Singer, pianist and celebrated musical scholar Michael Feinstein certainly put the ‘gay’ in gay marriage when he wed his longtime partner Terrence Flannery in 2008: Liza Minnelli, Joan Collins and Barry Manilow all attended.

To top it all off, Judge Judith Sheindlin officiated their vows.

“It was actually Judge Judy who really pushed us to get married,” Feinstein explained from his New York home.

“To see so many friends and loved ones supporting us on the day was unexpectedly overwhelming. I realised we live our lives with that thought always in the back of our heads that there are people who don’t accept us and don’t like us.

“To be in a space of pure, unconditional love was something we’ll never forget.”

But wasn’t having Judge Judy saying your ‘I dos’ a little nervewracking?

“Not at all! She’s a wonderful person. If you’re not a moron, she’s a great friend.”

Feinstein and Flannery arrive in Australia this month for a visit that will mix business (Feinstein’s shows across the country, including a stint at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival) with a healthy dose of holiday time.

“This trip is really the highlight of my year. Australia’s the place I’ve always said I would move to if I left America. So I’m sorry, another American wants to invade your shores,” he chuckled.

The show Feinstein is bringing is The Sinatra Project, a live interpretation of his 2008 album by the same name. He’ll be backed by a 17-piece swing band, which he said made for “such a high-energy experience”.

“So many people these days have not heard a real big band, and once that sound starts, it’s life-changing.”

Tackling the great songs of the Great American Songbook — the works of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein et al — seems to be the standard route for many a superannuated artist nowadays (Rod Stewart, we’re looking in your direction).

What sets Feinstein apart from the pack is his unique background as a custodian of these works.

“When I started, I was more of a scholar who wanted to share the songs with people just so they’d be heard — singing them was a means to that end. A lot of my singing contemporaries often don’t even know who wrote the songs they perform, but to me, it’s about giving them their due. Without the songwriters, we wouldn’t have much to sing about!”

It’s in this spirit that he approached The Sinatra Project, taking the opportunity to delve into Ol’ Blue Eyes’ lesser-known works.

Those looking to gain a deeper appreciation for Sinatra and the songwriters he interpreted will find much musical nourishment.

“I didn’t want to copy him, because that would be absurd. I knew I had to find something fresh to say, and what I discovered was that I could create new arrangements and new approaches to the songs that were informed by his style and his taste in music,” Feinstein said.

“It has to be fresh or different from the way he did it, because otherwise there’s no point.”

info: Michael Feinstein, Sydney Opera House, July 4 and Melbourne’s State Theatre, Arts Centre, on July 6. Tickets through Ticketmaster.

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