Michael Feinstein: The Piano Man Comes Back

Finding a new power of two with Dame Edna in Broadway’s All About Me, the “Ambassador of the Great American Songbook” talks all about his anger with The Advocate and Kevin Spacey.




I can understand your not bothering to alter the female pronouns in a traditionally male-sung song, but are the male gender pronouns a constant issue for you every time you sing or record a standard originally intended for a female?
No. I don’t have the issues about it that other people do. To me, love is not about pronouns or gender. When I sing a love song, whether I sing “he” or “she” doesn’t change the emotion of it. Anybody who listens to a love song, whether male or female, adapts it in their own mind to what they want it to be. Sometimes I’ll change it, but sometimes I’ll sing a song a certain way because having known the songwriters I know they would prefer me to sing it that way. I tend to still sing “she” because I know that’s the way Ira liked it, but I’ve sung “Someone to Watch Over Me” as “he” and as “she.” If I feel like it’s an audience who wants to hear the same-sex reference, I’ll put it in because more people will appreciate it. There’s no hiding of anything in my life at this point. It kind of doesn’t matter to me.

It was refreshing to hear you sing the lyric “my taste in men” instead of “my taste in friends” in the song “Old Friend” on the recording of The Power of Two, the show you did with Cheyenne Jackson last summer at your posh Manhattan nightclub, Feinstein’s at Loews Regency.
I recorded it once as “my taste in friends” back in the ’80s, and when I met [the songwriters] Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford, they actually told me that they preferred for me to say it that way. But because of the way Power of Two was coming together, I felt it worked better and would be more powerful as “my taste in men.” It felt good to sing it that way.

Yours and Cheyenne’s taste for men really seemed to inform that show. It made your duet of “We Kiss in a Shadow” from The King and I especially poignant.
That song was written about two people not being able to love because of their differences. I’d once been told by an older gentleman that Johnny Mathis’s recording of that song had become an underground anthem for him and other like-minded men when he was younger. That stuck with me, so I suggested to Cheyenne that we do it as a duet. Cheyenne said, “I don’t know if I want to do that song. Rodgers and Hammerstein all sounds alike to me.” [Laughs] I said, “Would you trust me on this?” Once we started to rehearse it, he immediately got it, of course. When we did that number in the show you could hear the palpable excitement of the audience. It turned out to be a high point of the show and very fulfilling to perform.

You also included “The Time Has Come,” a coming-out anthem written by Marshall Barer and Mickey Leonard after the Stonewall riots.
Marshall was a good friend of mine who died in 1998. He had a whole bunch of cassettes made up with just that song on them, and at one point he sent a bunch of them over to me with a note that said, “Dear Michael. Would you please distribute these wherever you find gatherings of a large number of cocksuckers? Love, Marshall.” I’ve always had great affection for that song, and introducing the song in that context gave it an added resonance.

So who’s the bigger diva — Dame Edna or Cheyenne Jackson?
No one’s a bigger diva than Dame Edna. She’s clinically a narcissist. Cheyenne could justifiably be a great diva, but he wins everything naturally with his charm and handsomeness. He’s the most fun, agreeable, and easygoing person to be around.

Well, thanks for being easygoing enough to bury the hatchet and do this interview. By the way, I’m mailing the latest copy of The Advocate to your dressing room. Sean Hayes speaks openly about his sexuality for the first time, but we refrain from using the words “comes out” on the cover. You’ll love it.
[Laughs] All right. I’m happy to return to the fold.

Tags: Music