It sure was a fine night at Feinstein's, with equal parts Bennett and Sinatra

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There might be a downturn in the economy, but Michael Feinstein, who opened a monthlong stand Tuesday at Feinstein's at the Regency, certainly doesn't skimp with his Christmas giving this year.

His show, the biggest he's ever delivered at this New York venue, encompasses 20 songs, is accompanied by a 17-member band directed by John Oddo and delivers numerous full-bodied songs from his new album, "The Sinatra Project."

Quite a show and quite a showman, that Mr. Feinstein. He had a great surprise capper for opening night: Tony Bennett joined him onstage, singing with his daughter, Antonia Bennett. The place was packed, too, despite dour forecasts of nonspending.

This Feinstein run ends Dec. 30, followed on New Year's Eve by two special shows for the occasion teaming Feinstein and Linda Eder.

The trouble with 'Joey'

Two more Broadway entries, both musicals, will officially open before 2008 slips away.

"Shrek the Musical," which had its shakedown run in the fall at Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theatre, will launch Dec. 14 at the Broadway with a cast headed by Brian d'Arcy James, Sutton Foster and Christopher Sieber under the direction of Jason Moore. Four days later, it's the Roundabout's revitalized version of Rodgers & Hart's 68-year-old "Pal Joey" set to launch at Studio 54, a one-week delay from its originally announced Dec. 11 debut.

The postponement added a new slant on that old a-star-is-born scenario. The title role of Joey originally was given to Christian Hoff, a relative newcomer best known for a role in "Jersey Boys." After lengthy rehearsals, prevue performances and publicity devoted to Hoff, suddenly he was out (reason given: a leg injury) and newcomer Matthew Risch was in.

Some reports from those early prevues suggested that Hoff, though talented, lacked the necessary va-voom factor essential for the "boy toy" role. The questions surrounding Risch's "it factor" soon will be answered, but whatever the outcome, one has to hand it to the pros involved here, all of them digging in and sailing on despite a major change so late in the game.

Joe Mantello's the director; Stockard Channing plays the older woman who is "bewitched, bothered and bewildered" by the show's young heel-hero; and it's said that Martha Plimpton, in her first musical role, is knocking out prevue audiences with her vocals and performance.

Interesting about "Joey": It's never been a show associated with smooth sailing. For all its legendary status today, the reviews for the original production — which opened Dec. 25, 1940, at the Barrymore and made a star of Gene Kelly — were mixed. It lasted less than a year (374 performances), with the 1952-53 revival (540 performances) being much more warmly received. Later revivals were done with Bob Fosse (1963) and Christopher Chapman (1976).

Meanwhile, Columbia bought the film rights early on, but for various reasons — including hassles from the Production Code Office because of the "Joey" story line and lyrics of several of its songs — it took 17 years before cameras turned.

Along the way, however, several interesting casting ideas for it were announced: Kelly and Rita Hayworth, the latter playing the young love interest, in the '40s; Marlon Brando and Mae West as the older woman in the early '50s; as well as Jack Lemmon and Marlene Dietrich, Dietrich eventually turning it down because, at the time, she'd never heard of Lemmon.

It was finally done in 1957 with Frank Sinatra as Joey and the older woman played by Hayworth, who at 39 was three years younger than her boy toy.

long goodbyes

Among the Broadway shows closing this month are "A Man for All Seasons," with Frank Langella, on Dec. 14, and "The Seagull," with Kristin Scott Thomas, on Dec. 21, after which there is a mass exodus.

On Jan. 4, it's adieu to "Young Frankenstein," "Hairspray," "Boeing-Boeing," "White Christmas" and "13," followed by "Spamalot" on Jan. 11, "All My Sons" and "Spring Awakening" on Jan. 18, "Equus" on Feb. 8 and "Gypsy" on March 1.

Robert Osborne is the primetime host of Turner Classic Movies.
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