Sandy Cohen Sings!

rex pgallagher2v Sandy Cohen Sings!Feinstein’s at the Regency
540 Park Avenue at 61st Street
212-339-4095
Wednesday, May 30, and Thursday, May 31, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday, June 1, and Saturday, June 2, at 8:30 and 11 p.m.

On a happier note, hurry on over to Feinstein’s at the Regency, where the cabaret debut of actor Peter Gallagher is a fresh departure from the usual nightclub fare. He’s handsome, warm-hearted and camera-ready, the embodiment of a movie star who never really became a household name. But he’s got something more important than a house charge at the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge: He’s down-to-earth and real as breathing. With a solid career already behind him (lots of movies, from sex, lies and videotape to American Beauty, starring roles in Broadway musicals, and four years on TV’s popular series The O.C.), the move to a supper-club spotlight seems a natural. This is not really an “act.” It’s more like a party in Mr. Gallagher’s living room with close chums and a few beers. But oh, Mama, can he sing. On Cy Coleman’s swinging “The Best Is Yet to Come,” he’s about five feet away from a finger-snapping, open-collared, hairy-chested ring-a-ding Vegas vulture. From the dazzling Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls, in which he brought a romantic new life to the role of Damon Runyon’s Sky Masterson, he transplants a whole medley of Frank Loesser masterpieces that builds to a rousing “Luck Be a Lady.” And on Anthony Newley’s beautiful ballad “This Dream,” he croons in his lush lower register like a Dick Haymes. Well, why not? When the other kids were playing air guitar, he was doing Dean Martin imitations. Now he’s packaged what he knows in a delightful show that delivers entertainment and versatility with a silver bow.

There are reservations. Some of his patter—teaching Peter O’Toole how to sing “Goin’ to the Chapel,” Lamaze classes with his wife—is irrelevant and disorganized. A discourse on his mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s that serves as a long-winded lead-in to Randy Newman’s “Every Time it Rains” is worthy of a career rethink. On a night when it’s 90 degrees, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” might not be a great idea. Changing the gender point of view in lyrics like “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” from Pal Joey is equally questionable. (Sorry, but “Worship the trousers that cling to her” really loses something in translation.) And finally, “Danny Boy” as an encore? I never want to hear “Danny Boy” again as long as I live, unless it’s sung by a 12-year-old boy tenor in the ruins of a church in Northern Ireland.

If this sounds churlish, my apologies. It’s just that a performer this charismatic deserves to be better. From Lyle Lovett to Rodgers and Hart, Mr. Gallagher’s material lives up to the word “eclectic”: The show is charming for its lack of perfection, and the only glue that holds it all together is his personality. But it’s quite a winning personality. You feel you’ve spent valuable time in the presence of a decent, hard-working guy getting through life doing the best work he can and accomplishing everything with enough élan to make himself comfortable in his own skin. You go away from Peter Gallagher wanting more.