A GoPride Interview

Michael Feinstein

Michael Feinstein packs up his American Songbook and returns to Chicago for a special performance on Sept. 29

Thu. September 20, 2012  by Jerry Nunn

Michael Feinstein

michael feinstein

photo credit // gilles toucas
Singer Michael Feinstein packs up his American Songbook and returns to Chicago this fall.

The five-time Grammy Award winner and two-time Emmy nominee keeps the standards alive from Garland to Gershwin while serving as Artistic Director for The Center for the Performing Arts in Indiana.

On Sept. 29, the openly gay performer teams with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra for a special performance at the Auditorium Theatre that is not to be missed.

ChicagoPride.com's Jerry Nunn talked to him before his arrival in the Windy City.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Michael. Last time I talked to you was years ago about American Songbook. I went to your show not too long at Dominican University in Forest Park though.

MF: (Michael Feinstein) Oh, when I replaced Marvin Hamlisch. That was my solo show.

JN: I quoted you from the show "if you don't know Sinatra or Judy then you are in the wrong place!" You were very entertaining and I look forward to seeing your latest show at the Auditorium Theatre.

MF: Thank you. I am really looking forward to it because this is one of the great jazz orchestras. They have some fantastic arrangements so it will be a real swinging tribute to the Great American Songbook. It will be leavened by the ballads I do at the piano. I think it will be a balanced program of great music.

JN: There will be lots of Gershwin I presume?

MF: Gershwin will be included because I have a Gershwin book coming out October 16. The book is called The Gershwins and Me. Simon & Schuster is publishing it. That comes out two weeks after the concert.

JN: Is the book about your experience with Ira Gershwin?

MF: It is not a linear biography. It is a book I created for people who don't know a lot about the Gershwins so anybody could pick it up and learn about them. It is not scholarly. It is filled with a lot of anecdotes that I have told about people who knew the Gershwins. I organized it in chapters that are all specific springboards from their songs that were written at a certain time. I then tell stories that were related to those songs. I thought that would make it more interesting, sort of a potpourri as opposed to doing a linear study of their work. It is a beautiful book. It has a lot of gorgeous pictures and color photos, all kinds of rare stuff. The thing that makes me most delighted is Costco has agreed to carry it so that is a good sign!

JN: You won't be banned like Joan Rivers!

MF: I know, I thought next time I see Joan I am going to tease her.

JN: She put on a spectacle in front of one of their stores.

MF: She's a character.

JN: I know Rosemary Clooney was your next-door neighbor. Was their one celebrity that changed your life?

MF: Rosemary was my favorite singer. I adored her so much. She was like my second mom so she was very important to me. But through Ira Gerswin I met amazing people. Through Ira I met Leonard Bernstein, Lauren Bacall, and Angie Dickinson, who remains one of my favorite people. She's a good friend. Ira gave me my career and my identity. He educated me about songs and introduced me to people that have become lifelong friends. He made it possible for me to have experiences that I wouldn't have otherwise. It is because of Ira that I met Rosemary so it always goes back to him.

JN: I talked to Debbie Reynolds last week and she has sold off a lot of her private movie collection so I wondered if you have a big Broadway collection.

MF: I do have a large Broadway collection. My collection is centered around songs and songwriters. I have a lot of Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter memorabilia. I have a lot of material because I have lived in Los Angeles more than any other place. I have a massive collection. Some of it has been donated to the Library of Congress. Most of it is going to my own initiative that I started in Indiana. It is called the Michael Feinstein Initiative. The reason that it is there is because Carmel, Indiana, which is right next to Indianapolis, built a museum to house this collection. They support the arts and have the manpower to catalogue the collection. Carmel, Indiana is a model city and an incredible place. I am Artistic Director for The Carmel Center for the Performing Arts. It is a new 180 million dollar complex. It's one of the greatest places in the world. We have had major stars already and we are only in our second season. We've had everyone from Tony Bennett to Joshua Bell. Barry Manilow was there a few months ago. It is a major achievement.

JN: So you have a place to stay in LA and Indiana?

MF: Yes, I have a house in Carmel, a place in LA and a place in New York. I guess I am tri-coastal!

JN: You also have roots in Chicago with opening the Speakeasy restaurant in the past.

MF: Well Terrence, my husband, is from Ohio and has great friends in Chicago.

JN: How is Terrence doing?

MF: He's great. He's the most optimistic person I know. He's very disciplined and runs five miles every morning. He's so disciplined it makes me angry (both laugh)!

JN: Speaking of running, you are opening the AIDS Run & Walk here in Chicago.

MF: Yeah, I am looking forward to that.

JN: There will be a lot of people there.

MF: I have never done something for the Chicago gay community and it will be great to connect in that way.

JN: Are you singing?

MF: I don't know what is planned at this point. I haven't worked it out yet but I will be there. I am like Liza, she always says, "I'll be there!"

JN: Do you have a favorite new musical out of the new ones that have come out recently?

MF: No (both laugh).

JN: That's a great answer. So a "no" on Book of Mormon?

MF: Well, Book of Mormon I enjoyed. I love Casey Nicholaw who directed it and choreographed it. We worked together on my Broadway show. I think he is a genius. It's not a great score though. It is an entertaining show but I still like to go to the shows for the score. I am going to see Peter and the Starcatcher soon. I have been told it is spectacular. I guess it is not a full-blown musical but I hear it's fantastic.

JN: Keep me posted on that. So people can go to your website www.michaelfeinstein.com to purchase the new book and all of your music, correct?

MF: Yes and I will have a new Sinatra tribute CD at the show in Chicago. My last two CDs have been tributes to Frank Sinatra. I guess there will be preorders of the book until it officially comes out.

JN: So you might be singing "Chicago" at the show?

MF: It is possible. I have sung it before!

Catch Feinstein at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Congress Parkway, on Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m. Visit ticketmaster.com/auditorium or call (800) 982-2787 for tickets and information.

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.