Michael Feinstein sits at the piano. The lights dim. The audience leans forward. "Love is rare," he sings. "Life is strange. Nothing lasts. People change."
If you're looking for that perfect theatrical moment, very little can match Feinstein's rendition of "Old Friend," the nancy Ford-Gretchen Cryer song from their 1978 Off Broadway musical, I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, which played at Joseph Papp's Public Theater (Papp may have dies 18 years ago, but his legacy survives).
It's part of Feinstein and Cheyenne Jackson's The Power of Two, their debut cabaret act at Feinsteins at Loews Regency. They're new friends, rather than old, but they have put together an evening that brings multiple smiles to your face and shows a budding rapport that augurs well for a burgeoning cabaret future together.
Feinstein first recorded "Old Friend," the words and music of a woman sitting in a bar contemplating her life, for his first CD, "Live at the Algonquin," in the mid 1980s. He said at the time that he expected to be singing into his 60s and beyond. Well, he's 52 now, it's still part of his repertory, and the passage of time has lent his interpretation a knowledge, a maturity, a wistful sadness, a depth of emotion, a precise phrasing, a sense of the song's psychological reality and a lingering hope that makes it even stronger that it once was. Unforgettable.
Feinstein and Jackson's act, like the song, is not to be missed. They work and play well together in a show whose theme is, as its title says, the power of two - whether a couple, a composer-lyricist team, or two performers on stage together. Feinstein and Jackson first met last December at a Christmas-tree lighting ceremony in Bryant Park. Feinstein invited Jackson and Jackson's partner to a dinner party at Feinstein's home, where Jackson, after two quick glasses of wine, sat back and broke an 18th century chair. That didn't break the new friendship, which led to their cabaret partnership.
Among the songwriting teams whose strengths they illustrate, individually and together, are Cy Coleman and David Zippel ("I'm Nothing Without You")- George and Ira Gershwin ("A Foggy Day")-Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg ("Old Devil Moon")- Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein ("We Kiss in a Shadow")- Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington ("I'm Checkin' Out Goombye")- and the Indigo Girls, for the title number, "The Power of Two," which is not Feinstein's usual fare but which they do with unexpected, well, power.
Jackson, whose Broadway credits include All Shook Up, Xanadu and the recent Finian's Rainbow at City Center, has a strong and expressive voice. He was his evening's best in Hoagy Carmichael's "I Get Along Without You Very Well," after which he talked about Barbara Cook's advice to him about singing - to go deep into the emotion. Appropriately, when he declares in the song that he should never think about spring, because that would bring back painful memories and "would surely break my heart in two," you believe him.
And then you remember that just a little bit earlier Feinstein broke your own heart in two, with "Old Friend."
"People change," for sure. And with Feinstein that change has made him even better. Which, considering how good he already was, is saying something.