If Michael Feinstein hadn't established himself as charming ambassador for the Center for the Performing Arts during the Palladium's first six months of business, he boldly embraced the role during Saturday's opening gala for the Tarkington Theater.
The center's artistic director -- internationally known for preserving American show tunes of the 20th century -- sparkled as the knowledgable, enthusiastic host for a 90-minute celebration of song and dance.
While the 500-seat Tarkington is twice as large as Feinstein's Manhattan supper club, the new venue provided up-close views of the vocalist-pianist's gentle and measured rendition of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's "Time After Time."
And credit Feinstein's magnetism in attracting Saturday's special guest, "Frasier" and Broadway star David Hyde Pierce.
Pierce prompted a standing ovation after revisiting a "Monty Python's Spamalot" number and trading lines with Feinstein on Cole Porter's "You're the Top."
"Penny in My Pocket," a tune cut from "Hello, Dolly," was Pierce's standout contribution. He even told a Carmel-centric joke about Congress not being equipped to fix the economy.
"That's like asking the man who invented the stoplight to design your roundabout," Pierce quipped.
The Tarkington, located south of the Palladium in a building that also houses the Studio Theater and is attached to the center's parking garage, will be the new full-time home to Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre.
Feinstein playfully dedicated a rendition of Johnny Mercer's "I Wanna Be Around" to Civic Theatre executive director Cheri Lynn Dick, who's married to the center's board president, Rollin Dick.
Milking the tune's revenge theme ("I wanna be around to pick up the pieces when somebody breaks your heart" serves as the opening line), Feinstein exaggerated the narrator's tormented state.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard opened the program with a brief speech, and the audience cheered loudly for Frank Basile, the center's interim CEO.
None of the program's performers or featured speakers mentioned Steven Libman, who resigned as the center's CEO on July 29 and cited excessive time demands in his exit.
In addition to Feinstein and Pierce, American Ballet Theatre dancers Gennadi Saveliev and Stella Abrera delivered a romantic excerpt from "Le Corsaire."
Carmel native Julia Bonnett aced the phrasing and lower-pitched notes of "Cabaret" selection "Maybe This Time."
Bonnett's nod to Liza Minnelli dovetailed with Feinstein's tributes to Minnelli's mother, Judy Garland, plus dozens of other timeless stars and nearly forgotten ones during renditions of "That's Entertainment" and "You Are My Lucky Star."
If some mid-century faces that cycled across the Tarkington's state-of-the-art video screen seemed as fleetingly relevant as today's Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus, Feinstein promoted audience enjoyment more than the fame game.
Between songs, he highlighted a quote attributed to Winston Churchill during World War II:
When England's finance minister argued that arts funding should be cut to support the war effort, prime minister Churchill answered, "Then what are we fighting for?"