As crisp color film clips featuring MGM movie stars from Hollywood’s golden age were projected on a screen behind him, showman extraordinaire Michael Feinstein sang “That’s Entertainment.” It was just one of many inspiring moments that took place during Saturday’s lavish opening celebration of the Tarkington Theater, the newest of three now-completed venues at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.
That stunning production sequence, which opened the slickly produced concert written by Hollywood scriptwriter Duane Poole, was just a prelude to a rare evening of entertainment that was yet to come.
Featuring television (famous for his role as Dr. Niles Crane in “Frasier”) and Broadway star David Hyde Pierce as the main guest, the concert program also included performances by dancers from the American Ballet Theatre and Julia Bonnett, 2009 winner of the American Songbook High School Academy and Competition sponsored by the Michael Feinstein Foundation.
Bonnett, whose major prize was an appearance with Feinstein at Feinstein’s at Lowe’s Regency in New York City, was a vision of poise and elegance as she dramatized “Maybe This Time,” from Cabaret, in a voice perfect in pitch and beauteous in tone.
Bonnett, Feinstein and Pierce were accompanied by the show’s superb four-piece band, led by music director John Oddo, a frequent collaborator with Feinstein.
Singing Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “Time After Time,” Feinstein once again demonstrated his unique ability to caress a lyric and transport his listeners to a place of wistful tranquility.
Feinstein also showed off his razor-sharp ability to quickly shift moods and transform into a nimble-witted jokester, which is part of his on-stage persona.
Possessing impeccable timing, the versatile singer and pianist also displayed his considerable comedic talent, telling what he called “Jewish jokes by Jewish comedians,” during a long set change.
With a lesser comedian, these gags might have fallen short, but Feinstein had the well-heeled black-tie Carmel crowd in stitches.
The combination of Feinstein’s effervescence and Pierce’s droll delivery and deadpan visage made for a winning duo. Delighting the audience with their playful interaction, the two, who happen to be close friends, sang “Together With Music,” with lyrics by Noel Coward, and Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top.” Further revealing their friendly bond, the two also sat down together at the piano to play a wacky duet of a ragtime tune.
The Tony award-winning Hyde, who says that his first love is the theater, proved his mettle as a Broadway performer when he sang solos. Singing in a rich baritone voice, he performed a song cut from the musical “Hello Dolly” titled “Penny in my Pocket,” and reprised “You Won’t Make It to Broadway,” a song he originated in “Spamalot.”
During a program that mostly paid tribute to Hollywood, Broadway and the American Songbook, the performance of Stella Abera and Gennadi Saveliev, principal dancers of the American Ballet Theatre, was a special addition. Dancing the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, the two were magnificent in their execution.
Another highlight of this grand opening extravaganza was a video introduced by Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard (the main force behind the planning and construction of the Center for the Performing Arts) that documented the building and tuning performances at the Tarkington, which will serve as the home of the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, and others.
Scored to Feinstein singing “At Long Last Love,” and “We Dreamed These Days,” the skillfully produced piece will no doubt be used not only as a promotional vehicle for the Tarkington, but also as a public relations tool to dull criticism regarding the entire Center for the Performing Arts’ costs, which have dogged it since its inception.
As noted during the program’s opening remarks made by Rollin Dick, chairman of the board, and Frank Basile, the interim CEO, it is hoped that the Center will play a major role in and influence the cultural life of not only the region, but the entire country and internationally as well.
During the show’s finale, Feinstein sang a poignant rendition of “You Are My Lucky Star,” while a montage consisting of black-and-white head shots of iconic film stars was screened behind him.
It was a more than suitable conclusion to an evening notable not only for its glamour and world class entertainment, but also for its deep-seated acknowledgment of why the arts truly matter and how important they are to our lives.
For tickets and information regarding the remainder of the 2010-2011 season and upcoming 2011-2012 season for the Center for the Performing Arts, call (317) 843-3800 or visit www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.com.