Feinstein is set for tribute to Garland 


For the Center for Performing Arts Artistic Director Michael Feinstein, the annual spring concert at the Palladium in Carmel will be personal for him.

The concert, set for 8 p.m. April 29, will feature Feinstein’s “Get Happy: Michael Feinstein Celebrates the Judy Garland Centennial.”

Feinstein answered questions from Current about how the series of Garland performances developed.

How special was it to put together this show considering your long friendship with Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli?

“Putting together this Garland Centennial tribute was no small feat. I felt the weight of her legend through the entire experience and longed to create something that would celebrate her in a way that she would want to be remembered and also to please her family. Liza was the person who suggested that I put together this concert as I didn’t feel I had the gravitas to properly pay tribute to Judy Garland. But she encouraged me by pointing out a number of things, one of which is that being a male that would remove some of the comparisons that would inevitably happen with a woman singing Judy Garland songs.

Also, she pointed out that I have a very balanced perspective about her mother, and by that I mean that I understood this is a concert that should be celebratory of Judy Garland and focus on her art and the reason that she became famous and eventually a legend. It’s unseemly to focus on the tabloid aspects of anyone’s life because it’s really beside the point. It is the extraordinary experience that people still feel when they listen to a recording by Judy Garland or see one of her films or one of her videos from her television series that still can galvanize all these years after her passing.

I wanted to explore her history, and it turned out better than I could have possibly imagined in my wildest dreams.”

Was celebrating her 100th birthday in 2021 the first time you devoted an entire show to Garland? 

“The first time I did an entire show celebrating Judy Garland was, I think, 2016, which I did with special appearances by Liza and (Garland’s daughter) Lorna (Luft) in San Francisco at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, my club in that city. Prior to that, I don’t believe I had ever sung a tribute concert to Judy Garland, even though I had conducted a symphony tribute to Judy in Pasadena with the Pasadena Pops.”

Do you have a favorite portion of the concert?

“I think my favorite moment in the concert is when I accompany Judy Garland singing a song that is taken from a home recording that I discovered in a house that she once lived in and I tell the story in the show. It’s quite amazing that this recording turned up so many years after her passing and was one that she recorded when she was only 19 years old. The other funny thing about it is that the recording is a cappella without any accompaniment, so she sings the melody of the song solo, so it created the opportunity for me to accompany her. The song that she sings is ‘I’ll Be Seeing You,’ and it’s a song that she never, ever sang publicly. And so, it’s a world premiere and quite a thrill.”

Are there a lot of film clips and photos in the concert?

“This concert was one that was very carefully curated to include lots of photographs and film clips and concert footage. I was able to draw upon her personal family archive, as well as many images supplied by John Fricke, who was a Judy Garland expert and also had access to home movies that came from Ira Gershwin’s estate. It’s quite amazing to see photos of her at a very early age and to watch her evolution visually while the songs are presented, in some cases in unusual fashion, to underscore life experiences she was having at one point or another.”

Was it cool to perform the Garland concert at Carnegie Hall, the site of her famous 1961 concert?

“The response of the audience was particularly resonant that night. They were really going crazy, and the way they applauded after every number, I think it’s because everybody was excited. To think that she had actually performed at Carnegie Hall all those years before and there we were in the same place where she sang many of the songs that I sang, albeit in different arrangements, (was special). It was a joy, and it will remain one of my most happy experiences for the rest of my life.”

For more, visit thecenterpresents.org.