The Center Presents: An Evening With Michael Feinstein With Guest Melissa Manchester
The Palladium // Sat., May 15 – 3 p.m. and Sat., May 15 – 8 p.m.
SAT., MAY 15 8 P.M.
Don’t miss the return of world-class talent to the Palladium when Michael Feinstein and longtime friend Melissa Manchester team up for an evening of pop hits and gems from the Great American Songbook!
The concert will be Feinstein’s first live public performance—and the first Center Presents event with an on-site audience—in over a year. The two entertainers will perform individually and together, backed by a piano trio.
Feinstein, whose work as a singer, pianist, preservationist and ambassador of timeless popular music has earned him five Grammy Award nominations, is artistic director for the Center and founder of the Great American Songbook Foundation. While taking a break from the road, he has been developing a podcast, “Music and Madness,” featuring unique recordings from his personal collection. His upcoming album, “Gershwin Country,” was recorded in Nashville with a roster of top country artists.
Manchester is perhaps best known for her Billboard Top 10 singles “Midnight Blue,” the Grammy-nominated “Don’t Cry Out Loud” and “You Should Hear How She Talks About You,” which won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Her original songs have been recorded by artists including Barbra Streisand, Roberta Flack, Dusty Springfield, Alison Krauss and Kenny Loggins. She is rerecording several of her classics for her upcoming 24th album, “RE:VIEW.”
Please note: Tickets are available online at thecenterpresents.org and by phone at (317) 843-3800. The Palladium Box Office remains closed for in-person sales.
Janelle Morrison: Having been raised on your vinyl albums, I can speak to how your songs impact people at various points in their lives and remain timeless. Your songs are encouraging and lift people’s spirits in the most challenging of times. To that point, your 24th album, “RE:VIEW,” is a reimagined collection of some of your iconic hits, including “Don’t Cry Out Loud.” How have these songs impacted you personally throughout the pandemic?
Melissa Manchester: There are many things that are deeply interesting to me about this long, dark moment that we have lived through with the pandemic. In my experience, I wasn’t able to travel anywhere, to any of the places that I wanted to share my music, because the venues were shut down and some are still shut down. That created a new subtext to what “Don’t Cry Out Loud” was about. And that has been true to most of these songs that I’m rerecording. Suddenly, “Just You and I” is not a song about solidarity between friends or a romantic song. It’s suddenly about paying homage to frontline workers.
“Don’t Cry Out Loud” has a deeper and wider meaning for me in that, again, all of these venues that I and all of my colleagues around the world would be playing at were shuttered abruptly. And for me personally, that threw me into a very deep moment of grief and then anxiety. And then in the end, like any good onion that is peeled away, you do find grace for what you have. The useful part of this moment for me has been not only have I had a chance to look at society around me, but I’ve gotten a chance to really see the endless challenges, and it’s been very interesting. And these challenges have not gone unnoticed by me. There is light coming at the end of the tunnel, and it doesn’t seem to be a train coming at us anymore.
JM: I was reflecting on the connection “Don’t Cry Out Loud” has with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and how your timeless collection of songs is helping to bring comfort to your fans in this current pandemic.
Melissa: Well, that’s the thing that’s very interesting about art. For me, these songs have grown into this moment, and it was certainly not by my design. It’s just one of those unusual things that happen, and that becomes the enduring blessing of these songs. It’s why I never tire of them—ever. They have become monologues that I have grown into and can share.
JM: I read where you quoted Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” When Willy Loman dies, his widow, Linda, said, “Attention must be paid,” and you said this [statement] has become your mantra at this time. Would you care to expand upon that?
Melissa: When “Linda” said that about “Willy,” she was talking about an everyday, ordinary man with dreams and disappointments. And here we are, still mostly sequestered in our places with the opportunity to see our society, see what is broken, see what is beautiful and see what needs to be saved and nurtured. We can see what needs to be deconstructed and rethought when thinking about the unfinished work of the American promise so that we can all move forward together—that’s the attention that must be paid.
What is extraordinary about these times and about the reaction to the murder of George Floyd is how it awakened something in the nation and across the world. It has awakened that unfinished business that finally, hopefully, can be attended to.
JM: As a veteran of musical activism, you released the poignant music video, “A Better Rainbow,” in 2018, and it spoke to a wide breadth of demographics who have been feeling frustrated and helpless. I think this particular video helped to reinvigorate people’s desire to get involved and make a difference and made them feel that their contributions matter.
