A chorus of venues, voices. Can it last?

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A chorus of venues, voices. Can it last?
Datebook
Jon Carroll: How
brave is this
new world,
anyway? E6
San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate.com | Thursday, May 2, 2013 | Section E
PAOLO
LUCCHESI
The Inside Scoop
Betelnut
returns in
record time
Lea Suzuki / The Chronicle
Michael Feinstein’s new club, Feinstein’s at the Nikko, opens in the Hotel Nikko spot vacated by the Rrazz Room.
A mediocre restaurant review can get a chef axed. It can
prompt menu changes. Sometimes, it’s probably even contributed to a restaurant’s eventual closure.
But to have a restaurant completely change concepts the day
after a subpar review? Now that
might be a first.
Yet that’s exactly what happened with Hutong (2030
Union St.), the revamped version of Cow Hollow mainstay
Betelnut. The Chronicle’s
Michael Bauer reviewed Hutong last weekend (sfg.ly/
13KfokM), essentially remarking that while chef Alexander
Ong’s food was still pretty good,
it was hard to understand why
owners Real Restaurants made
the sudden change two months
ago.
This week, Hutong management came to a similar conclusion, and in a shocking move
that somehow managed to
surpass their earlier surprise of
CABARET
A chorus of venues,
voices. Can it last?
John Storey / Special to The Chronicle
Life is a you-know-what, old chum, as clubs vie for audiences
By Jesse Hamlin
Michael Feinstein, the celebrated crooner
whose career took off at the old Plush Room on
Sutter Street in the early 1980s — a golden age for
cabaret in this music-mad town — was back
Monday night, swinging “Luck Be a Lady” in the
Hotel Nikko nightclub that now bears his name.
“It’s so great to be back home,” the beaming
showman told a packed house of invited guests.
“This is where it all started. This city made my
dreams come true.”
A passionate performer and proponent of the
Great American Songbook, Feinstein will spend
a lot more time in the city now that he’s a partner
in Feinstein’s at the Nikko, the intimate 140-seat
boite formerly called the Rrazz Room. He will
play there four times a year, as well as consulting
on the bookings with John Iachetti, the guy who
programmed the singer’s Manhattan club, Feinstein’s at the Loews Regency. It closed in December after 14 years when the hotel shut down for
Beck Diefenbach / Special to The Chronicle
Robert Sokol, Baystages editor, and Marilyn
Levinson, of Bay Area Cabaret, at Feinstein’s.
renovation.
The Rrazz Room folded after New Year’s Eve
when the owners lost their lease. The owners
took the sound system and opened another spot
called Live at the Rrazz in the old Cadillac showCabaret continues on E2
Hutong’s black-pepper egg
noodles remains on the menu.
closing Betelnut in the first
place, they decided to switch
back to their original concept.
If you call the restaurant
today, the Betelnut name is
already back in action.
The “new” menu will be a
combination of dishes from
Betelnut and Hutong, and Ong
remains the chef. A fair amount
of the Betelnut decor will also
be brought back.
Bill Higgins of Real Restaurants — which also runs popular restaurants like Bix, Bar
Bocce and Picco, among others
— says the review reiterated the
sentiments from many customers who missed the classic
Betelnut hits.
In many ways, the move
reinforces the “if it ain’t broke,
don’t fix it” maxim, but at the
same time, it highlights the
quandary that many restaurants find themselves in when
they become trapped by popular menu items.
“The correct thing to do is
listen to what everyone, not just
Lucchesi continues on E3
THEATER
SHN season features
Carole King premiere
By Robert Hurwitt
O&M Co.
“Peter and the Starcatcher,” the “Peter Pan” prequel, arrives at the Curran Theater on Nov. 5.
The show returned to off-Broadway after last year’s Broadway run with the cast shown here.
A world premiere by Carole
King and the start of the national tour of “The Gershwins’
Porgy and Bess” headline the
2013-14 SHN season announced Wednesday by SHN
President Carole Shorenstein
Hays. The season also includes
the multiple-Tony-winning
“Once” and “Peter and the
Starcatcher” (a fifth show will
be named later), but subscribers also get first dibs on tickets
to Shorenstein Hays’ other big
announcement — the nonseason return of the smash hit
“The Book of Mormon” in the
fall.
It’s a promising lineup,
including three of New York’s
most talked-about shows of
the past year. Unless the asyet-unknown fifth show is
another repeat booking, it’s
also remarkably free of reruns,
making this potentially the
most exciting season SHN has
hosted in some time. The last
two seasons were top-heavy
with such perennials as “The
Lion King,” “Wicked,” “Jersey
Boys” and “Les Misérables,”
particularly after the cancellation of the pre-Broadway premiere of Sheryl Crow and
Barry Levinson’s musical
“Diner” (after extensive workshops in New York, that show
is now expected to open on
Broadway in the fall).
