“I’m sure I’ll be drawn and quartered,” said Peter Gallagher, the actor who is probably best known these days as rad dad Sandy Cohen on The O.C.—Fox’s megawatt nighttime soap series, which was laid to rest last February. Speaking on his cell phone from the side of a road in L.A., the 51-year-old thespian was relating a mild case of cold feet caused by his upcoming three-week cabaret show, “Songs and Stories,” at Feinstein’s at the Regency. “The crazy thing is, I’ve been wanting to do something like this my whole life, and I just could not figure out how to do it. And I’m not sure I have still!”
Fearing a medieval response from the New York critics is hardly paranoiac. After all, the considerable commercial success that Mr. Gallagher has enjoyed over the last four years at Fox was backed by Hollywood and, perhaps thusly, produced mostly by Middle America. Moreover, his 2005 album 7 Days in Memphis—something he calls “that completely improbable record”—garnered its share of churlish criticism. (The idea for the album resulted from his performance of Dan Penn’s “Don’t Give Up On Me” in an episode of The O.C.) In a review of the soul album for the Chicago Sun-Times, Thomas Conner went so far as to take aim at legendary guitarist and Blues Brother Steve Cropper, who plays on the record: “Now he’s apparently a hack for hire by any dork who stumbles into the Bluff City hoping to strike a blow for luvah men,” Mr. Conner seethed.
For Mr. Gallagher, acting and singing have always been two sides of the same coin. “It’s just a very exciting thing when you’re in this sort of storytelling business, and you contribute to the storytelling whatever way you do. And if that story you’re telling sort of captures the imagination of people, and finds a place in the world that you’re living in—it just doesn’t get better than that.”
For whatever reason, in many of the better-known films starring Mr. Gallagher, his lusty appearance seems to hinder him from entering any enduring relationships. In Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 cult smash sex, lies and videotape—the film credited with making Mr. Gallagher truly famous—he played an unfaithful husband. A few years later, in While You Were Sleeping, a popcorn rom-com co-starring Sandra Bullock, he fell for Ms. Bullock’s character just before falling into a coma. Even “King of Real Estate” Buddy Kane, Mr. Gallagher’s dramatis persona in the 1999 Academy Award darling American Beauty, wound up in bed with Annette Bening’s already-hitched character. And then there’s To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, the 1996 Michael Pressman film that gave Mr. Gallagher what he calls “the best part I ever had.” Co-starring Michelle Pfeiffer and a young Claire Danes, the film centers on the refusal of a man to move on after the death of his wife, which happened exactly two years before.
But for all his flouters, Mr. Gallagher is hardly new to the blood sport of singing live. In the late 70’s, having recently graduated from Tufts University with a degree in economics, he stood out at an open call for Hair on Broadway; and only a few weeks after landing that gig, he was drafted by legendary Great White Way casting director Vinnie Liff to play the role of Zuko in a traveling production of Grease. Mr. Gallagher said that he’s always been drawn to actors who could bring the house down with a song.
Jeff Rowland, a television and theater producer and the man in charge of booking talent for Feinstein’s, remembers the first time he saw Mr. Gallagher perform live, in a 1992 Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls. Mr. Rowland explained how seeing that performance showed him that Mr. Gallagher had more to offer than his striking onscreen presence. And so, immediately after joining the Park Avenue cabaret club last January, Mr. Rowland made it his business to bring Mr. Gallagher to New York. “Unhappily for him, but happily for me, The O.C. was winding down and I caught him,” he recalled, before adding: “He’s got great style and charm. He’s an interesting guy, and obviously he’s very talented as an actor and a singer. I think, as much as anything else, it’s the range that he has—the range of experience and the range of abilities is very unusual.”
It is precisely this virtual plethora of talent and history that promises to give “Songs and Stories” a slightly unexpected tone. While the set list will mostly come from musicals like Guys and Dolls and Pal Joey, Mr. Gallagher also plans to draw material from more soulful climes. Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye are two of his favorites, and the routine will undoubtedly include a couple numbers from 7 Days in Memphis. Musing on his own listening tastes, Mr. Gallagher said, “I just really believe that all great music is soul music, and all great music really works together because it’s great—because it captures something that feels ultimately true about life. And especially in this day and age, when something speaks to you and it feels true, it’s a rare and wonderful thing.”
In addition to soul and R&B, Mr. Gallagher professes an appreciation for rock music—something he said was honed by listening to bands like Cream and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on the radio as a young man. These influences, too, have already worked their way into the show. A formidable cluster of instrumentalists—all with rock ’n’ roll roots—is already booked. Ted Baker, a pianist who tours with Steely Dan when he’s not in the pit at Broadway’s forever-running The Lion King, is slated to play the keys. (Messrs. Baker, Gallagher and Rowland once attempted to bring Psychoderelict, a concept album written by the Who’s Pete Townsend, to the stage.) And perhaps most surprisingly of all, Pete Thomas, Elvis Costello’s longtime drummer and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, will keep the beat while Davey Farrager, another Costello alum, plays the bass.