Michael Feinstein is the world’s greatest living exponent of cabaret and American popular song. I’ve wanted to ask him a question since seeing him perform at London’s Shaw theatre in 2008. He was building to the finale of his Sinatra Project show with For Once In My Life. At the end of the song, just before belting out the big last note, he paused, took a breath and physically braced himself. The audience could see he was working for the money and they loved it. I had my doubts it was really that hard for him. Was he making look hard on purpose to add a little sizzle to the show?
In this interview Michael shares his own secrets on stage craft and anecdotes from his friends like Liza Minelli, Quincy Jones, Marvin Hamlisch, Rosemary Clooney, Eartha Kitt, Elaine Stritch, Harry Warren, George Shearing, Barbara Cook and of course Ira Gershwin.
He talks about meeting Sinatra and we talk about his influence on popular song. “It’s a shame,” says Michael, “that the Great American Songbook seems to have been whittled down to one singer,” whose tinkering with lyrics he describes as, “the one flaw in otherwise perfection”.
We compare the singing styles of Broadway performers and singers from a jazz background, discuss diva attitudes on and off stage, and how to prepare ‘chat’ for a show.
We talk about Michael’s choice to be open about his sexuality, the effect it may have had on his career and whether we performers should refer to our private lives on stage.
As I discuss in Cabaret Secrets, practise and preparation are key to the cabaret singer’s success. When young people ask Michael for advice he tells them “Find a place to perform and do it over and over again”.
Finally I ask how he manages to balance his creativity against commercial demands, he answers with a quote from Oscar Levant, “My appeal was to a select few and they are in danger of being institutionalised”.