“Beautiful — the Carole
SHN continues on E2
E2 | Thursday, May 2, 2013 | San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate.com
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Feinstein’s back —
competition heats up
Cabaret from page E1
room on Van Ness Avenue. But they immediately ran afoul of fellow
tenants and the city’s
Entertainment Commission over soundproofing
issues. After presenting
only a handful of performances, including Patti
Lupone in March, they
canceled shows and
closed the place last
month.
Feinstein’s at the Nikko,
which has a fine new
sound system and new
Yamaha grand piano,
officially opens May 8
with a four-night run by
the Tony-winning singing
actress and dancer Sutton
Foster.
Some of the high-caliber artists who appeared
at the old Rrazz — where
Broadway legend Barbara
Cook and the prime San
Francisco singers Paula
West and Wesla Whitfield
were part of a loose mix
that included drag acts,
blues belters and beefcake
shows — will also appear
at Feinstein’s. But the
prices are steeper. When
Cook played the Rrazz
last summer, tickets were
$55-$75; the tickets for her
show at Feinstein’s next
month are $90-$115. Foster’s shows are $70-$95.
Because those prices
include a $30 food and
drink credit in the club or
in the hotel restaurant,
“we feel the value, coupled with the flexibility of
where patrons can use the
food and beverage credit,
will enhance the overall
experience,” said Nikko
General Manager Anna
Marie Presutti. The room
was refurbished with 35
fewer seats, she added,
making it more comfortable.
Less than the opera
Feinstein’s will still cost
less than a good opera seat
or a Rolling Stones ticket,
but more than the cover at
Yoshi’s in San Francisco,
where it cost $32 to hear
West last fall. Tickets
were $22 to last month’s
sold-out Yoshi’s show by
the rising singer-songwriter Spencer Day.
With Yoshi’s in Oakland focusing primarily
on jazz, the San Francisco
branch is staying afloat
these days booking an
eclectic mix of artists —
from the Cowboy Junkies,
bluesman Booker T. Jones
and folkie Shawn Colvin
to singers like West and
Whitfield, who appeal to
jazz and cabaret crowds.
Then there’s the new
SFJazz Center, where
German cabaret star Ute
Lemper played to a
packed house last month,
and where West performs
“There’s enough
room for everybody. Everyone
has a specific …
way to present a
performer.”
Michael Feinstein
with her quartet in the
99-seat Joe Henderson
Lab on May 18 and 19,
after a private gig for
Wilkes Bashford’s birthday.
Some on the scene
wonder if there’s enough
of an audience here to fill
these venues week after
week, with money still
pretty tight, prices rising
and competition from all
forms of entertainment.
West isn’t one of them.
“I think all these clubs
can survive, as long as
they maintain a certain
quality, because they
provide different music
for different tastes,” said
the singer. She was getting
ready to fly to New York to
sing at a Jerome Kern
tribute at the 92nd Street
Y. Later this month she
performs on a Jazz at
Lincoln Center tribute to
cabaret master Bobby
Short, hosted by Feinstein.
“I’m lucky enough to
play cabaret and jazz
rooms,” said West, who
started singing in San
Francisco bars and restaurants in the late ’80s,
when all the big hotels
had live music in the lobby and singers and pianists could hone their
craft night after night. “If
someone is just doing
pure cabaret, that’s really
hard. There are not a lot of
options for you in San
Francisco.”
She’s glad Feinstein has
stepped in. Her relations
with Rrazz owners Robert
Kotonly and Rory Paull,
she noted, were not always collegial, a sentiment also expressed by
other musicians.
Feinstein never caught
a show at the old Rrazz
Room but heard good
things about the space. He
said he was sorry to hear
Live at Rrazz closed. It
was still open when he
and his team first approached the Nikko about
opening a Feinstein’s
here.
“My philosophy has
always been there’s
enough room for everybody. Everyone has a
specific point of view and
way to present a performer,” said Feinstein, talking
by phone from his Manhattan townhouse last
week (he was singing that
night at the Duke Ellington tribute at Jazz at Lincoln Center). He’s found
another spot for his New
York club, but declined to
discuss it before the deal
is inked.
“Every place is unique.
One of the things I love
about San Francisco, the
place ‘Beach Blanket
Babylon’ was birthed, is
that people demand entertainment that is not
only more diverse but
Beck Diefenbach / Special to The Chronicle
Michael Feinstein performs Monday at an invitation-only concert at his club,
Feinstein’s at the Nikko, scheduled to open officially next Wednesday.
unique to the context of
San Francisco.”
Feinstein’s “will evolve.
