The Great American Songbook expert Michael Feinstein is back at Feinstein’s/54 Below through August with a new show called Showstoppers, in which he’ll take on showtunes that made audiences gasp, applaud or cringe when they appeared in their respective musicals. On select dated Feinstein will be joined by guest stars like Betty Buckley, John Lloyd Young and more, all of whom promise to make this one of the most exciting tickets of the season. I spoke to Feinstein about how he put together the show and some of his other upcoming projects.
Last time we spoke I had just read your book The Gershwins and Me, I wonder if you’re planning on turning that into a documentary or a show?
It’s funny, because lately I’ve been talking to producers about tentatively doing a show called Ira and Me, that would be my personal My Tuesdays with Morrie about my relationship with Ira Gershwin and the period when I worked for him, I was 20, he was 80, but despite the 60 age difference I spent six years learning so much from him. I hope I’m able to turn this into a theatrical experience.
When you’re putting together a setlist for a show like Showstoppers, how do you even begin to figure out what songs you want to do?
The first thing I do is come up with an idea or a title and that helps me focus on what I want to do, that helps me take it out of the box. This show for instance because it’s called Showstoppers it has a connotation many people expect, so I have to come up with the unexpected connected to that title. In this case I’ll explore the times when a show stops because a song doesn’t work, like “The Man I Love” which literally did not get any reaction when it was in Lady Be Good. One night Adele Astaire sang it and they took it out of the show because it stopped the show but not in a good way...or Patti LuPone stopping the show (laughs)
What makes you most excited about the guests you’ll have in this series?
Performing with them at Feinstein’s/54 Below because it’s a special room, it’s very gratifying for performers and an audience. I’ve worked with Betty Buckley before and she’s spectacular, we worked on a big stage, but this will be out first time in a nightclub so I’m looking forward to that. I’m also excited about getting to sing with John Lloyd Young for the first time, I’ve known him socially for years but we’ve never sung together, same goes for Erich Bergen. Having the opportunity to work with all of them is really exciting.
Have you found that given how chaotic our world has made you more aware of the importance of storytelling through the arts?
There’s no question that art has become extremely important, it always has been, now though I see so many artists who are not political in their shows, but are expressing emotions and feelings that the population is expressing collectively. I’m not talking about one ideology versus the other, but the struggle to survive on a fundamental basis. I saw Lady Rizzo in London recently and she did a show that was so great because it addressed so many emotions, hers was a bit more political but I was impressed because she wasn’t shoving anything down people’s throats. People just connected to her and came out of the show more aware of how important work like this is.
Have you been drawn to specific art forms as a sort of refuge?
I find certainly that I’m not looking at the news as much because it feels like it’s phony in that what is propagated as news is not always that, it’s more of an attempt to instill fear in people. I’m not paranoid or a conspiracy theorist kinda guy, but I see many things happening in the world that have made me turn more to art as a way of addressing those things I feel in a way moves us closer to our hearts. I see people not trusting themselves, not connected to their soul on a level that is absolutely necessary to survive today.
If you had the chance to make a film about your life in the style of classic biopics like Night and Day, what would you call it and who would star in it?
I don’t know I’d do a biography of me because there are so many other lives I think are more interesting. I still hope I can make the Gershwin biopic I was developing with Marc Platt at Universal, Doug Wright wrote the screenplay and Steven Spielberg was going to direct it, but he went on to another project. I still want to work on the definitive Gershwin biopic.
For tickets to Michael Feinstein: Showstoppers click here.