Michael Feinstein acknowledged the extraordinary musical contributions of Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Rita Moreno and Jimmy Webb during the honorees’ induction into the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame, Saturday at the Palladium on the campus of the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel, Ind.
Feinstein, who serves as the Center’s artistic director, is also the president/CEO of the Michael Feinstein Initiative, whose mission is “to bring the music of the Great American Songbook to young people today and to preserve it for future generations.”
The induction ceremonies and accompanying tribute concert comprised the second half of a two-day event during the 2013 Encore Celebration Gala Weekend. Friday’s event was a dinner and dance at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, held to honor the inductees. Co-chairs of the Gala Weekend were Stephen and Elizabeth Taylor.
Hosted by Feinstein, directed by Stephen Brotebeck and produced by Robert Pullen, the production, with a well-crafted script by writer David Levy, featured a 16-piece orchestra conducted by music director and pianist John Oddo. Pianist Gary Walters also played.
Setting a slick tone for the briskly paced production was an opening dance sequence choreographed by Indianapolis native and NYC-based choreographer Joshua Prince. Dancing to “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” played by the orchestra conducted by Luke Frazier, were Kurt Froman, Nancy Lemenager, Tyler Stricker, Alex Stoll and Ryan Worsing.
Tania Castroverde Moskalenko, the Center’s president/CEO, then made welcoming remarks prior to introducing Feinstein, who spent much of the evening (when he himself was not performing) at a podium in front of the table upon which the Encore Awards themselves were placed.
The evening’s first honoree was songwriter Jimmy Webb, whose tribute began with a video. It was the first of separate videos for each honoree — each consisting of a montage of images and music and a voiceover description of their backgrounds and careers. It was followed by Broadway performer and television star Tom Wopat, who sang a starkly mesmerizing rendition of Webb’s composition “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.”
Rita Moreno, the next honoree, was praised by television and film star Jimmy Smits for opening the door for other Latino entertainers, like him, to succeed. It was a sentiment that was repeated by singer/guitarist and fellow Puerto Rican José Feliciano, who honored Moreno with a heartfelt and tender Spanish-language version of “Strangers in the Night.”
The local performing arts community was recognized, as well as stunningly represented, when Dance Kaleidoscope company member Jillian Godwin commanded the stage as she performed a solo tribute to Frank Sinatra while dancing to his recording of “That’s Life.” Known for her power and passion, Godwin wowed the crowd with her reprise of a role that brought her acclaim when she performed it in “Old Blue Eyes: Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack,” which DK presented in December.
Godwin made a strong impact on Feinstein himself after he was invited by David Hochoy, DK artistic director, to see the Sinatra concert in the company’s rehearsal studio. Later Feinstein requested that Godwin join the cast of the show.
If Godwin’s knockout representation of the company wasn’t enough, the piece de resistance was Feinstein’s endorsement of Dance Kaleidoscope after she exited the stage. Calling them “fantastic,” Feinstein encouraged the audience to see DK perform.
Megan Hilty, star of the recently cancelled NBC show “Smash,” was supposed to have appeared in order to sing in honor of Minnelli, but was prevented from doing so because of weather problems which affected her flight to Carmel. Consequently, Feinstein did the honors when he sang one of Minnelli’s most famous songs, “Maybe This Time,” from the film “Cabaret.” The emotional and vocal power of Feinstein’s performance of the song was such that even the living legend herself led the audience in a standing ovation.
Following what was surely one of the evening’s highlights, Feinstein then promoted his pet project, the Great American Songbook High School Vocal Competition. Sponsored by the Michael Feinstein Initiative, this year’s finals will be held July 26 at the Palladium. Emphasizing that there was no better illustration of the Initiative’s mission than showcasing the 2012 competition winner, Feinstein introduced 17-year-old Nick Ziobro. Singing “I Won’t Dance,” Ziobro showed effortless poise as he moved about the stage with ease, impressing the crowd with his smooth vocals and the showmanship of one who was clearly born to entertain.
Ziobro’s performance allowed for enough time for all the award recipients to gather backstage. Once Feinstein returned to the podium, he introduced the recipients and they were individually handed their awards, followed by their brief comments of thanks.
The most memorable moment of the event took place when Minnelli closed the show with “New York, New York,” one of her premier signature songs. Though now bereft of the voice and physical agility she possessed when she was at her peak, Minnelli nevertheless exuded superstar presence as she deeply connected with an audience touched by her vulnerability and incomparable spirit.
For tickets and information regarding upcoming performances at the Center for the Performing Arts, call (317) 843-3800 or visit www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.
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