As a performer, what drew you to the American Songbook genre?
I started playing piano at the age of 5, by ear, much to the utter shock of my parents. I played these popular songs that I heard in our home, on television, on the radio. Everywhere you went, this was the music that was playing. And we had lots of cast albums of Broadway shows. That was in the days when everybody had cast albums, not just gay people.
Favorite song to perform?
“Isn’t It a Pity?” by the Gershwins. I recorded it with Rosemary Clooney on my first album. She was my favorite singer, and I hear her voice when I sing it.
You two were close?
She called herself my Beverly Hills mom. One year Rosemary called me and said, “I just got a Christmas card from your mom, and it says, ‘Love, Michael’s real mom.’ I think there’s a little jealousy here.”
What’s in your contract rider?
I’m vegan and gluten-free. I request a certain kind of honey from New Zealand that is hard to find; six lemons; and pineapple, because it’s good for the throat.
Favorite Broadway musical?
Guys and Dolls, because the score never wears thin.
Anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber. I’m sorry, but I think The Phantom of the Opera is one of the worst things that ever happened to Broadway. I don’t deny that millions of people love it, and if they’re happy, God bless them. But for me, he set back an art form I care about by 30 years.
Who’s left on your bucket list of duet partners?
Nobody. I’m not a big collaborative person. It’s a nightmare to fashion duets so that the keys match. I can’t stand it when I hear a recording, like Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga, where they change the keys. They aren’t really duets, and they sound synthetic to me.
What’s one item you never travel without?
Emergen-C effervescent vitamin C. I take one packet for every hour that I’m on a plane. It makes a big difference.
I hear that Judge Judy presided at your wedding. Why her?
I met Judge Judy many years ago at a birthday party, and we became very close friends. She’s a lot of fun, and she’s a very kind person, too. I was going to her house for Thanksgiving one year, and on the radio they recited a list of the top 10 people with whom you would not want to spend Thanksgiving, and she was number two. I thought it was so funny.
You could have based the Great American Songbook Initiative anywhere. Why Carmel?
It’s a community that I felt would embrace the mission. It was a good fit, with the construction of the Palladium, and I realized this was an opportunity to create something in the heartland of America, in a community that strongly supports the arts. It felt right.
What’s something you wish you could change about Indiana?
I wish there was more reciprocity between Carmel and Indianapolis. There’s a petty competition between the two that is, from the perspective of an outsider, completely absurd. This fear of one outdoing the other, or the success of one place stealing thunder or resources from the other—it doesn’t work that way. We live in a very big world.