A busy music man

There’s a wonderfully pragmatic guy-next-door quality to Marvin Hamlisch.

Awards and world-famous friends seem to be just part of a day’s work for the composer-conductor, who will simultaneously launch the seventh season of Marilyn Levinson’s Bay Area Cabaret and rechristen the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel as an upscale entertainment venue Sunday.

Hamlisch played the Venetian Room “many, many, many years ago. I can’t remember when,” he says, “but then I can’t remember Tuesday, so that tells you something.”

The memory lapse is understandable when you consider his schedule. October started with an all-star benefit concert in New York City and five nights of 1950s bop with Sha Na Na in Pennsylvania. After the Venetian, Hamlisch meets up with Michael Feinstein back in New York, then celebrates Halloween week with “Wicked” witch Idina Menzel and the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.

He laughs when asked if the Sha Na Na gig is an anomaly on his otherwise upscale repertoire, which includes being principal pops conductor for seven symphony orchestras around the country. “Nah! I love that stuff,” he says, launching into the bub-de-bub scat of the group’s “Blue Moon.”

A musical prodigy, Hamlisch started on Broadway in 1964 as rehearsal pianist and vocal arranger for “Funny Girl,” where he met his now lifelong friend Barbra Streisand. His work since has made him one of the few artists to win a Tony, Emmy, Grammy and Oscar. And he has won a Pulitzer Prize — a feat only matched by composer Richard Rodgers.

Like Rodgers, Hamlisch has moved easily from stage to screen and back.

He already had three Academy Awards, for “The Way We Were” and “The Sting,” by the time “A Chorus Line” debuted at Joe Papp’s Public Theatre.

Four more Hamlisch-composed musicals have landed on Broadway, and he’s scored more than three-dozen film and television projects since. He’s currently working with frequent collaborators Marilyn and Alan Bergman on what he’s calling “a new take” on the musical “Ballroom,” which will star Tyne Daly.

Hamlisch had to abandon a musicalization of the Woody Allen film “Bullets Over Broadway” due to a rights issue. “The producer of the movie and Woody had a falling out,” he says, “so I can’t get [the rights] from her because she doesn’t like him [anymore]. So the project is dead.”

“It hurts for a week or so,” Hamlisch says, “and then you say, ‘Screw it!’ and move on. If you’re in New York, you go to Shake Shack, order a coffee malted, and then you’re fine.


Marvin Hamlisch

With Maria Friedman and J. Mark McVey

Where: Venetian Room, Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., San Francisco

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $100 to $175

Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com

Room with a view

It’s where Tony Bennett first left his heart in San Francisco. Ella Fitzgerald appeared there so often she said it “feels like home.” For four decades, the Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel presented the best entertainers of every era, from Marlene Dietrich to Elton John.

Opened in 1947, the Dorothy Draper-designed supper club with its murals of Venice soon became a major stop on the national nightclub circuit. Among the first clubs to book black performers such as Nat “King” Cole and a young Sammy Davis Jr., it also rolled into the rock era with Tina Turner and Andy Gibb.

Changing tastes shuttered the room in 1989. The murals were draped over and it has been a wedding and meetings venue for two decades.

Marilyn Levinson remembers the closing as “a real loss to our city.” On Sunday, she fulfills a longtime dream by launching her seventh season of Bay Area Cabaret there with Marvin Hamlisch. Next month, Chita Rivera performs, and more acts will follow.

Tom Klein, the Fairmont’s general manager since 2008, is optimistic.

“Producing shows in this economic climate is risky,” Klein says, “but there’s so much history to the room. It would be a shame to let it lapse.”

— Robert Sokol

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