The key to Michael Feinstein and Rosemary Clooney’s musical partnership, in existence since she guest-starred on his 1985 debut album Pure Gershwin, is contrast. In their concert “Say It With Music,” which blends classic songs by the likes of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Kurt Weill, and George and Ira Gershwin with less familiar material by such writers as Dave Frishberg and David Ross, Clooney takes the role of the well-traveled, worldly-wise, tender but tough old dame, while Feinstein is the exuberant, eager-beaver idealist. The once saucy and girlish Clooney, now 64 and physically ready to take on the Shelley Winters role in a musical version of The Poseidon Adventure, lacks the vocal vibrance and breath power she had in her “Come On-a My House” heyday 40 years ago; but in their place are gritty candor, self-deprecating wit, and a subtly swinging, wonderfully conversational way with a lyric. Listen to how she breaks up her phrases to allow each idea to sink in so we, and she, can respond to them before going on: this is masterly pop singing, marked by keen intelligence and restrained but real feeling. More specialized in his appeal, and still too conscious of playing to the audience, singer-pianist Feinstein nevertheless demonstrates tremendous vocal growth since his last visits here: he is much more emotionally open, and his powerful tenor by turns recalls the boyish ethereality of Johnny Mathis, the torrential intensity of Mandy Patinkin, and the sly sarcasm of Tom Lehrer; his rapturously intense reading of the Gershwins’ “The Girl I Love” is a knockout. Adding to the evening’s appeal are Garrett Caine’s elegantly theatrical lighting and the crisp, often moody jazz orchestrations by Woody Herman Orchestra veteran John Oddo (Clooney’s longtime accompanist and arranger) and Ian Finkel. Through November 8: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Wednesdays, 2 and 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 2 and 8 PM; Sundays, 3 PM. Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe; 977-1700 or 902-1500.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): phot/Greg Gorman.