Peter Gallagher looks forward to channeling his inner Dean Martin in his cabaret show, "How'd All You People Get in My Room?"
"Dean Martin was a hero of mine," the 58-year-old actor said during a recent interview. "He made the world look like a place I wanted to be. The idea of singing songs and telling stories was really appealing to me. I have been wanting to do something like this my whole life."
The show opens Thursday for a three-night engagement at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, then moves on to Palm Springs' Annenberg Theater on Feb. 22.
Gallagher first did the show seven years ago. Since then, the star of such movies as "sex, lies and videotape," the 2003-07 TV series "The O.C." and the current USA network show "Covert Affairs," and Broadway shows such as the 1992 revival of "Guys and Dolls" with Nathan Lane has refined the evening of conversation and music.
"I change the stories and songs," said Gallagher, relaxing in the living room of the Brentwood home he shares with wife of 30 years, Paula. "I try and get the right kind of balance."
Among the tunes he'll be crooning include "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," which he sang at an open-call audition for "Grease" in New York in the late 1970s, the standard "Time After Time," "Luck Be a Lady" and "I've Never Been in Love Before" from "Guys and Dolls." He also sings tunes by Leon Russell and Van Morrison, and even revisits "Don't Give Up on Me," a song his character Sandy Cohen performed on "The O.C."
Peppered in between the songs are memories of his taciturn father ("He wasn't a big talker"), of meeting his wife during his freshman year at Tufts University, and anecdotes about the mentors and legends he has worked with, including Jack Lemmon, James Cagney, Mike Nichols, Robert Altman and Peter O'Toole.
Gallagher has a particularly soft spot for Lemmon, with whom he appeared in the 1986 Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," the 1988 miniseries "The Murder of Mary Phagan" and Altman's 1993 ensemble drama "Short Cuts."
"Lemmon was like a dad to me," said Gallagher quietly. "He gave me my first set of golf clubs. We played a ton of golf together. We had some moments in 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' in rehearsal and afterwards that stayed with me forever."
The actor, said Gallagher, would "knock it out of the park" performance after performance during the show's London production. But after one performance, Lemmon asked Gallagher if he would stay for some rehearsal.
" 'I'll buy you a sandwich,' he said. We got back on stage like an hour later. He said, 'Peter, what did I do tonight? I don't know what I did. How am I going to do it again tomorrow?' And we would rehearse and we would talk. And we had conversations I waited my whole life to have."
Another mentor was the renowned acting teacher Mira Rostova, who worked with actors including Montgomery Clift, Alec Baldwin and Jessica Lange.
"I studied with her for 25 years," said Gallagher of Rostova, who died in 2009 at age 99. "She was as tough as nails. Every time I worked with her, I learned something."
Toward the end of her life, Gallagher expressed his respect to Rostova. "She said, 'You were my best student.' I was so moved. I had been working so hard. And then I said, 'Wait a minute! What about Montgomery Clift?' She said, 'He's dead."'
Gallagher, who last appeared on Broadway in the 2008 revival of Clifford Odets' "The Country Girl," will return this fall to star with Kristin Chenoweth in the revival of "On the Twentieth Century," the 1978 Broadway musical that won various Tony Awards.