Lainie Kazan vividly recalls her very first San Francisco gig. It was in 1967. She left the Broadway run of “Funny Girl,” where she was Barbra Streisand’s understudy, and boldly took the stage at the legendary nightclub the hungry i.
“My paycheck bounced,” Kazan recalls, laughing. “But it was the beginning of my new life and career. My very first home was on a houseboat in Sausalito and Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 were there in the community. I loved San Francisco.”
The City loved her too; she played the Fairmont’s Venetian Room for many years. “I was there during all the walk-ins and sit-ins and all the ‘ins’,’” she says.
Kazan reclaims her local cabaret roots Tuesday with a six-night stint at the new Rrazz Room in Hotel Nikko.
Known for commanding, soul-stirring vocals, Kazan’s new show offers a wide breadth of material, including several songs from Harold Arlen (“It’s Only A Paper Moon,” “Stormy Weather”). “I love his music,” she says of the revered composer, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in 2005. "I think he’s created some of the greatest contemporary music — very bluesy; very blues in the night.”
It’s hard to imagine Kazan doing anything other than singing, which is her first love, but she’s first to admit how quickly the show biz currents can move a career in different directions.
After overseeing cabaret lounges in New York and Los Angeles, memorable turns on “The Dean Martin Show” showcased Kazan’s comedic depth. Film and TV roles arrived, some of them from unconventional waters — “My Favorite Year, “Lust in the Dust,” “Delta Force,” “The Nanny.”
But it wasn’t until she portrayed the matriarch in the 2002 blockbuster “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” that Kazan found her celebrity soaring again.
Curiously, she plays one of Adam Sandler’s love interests in this summer’s “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan.”
“This boy is so talented and so nice and such a professional,” Kazan says. “I cannot say enough great things about him. He’s a nice Jewish boy.”
In the meantime, the music beckons. And while her latest CD, “Lainie Kazan, In The Groove,” continues to do well, she’s can’t help but notice something off-key in the current music scene.
“The business has changed dramatically,” she says. “Every hotel had a room where singers could sing and get paid decently, and they had orchestras. They had a platform to sing. Now, if you don’t have enough business to attract a stadium crowd, you’re relegated toa little plot.”
“Look,” she says. “I sing because I love it and I don’t want to stop.”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $40 to $50
Contact: (866) 468-3399 or or www.therrazzroom.com