A leisure suit clinging to his generous behind, pinkie rings gleaming, Johnny Fayva, the self-described champion of the old-school variety show, just wants to do it for the kids.
Every few weeks, the swingingly single Fayva co-produces and hosts a comedy-musical revue that combines Borscht Belt camp with modern twists. After the house lights come back up, Fayva reverts to his mild-mannered real self: Russell Steinberg, a New York-born actor married to Tatiana von Furstenberg, daughter of fashion designer Diane. He's also the father of a 4-year-old daughter.
Since the show's introduction two years ago, Steinberg's character has attracted a growing fan base of anti-clubbers eager for alternatives to throbbing DJ riffs, self-important rock bands, iffy stand-up comedians and other hazards of L.A.'s live-entertainment labyrinth.
A typical show? Start with a fan dancer here, a baton twirler there, a yo-yo champ from some South American country. Throw in some new-school stuff -- say, a sexy modern number by a foxy skirt like Kelly Osbourne. Bookmark the whole beautiful shebang with one or two sweaty cover performances by the man himself. And you get a night that's -- well, as Fayva might say -- Boom. Gorgeous.
Steinberg prefers to be interviewed as Fayva, the Catskills vernacular rolling off his silver tongue.
"I'm influenced by everything from Allan Sherman and Mickey Katz -- old Jewish comics -- to the more obvious masters, like Mr. Tony Bennett, Mr. Frank Sinatra," Fayva says over the phone. "I also like the rock 'n' roll, you know? The Ozzy Osbourne, the David Lee Roth -- whatever the kids are listening to today. "
His other line clicks in.
"Hold on, honey, that's Taryn Manning," Fayva says. "I'm trying to get her to sing on my show."
Alas, the "Cold Mountain" actress was calling with bad news. "Oy, she canceled on me," Fayva growls. "Now you're gonna see me hustle."
(Within hours, Fayva would rope in Kelly Osbourne. The following night, Fayva and the baby-faced heavy-metal heiress belted out an over-the-top rendition of Bonnie Tyler's 1980s power ballad "Total Eclipse of the Heart.")
Fayva likes to begin and end each show by singing lounge-style covers of current pop tunes. Fayva's finale tends to involve stripping down to pasties, thong, socks, garters, gold chains and very little else, all while blasting out a teen anthem. His latest sign-off performance? Reinterpreting Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," followed by a full back flip in his black socks.
"He's quite unexpectedly nimble," marvels Valerie Michaels, a Hollywood publicist who frequents Fayva's shows. "Like a cat landing on his feet."
The modern origins of Fayva's shtick date back to the grand opening of the Standard Hotel in downtown L.A. two years ago. Organizers booked Fayva to do a set in the lobby, while celebrity guests such as Tobey Maguire milled about. Soon afterward, Fayva was invited to perform a few gigs with Camp Freddy, an all-star rock band fronted by Donovan Leitch and Dave Navarro. Fayva went on to play other gigs, , eventually moving his show to the Argyle Hotel on the Sunset Strip.
Fayva's fans skew a bit older than the typical 11 p.m. crowd over at the Spider Club or Concorde. Sporting the telling bright-red lipstick of the Silver Lake set, the women in the audience seem less interested in being seen than in seeing their friends, or whatever kooky thing Fayva's up to onstage. Fayva fans also seem to keep the cellphone shenanigans to a minimum.
Fayva has found favor among a slew of celebrities, sitting in on live performances with other bands and getting his photo taken at events with Carmen Electra, supermodel Rachel Hunter, Guns N' Roses musician Slash and others.
Starting Tuesday, Fayva plans to move his variety act to flamenco and sangria joint El Cid. The rich interior and too-cool Silver Lake locale attracted Fayva instantly.
"It's red inside. All red," he says. "Red's sexy."
Tagging along with him will be his ever-shifting stable of oddities, including Kristen Andreotti, lovely assistant to Brian Chic, whose business cards bill him as a "bullwhip artist." For several minutes during every show, Chic, primly dressed in business attire, appears to whip the leggy Andreotti while '60s-style tropical lounge music burbles in the background. It's a stunt act; Chic is a bullwhip master whose lashes only sound as if they draw blood.
Andreotti -- a professional fetish model, fantasy wrestler, go-go dancer and construction worker -- says Fayva never auditioned the partners before hiring them. Fayva heard about the performers through another of his acts, a magician who goes by the name Christopher Wonder, and that was good enough.
"The acts are all old school; different, like Elvis meets 'The Full Monty' meets I-don't-even-know," Andreotti says. "And the audience is bizarre and trippy in its own right."
As Fayva might say, it's just a gorgeous thing.
What: A kitschy-cool Borscht Belt-style lounge act with guest performers ranging from fan dancers to baton twirlers
Where: El Cid, 4212 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake
When: 9:30 p.m. Tuesday
Contact: (323) 668-0318; www.johnnyfayva.com