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Michael Feinstein

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By Esther Lynn
It’s almost like the question that has puzzled mankind for centuries, “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” In this case, though, it’s “What came first, the TV series star or the cabaret artist?”

For example, UNLV‘s New York Stage & Beyond series had scheduled Mandy Patinkin (Chicago Hope), Betty Buckley (Eight Is Enough), and Bebe Neuwirth (Cheers and Frasier) among the 2005-2006 season‘s interesting lineup of stars. But this is real life, folks, and things are subject to change.

Tony-winner Mandy Patinkin, who was scheduled to launch the concert series, had to cancel his current cabaret tour because he has a new TV series, Criminal Minds, debuting on CBS this month. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, in Patinkin’s place, Michael Feinstein will take to the Artemus Ham Hall concert stage on the evening of September 23.

Always a crowd pleaser, it was Feinstein who was the first performer featured in the Broadway/Las Vegas series when UNLV started this type of entertainment in September of 1999. Las Vegas “openings” seem to beckon Feinstein. On October 15, 1998, when the luxurious Bellagio opened, it was the popular singer/pianist in the spotlight of the hotel’s beautiful new Fontana Room. It isn’t surprising that UNLV has brought him back as part of this season’s series.

Feinstein started playing the piano by ear when he was only five. By the time he was in his teens, he was entertaining at weddings and parties in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. After graduation, he worked at local piano bars, and at age 20, he moved to Los Angeles. Through the widow of renowned concert pianist-actor Oscar Levant, Feinstein was introduced to Ira Gershwin. After years of working with the legendary songwriter, Feinstein became Gershwin’s musical assistant. That long-term relationship, lasting from 1977 until Ira Gershwin’s death in 1983, helped to build Feinstein’s interest in American composers. Today Feinstein is widely recognized as one of the foremost experts and interpreters of Ira’s brother George Gershwin's music.

Mr. Feinstein’s career break came in 1986 with his debut at the Algonquin in New York. It was through Liza Minnelli that Feinstein got his next big break. Liza with a Z was so impressed after seeing Feinstein’s cabaret act, she sponsored his 1988 Broadway debut. “Isn’t it Romantic” was a smashing success and made Michael Feinstein famous.

Through his live performances, recordings, film and television appearances, and his songwriting, Feinstein has become an important and respected musical force. He was recently elected to the Library of Congress’s National Sound Recording Advisory Board, and last December he received the first ever ASCAP American Songbook Award for his dedication to traditional popular standards.

In the last two decades, there have been 21 Michael Feinstein albums, a number of them paying tribute to American songwriters including Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerry Herman, Burton Lane, Jay Livingston & Ray Evans, Hugh Martin, Jule Styne and Jimmy Webb. His 1998 Michael & George: Feinstein Sings Gershwin (containing the most incredibly, uniquely arranged version of Embraceable You ever), earned him one of his four Grammy-nominations. His latest release, Hopeless Romantics, is a collaboration with jazz legend George Shearing.

A performer, composer, and arranger of his own music, Michael Feinstein also interprets the songs of music legends such as Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Johnny Mercer, Duke Ellington, and Harry Warren. He performs in major concert halls, small jazz clubs, on college campuses, and with symphony orchestras all around the world. In the fall of last year, Feinstein completed a sold-out two-week engagement at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London’s West End.

In addition to his travels away from home, the talented entertainer can frequently be seen, heard and enjoyed in his own Manhattan nightclub, Feinstein’s At the Regency. For a period of time, Feinstein also booked acts and performed at the famed Cinegrill in Los Angeles. There was even some talk about him looking for a semi-permanent Las Vegas room that would offer the same type of entertainment. As of yet, that hasn’t happened, so it is opportunities like appearances at UNLV that give Las Vegans and Las Vegas visitors the opportunity to experience the finest in cabaret talent.

Chances are that those who have seen Michael Feinstein perform before will be in sitting in the brand-new plush seats at Ham Hall to see him again. For those who have never had the privilege, my suggestion is that if you love the American classics, beautifully interpreted, order your tickets immediately. You don’t want to miss this one.

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