For Winter Dreams — which is how Michael Feinstein has dubbed this year's November-December stop-off in the Regency boite to which he lends his name — the singer begins with a medley of cheerful Jerry Herman songs. The paired "We Need a Little Christmas" and "The Best Christmas of All" fit the holiday mood right enough, but a funny thing happens on the way to the remainder of the neatly wrapped musical presents. The ever-effervescent Feinstein gives every indication of trying to stray from any imposed obligations.
He repeatedly finds amusing ways to slip in nonseasonal numbers by wreathing them in verbal holly. My favorite of the stretches for something germane to the occasion is his intro to three songs he identifies as a gift to him from Rosemary Clooney. It's what she called her "revenge medley" and includes year-round appropriates "I Cried for You" (Gus Arnheim-Arthur Freed-Abe Lyman), "Who's Sorry Now?" (Bert Kalmar-Harry Ruby-Ted Snyder), and "Goody Goody" (Johnny Mercer-Matty Malneck). Feinstein further establishes the requisite Yuletide atmosphere by saying that though at his childhood home things were Hanukkah-based, the Clooney household was always a Christmas wonderland.
Feinstein's veering away from theme redounds to the audience's good, it's nice to say. Veering gracefully past songs constrained by the calendar, he indulges in a lovely rendition of the Lorenz Hart-Richard Rodgers "It's Easy to Remember" and an especially beguiling and well-acted "Begin the Beguine" (Cole Porter) — no easy song to negotiate in the best of times. The Christmas highlight is his rendition — with backup trio Catherine Russell, LaTanya Hall, and Margaret Dorn — of Kay Thompson's madcap "Jingle Bells" arrangement.
These days Feinstein sings in two voices: his more recently honed brassy big-band blare and his at-the-piano murmur. He's at the top of his form in both. From him, that's the best Christmas gift of all.
Presented by and at Feinstein's at Loews Regency,
540 Park Ave., NYC.
Nov. 27-Dec. 29. Tue.-Thu., 8:30 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 8:30 and 11 p.m.
(212) 339-4095 or www.feinsteinsattheregency.com.