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His own room

Michael Feinstein's new cabaret offers elegant songs and surroundings.

March 20, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Michael Feinstein, a smile beaming across his boyish face, sits in the middle of his natural habitat -- a cabaret room -- with a distinctly assured manner in his stance.

And why not? Of all the hundreds of rooms he has worked in his two-decade-plus career, this is one of the more special. It's Feinstein's at the Cinegrill, Hollywood's new nightclub, going through the final preparations for its official re-opening Tuesday.

"We did everything to make it right," he says. "The designers used the principles of feng shui to give it a feeling of openness and balance and flow. So that energetically -- or whatever you want to call it -- it has a warm feeling."

The space, which will seat 170, is elegant, airy and created in a semicircle, with several levels rising from a stage dominated by a large black Baldwin grand piano.

If not exactly feng shui, Feinstein's involvement brings a sense of symmetry to the reopening -- he was a regular at the Cinegrill when it opened in the '80s. "It seems as though it's been nothing more than the blink of an eye," he says.

Feinstein opens the room with a program of music he loves over five weeks. He headlines for four weeks, then he will present young cabaret star Peter Buble.

Feinstein's show will be titled "Movie Music: Winners and Losers." Working with a five-piece band, he will sing his own selections of prime movie songs while state-of-the-art video screens illustrate scenes from the films.

"I'll do things like 'Thanks for the Memory,' 'My Kind of Town,' " he says. "And I've done some of my own lyrics. I wasn't sure how to pronounce the first part of Catherine Zeta-Jones' last name, so I did alternate lines, just in case, one of them rhyming it with Zubin Mehta, the other with Tom and Rita."

Feinstein's whimsical way with a rhyme may trace to his early association with the great lyricist Ira Gershwin. He landed a job as Gershwin's assistant when he first moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s.

In 1986, Liza Minnelli sponsored his New York City debut as a singer-pianist and, by the end of the decade, the boy from Columbus, Ohio, had become an important musical force. His Feinstein's at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan opened in 1999 and has since become one of that city's most popular venues.

"When we opened," he says, "Rosemary Clooney was our star. And my one regret about next week's opening at the Cinegrill is that she can't be there."

The room will follow in the path of the Regency with its emphasis upon major vocal talent. "I want to bring in all different kinds of artists who reflect the variety in the Great American Songbook," Feinstein says. "We'll have Freda Payne and Darlene Love with their fantastic show, 'Love and Payne.' I want to bring in John Pizzarelli. And I'd love to get some Hollywood personalities here, as well. Tony Danza already does the New York room. Joe Pesci would be great, and so would Meryl Streep if she would ever consider it."

Leaning back in one of the room's plush banquettes, Feinstein smiles again.

"All this couldn't be happening at a better time. This music -- the songs people will hear in this room -- is so essential now," he says. "It's like, with all the turmoil in the world, people are turning to this music because it's like comfort food."


Feinstein's at the Cinegrill

Who: Michael Feinstein

Where: Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: Opens Tuesday with Feinstein headlining through March 29, and April 7-26; Peter Buble performs April 1-5. Shows Monday through Thursday at 8:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.

Cost: $50 plus $30 minimum beverage or dinner purchase

Info: (323) 769-7269

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