops and four members of the Broadway musical. After Feinstein Sings Swing on July 29 will come Gershwin and Friends on August 19 and Universal Studios Favorites on September 9, both with Feinstein conducting.

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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