The highlight of the current London Festival of Cabaret was a concert at the Palace Theatre on Monday night featuring Michael Feinstein, ‘the ambassador of the Great American Songbook’. Feinstein is the perfect choice for an evening of such music – not only is he a vocalist, pianist and performer, but also an archivist who has worked with major composers and interpreters of the Great American Songbook (Ira Gershwin in their midst) to conserve and preserve as much information and as many recordings as possible about this unique and ageless style of music. On stage at the Palace where the soul musical The Commitments is currently playing, Feinstein himself says that he has a serious ‘commitment’ to that songbook, and was joined by his band for this larger scale cabaret evening at a venue a world away from the intimate cabaret rooms of New York, where he had his own room, Feinsteins, for many years.

Cabaret is indeed an art form with songs that are always relevant no matter what the age, and as Feinstein showcases during a varied, entertaining and enthralling evening, there are songs with many different moods and timbres, despite their outward simplicity. His breezy opener ‘Luck Be Your Lady’ from Guys and Dolls gives way to a programme of songs which have a lightness yet depth to them that can appeal to a wide ranging audience. Feinstein mixes the better known (Cole Porter’s ‘Just One of Those Things’) with the oft-remembered (Leslie Bricusse’s ‘What Kind of Fool Am I’, with the composer in the audience) and the downright snazzy (‘I Love A Piano’, which he set up hilariously and is his personal theme tune!). Some musical choices were of a slightly later period, with Cy Coleman’s jazz-infused score for City of Angels providing a vibrant duet with Julian Ovenden, ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’. Ovenden chose two of the more vulnerable songs from the Noel Coward canon for his solo, which were finely acted and given good colour and shade. Feinstein’s other guest Elaine Paige was less finely tuned, but gave a jazzy rendition of Irving Berlin’s ‘Blue Skies’, before a rather shrill duet with Feinstein of two numbers that the late Marvin Hamlisch had suggested would go well together. But the evening belongs to Feinstein, who has so many stories to tell about the songs and their composers, later asking the audience for requests for Gershwin songs, before seemlessly blending them together in a medley on piano and vocals.

Particular highlights of Feinstein’s programme were two numbers by an American composer whose work is much loved in this country, Jerry Herman. Feinstein played solo piano for a moving and multi layered rendition of ‘I Won’t Send Roses’ from Mack and Mabel, sung in tribute to that show’s greatest supporter, David Jacobs, who died recently. And in the second half, Feinstein channelled Louis Armstrong for the first part of ‘Hello Dolly!’ before passing the song back to his own persona (complete with some new lyrics sung with Herman’s blessing), backed by his versatile 5 piece band.

Feinstein’s Bernstein/Sondheim finale, ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story, was a tender and impassioned hope for a world of peace, with the flute solo intro playing ‘Some Other Time’ from Bernstein’s On The Town. Feinstein will be back for a Bernstein concert here in April, and seems to have taken that sentiment of ‘catching up some other time’ to heart as far as London is concerned: he’s currently on the look-out for a new cabaret room here and there’s talk of a new musical written by him too. The next London Festival of Cabaret will be held in May 2014 – all things considered, it’s good to see this ageless art form in such safe hands.