I want it to be evocative of
classic nightclubs, but
contemporary. Someone
like Sutton Foster is a
great performer of the
classics, but also has a
good deal of contemporary material in her act.
We want to present talent
that will show the everevolving nature of music
and society.”
The nightclub experience, he went on, “is more
soul-baring on a certain
level than other situations. People are as interested in personality
and the overall experience
as they are in a specific
music. Which is why
somebody like Mabel
Mercer had an extraordinary career even though
she had no voice, because
she conveyed a certain
truthfulness that people
craved.”
He hears that honesty
in the singing of Whitfield, whom he brought to
the San Francisco Symphony Pops years ago and
whom he’d like to hear at
Feinstein’s. She and her
husband and pianist,
Mike Greensill, were in
the crowd Monday night,
digging the music and the
new vibe of the room.
‘Lovely club’
“It’s a lovely club. The
more the merrier,” said
Greensill, a jovial Englishman who’s happy to
get any decent gig in these
lean times.
“Showbiz is in the pits
at the moment, but we’re
keeping our heads above
water and enjoying life,”
said the pianist, who will
perform with Whitfield,
Frederica von Stade and
others at the Oakland
East Bay Symphony’s
Dave Brubeck tribute
June 1.
He and Whitfield have
also been talking to another San Francisco hotel,
unnamed, that’s considering opening its own cabaret in the coming months.
The Rrazz guys, meanwhile, say they may reemerge.
“We are negotiating
now with several locations and looking at different options,” Kotonly
said by e-mail. “The outpouring of public encouragement has convinced us
to soldier on.”
Jesse Hamlin is a Bay Area
freelance writer. E-mail:
[email protected]
sfchronicle.com
SHN season features Carole King, ‘Porgy and Bess’
SHN from page E1
King Musical,” which
has already generated
considerable buzz, is
scheduled to open on
Broadway in spring 2014.
The world premiere that
begins previews at the
Curran Theatre on Sept.
24 features a book by
screenwriter Douglas
McGrath (“Emma,” “Bullets Over Broadway”)
and a cavalcade of hits
by King and her first
husband, Gerry Goffin,
as well as by Barry Mann
and Cynthia Weil.
Part bio, part jukebox
musical, the show traces
the singer’s life from
childhood as Carole
Klein in Brooklyn,
through her early successes with Goffin —
reportedly with replications of performances
by the Shirelles, Righteous Brothers, Animals,
Drifters and others — to
finding her own voice
with her blockbuster
album “Tapestry.”
“Peter and the Starcatcher,” the widely acclaimed “Peter Pan”
prequel, which has returned to off-Broadway
after last year’s Broadway run, arrives at the
Curran on Nov. 5. Imaginatively staged by Roger
Rees and Alex Timbers,
the Neverland romp was
adapted by Rick Elice
from the similarly named
novel by Dave Barry and
Ridley Pearson.
The misnamed “The
Gershwins’ Porgy and
Bess” opens its national
tour at the Golden Gate
Theatre in November as
Kevin Winter / Getty Images
Carole King’s bio is featured in “Beautiful — the
Carole King Musical,” which will be at the Curran.
well. Director Diane
Paulus’ highly praised
and much criticized,
Tony-winning remake of
the beloved classic is
somewhat adapted from
the original. George
Gershwin’s immortal
score has been abridged
by composer Diedre L.
Murray. Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks has revised DuBose Heyward’s
book and lyrics (co-written with Ira Gershwin).
The tour features Nathaniel Stampley and
Alicia Hall Moran in the
title roles, with Phillip
Boykin of the Broadway
cast as Crown.
The eagerly awaited
return of “Mormon” —
tickets for its five-week
run at the Curran sold
out within minutes last
It’s a promising
lineup, potentially
the most exciting
season SHN has
hosted in some
time.
year — opens at the end
of a very busy November
in the much larger Orpheum Theatre for an
eight-week visit. Though
not part of the SHN season, tickets for “Mormon” are available only
to renewing current
subscribers or to new
subscribers beginning
June 3. Tickets for nonsubscribers will go on
sale at a later time.
After a long hiatus, the
Joan Marcus
After a long hiatus, “Once,” a multiple Tony winner, including the award for
best musical, opens in June 2014 at the Curran.
Tony best musical winner “Once” opens in June
2014 at the Curran.
Adapted by Irish playwright Enda Walsh from
the popular low-budget
Irish film by John Carney, the offbeat hit is an
almost-romance between
Irish and Czech musicians, told through the
songs of Glen Hansard
and Markéta Iglová, who
wrote the score (and play
the roles in the movie).
John Tiffany (“Black
Watch”) directs.
Information about
subscriptions is available
at (888) 746-1799 or www.
shnsf.com.
Robert Hurwitt is The San
Francisco Chronicle’s
theater critic. E-mail:
[email protected]
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