REVIEW: David Hyde Pierce and Michael Feinstein open the Tarkington

There weren’t any surprises—just lots of good spirits—tonight at the gala celebrating the opening of the third theater at Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts.

Although there was much off-stage chatter about what happened to suddenly resigned head honcho Steven Libman, on stage at the Tarkington, the opening speeches and making-of-the-theater video presentation were focused on the future.  

Entertainment-wise, things got off to a slightly awkward start. I didn’t quite understand why we then were shown a movie montage of early Hollywood set to Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow.” Yes, it’s lovely. But we knew that. And what does that have to do with this show. Then Michael Feinstein offered into a video-clip-synched “That’s Entertainment,” which included additional, lesser lyrics (perhaps the ones added for the film “That’s Entertainment, Part II,” but I’m not certain). Did I really hear something about “More can happen on a silver screen/then can happen on a stage”? Really? Then why didn’t Carmel build a multiplex instead?

Carmel’s own Julia Bonnett, winner of the 2009 Great American Songbook High School Competition was in good voice for her one song, “Maybe This Time,” and American Ballet Theatre dancers Gennadi Saveliev and Stella Abrera were solid but surprisingly lacked passion in the bedroom pas de deux from “Le Corsaire.”

Feinstein later proved himself in the banter (this time without the index cards that lent a feeling of phoniness to the Palladium opening). His “Bad Songs by Great Songwriters” intro, including a reference to the Gershwin’s “"If I Can't Have-Anna In Cuba, Then I'll See-EstherIn Spain,” was particularly fun. Rather than sing a dud, though, he launched into “Time After Time.” (The one by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, not the one by Cindi Lauper—but she’ll be at the Palladium soon if you want to hear that one.)

Feinstein stayed on after introducing David Hyde Pierce, star of Broadway’s “Curtains” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot.” The duo sang “Together with Music,” a lesser tune saved by Pierce’s good humor in the playful addition of other buddy songs, including “Tea for Two” and “Side by Side.”

Pierce—who jokingly claimed that he didn’t read the contract carefully and thought he’d be playing in Carmel, California—watched from a stool by the piano as Feinstein delivered his strongest song of the evening, “I Want to Be Around to Pick Up the Pieces.” The playful tune also afforded the onstage combo an opportunity to shine brightly.

A “Hello, Dolly!” cut number, “Penny in My Pocket,” played to Pierce’s character-driven strengths, leading to the mutual-admiration-society anthem “You’re the Top” with Feinstein. Without augmented lyrics, thank you.

Pierce’s showpiece “Spamalot” number, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” and a Feinstein/Pierce four-handed piano action climaxed the show. But Feinstein once again had to have the last song, with more out-of-place Hollywood video.

Then it was off to buffet stations. And more talk of the future for Carmel’s now-complete three-theater complex, whose Tarkington will soon house the work of the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre, and more.

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