Melissa: Thank you. It seems to me that what I have learned, in this moment and in my life, is that the goal is not perfection. It’s never perfection. Perfection is a silly carrot that just makes us crazy. What’s more comprehensive is accomplishing a sense of wholeness. And part of the journey to wholeness is not only to awaken but to stay awake. I know there were many times in my life that I was sure I was awake. Then a couple of years later, I thought, “Damn, I fell asleep again! How did that happen?”
I’m finding that the notion of awakening is so powerful and so continuous, and it’s something you can really hold onto. You can monitor yourself by your reactions to things and monitor society by its reactions to things to see if we are consistently awakening or going back to sleep. I believe an awaking is really upon us, and that is a good and potentially glorious thing.
JM: Now that many venues throughout the nation are slowly and cautiously beginning to turn on their lights and reopen their doors, do you feel that as people begin to come back together in public spaces to enjoy visual and/or performance art that we will begin to build up the empathy that seems to have dissipated in society? And do you agree that the arts play a vital role in creating that empathy and common ground among its audiences?
Melissa: Those are very interesting questions. I think, by nature, we are hardwired to seek out community and to find safe harbor in community. We were not allowed to do that [due to the pandemic], and I think that the soul is hungry to go to venues to watch beautiful or interesting art on stage. And to be reminded of things that people didn’t realize they’d forgotten, which is what art can do. I think there’s such a hunger waiting to be satisfied because of all of this.
I am cautiously optimistic about what it will look like to reopen venues. I believe it’s going to be a slow unveiling because for every action there is going to be a COVID-19 reaction. But I think society in general is hungry to reengage. I say to people, you don’t want to live in a world without Mozart. Even if you never listen to Mozart, I’m telling you that you don’t want to live in a world without Mozart because there is a specific thread that weaves art into society and makes it whole. The same as beautiful parks do—they keep us whole and centered, just knowing they’re there and that we can escape to them.
JM: Throughout your career, you have collaborated with some of the greatest talents in the entertainment industry. One of my favorite duets is “Big Light” recorded by you and the late Al Jarreau. Would you share with me and my readers why that particular recording was so special to you?
Melissa: Al and I were longtime colleagues and dear friends. Creating “Big Light” was really special. It is a song that I wrote with John Proulx, and it was on my 20th album, “You Gotta Love the Life.” Al called me and said, “Missy—I hear you’re making an album. Can I sing on it?” [laughs softly in remembrance] I said, “Well, of course.” I’ve been an artist-in-residence at Citrus College [located in Glendora—a suburb of Los Angeles]. It’s a wonderful community college and has a spectacular music department. Many of the students have never seen the collaborative aspect of making music, so Al [Jarreau] came into the studio one day, and the control room was full of engineering students. My engineer was their professor. The students watched us collaborate on “Big Light” and watched Al do those “Jarreau-isms.” Anyone who knows anything about Al knows that when he started to sing, he became the instrument that he was hearing in his head. The place was so reverential because these kids had never seen anything like this before.
At the end of that session, I went into the studio to thank Al and to give him a hug. I could feel as he was hugging me that he was hanging on to me and was weeping. He said, “Keep doing this. And don’t stop doing this—for all of us.” I started weeping. It was incredible.
JM: Speaking of working with iconic artists, can you share a little bit about your friendship with Michael Feinstein and what you hope people will experience when you both take the stage?
Melissa: Michael and I are old friends. His mom and my late mom were friends, and I’ve known him since the beginning of his career. I am thrilled for what has happened to him throughout his career. He is an ambassador of the glory of the American Songbook, to the importance of it. He is magic on stage and is an incredibly committed musician and archivist.
When Michael first introduced himself to me, it was the morning after I won the Grammy. Unbeknownst to each other, we were having brunch at the same restaurant. He came over and introduced himself to me—of course, we later found out that our moms knew each other—but he said to me, “Ms. Manchester, my name is Michael Feinstein, and I’m the assistant to Ira Gershwin.” I said, “May I have his autograph, please?” [laughing] As it turned out, I got an autography of Ira Gershwin and a lovely letter from Michael Feinstein. Michael has assured me it was Ira’s last autograph.”
JM: In my mind’s eye, I can visualize what it will look like when the two of you are performing at the Palladium. What do you imagine it will be like for your audiences who haven’t seen a live show—in person—for more than a year?
Melissa: I wouldn’t be surprised if people cry a little bit. And I wouldn’t be surprised if people breathe a little deeper and are deeply grateful for the experience of it. I hope that people come away from this having really enjoyed the love that Michael and I have for each other and the respect that we have for each other’s artistry. I think it will be a good time had by all—those of us on the stage and in the audience.