BWW Review: Renovated RAINBOW ROOM at 30 Rock Provides a Sumptuous Feast for the Senses and An Unforgettable Experience

BWW Review: Renovated RAINBOW ROOM at 30 Rock Provides a Sumptuous Feast for the Senses and An Unforgettable Experience

During a 2014 private tour of the massive Rainbow Room renovation still underway before its early October opening that year, architect Michael Gabellini famously told guests, "The idea is to burnish history, to polish and move it into the present day, with an eye on the future." Undertaken in 2010 after years of decline under the Cipriani family's disastrous rule, the project was more than even a dramatic facelift.

To "burnish" is not merely to "smoothen or brighten a surface"; it's also to "polish by friction." An obvious source of friction (or at least resistance) were the constraints imposed by the Landmark Preservation Commission; the chandelier, for instance, could not be altered or removed, and the rotating parquet dance floor had to meet rigid specifications.

Eighteen months since completion of the sweeping remodel (with an undisclosed price tag), all trace of transitional tumult has vanished. With its team-centric approach to hospitality, new owner-operator Tishman Speyer has achieved what few thought possible: to restore the iconic venue--65 floors above ground at 30 Rockefeller Plaza--to its original splendor, while making the opulent space modern and accessible to 21st-century patrons.

BWW Review: Renovated RAINBOW ROOM at 30 Rock Provides a Sumptuous Feast for the Senses and An Unforgettable Experience
Architect Michael Gambellini masterminded
the renovation of the Rainbow Room.

Music is of course a key component of the re-imagined Rainbow Room. Gabellini envisioned creating a grand room with a high-tech, Broadway-caliber sound and lighting system fit for the best musicians in New York to perform a range of styles. Enter the Brian Newman Orchestra and the band's entr'acte Michael Garin, a longtime New York entertainer and pianist at Elaine's, the Monkey Bar, and the Limelight's VIP Room, among many others.

Brian Newman, Lady Gaga's bandleader, appeared on the Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga CD collaboration, Cheek to Cheek, and recently released Eyes on the City with Dee Bennett, Tony Bennett's son and talented engineer. Appearing weekly at Gramercy Hotel, Newman brings his unique, retro fashion sense and profound love of jazz to the room he was born to play. For all his success, Newman retains an almost childlike wonder about his newest gig, which he calls "a dream come true": "I've always wanted to play this legendary room, so rich with musical and cultural history. The list of names that have played, danced, and dined here! When we're in the building, the sensibility of 'Old New York' is alive."

BWW Review: Renovated RAINBOW ROOM at 30 Rock Provides a Sumptuous Feast for the Senses and An Unforgettable Experience
Brian Newman and His Orchestra
Have Become a Rainbow Room fixture.

The music from the Great American Songbook may be familiar, but in the hands of Newman's "main cats"--Alex Smith (piano) and Steve Kortyka (tenor sax)--this is GAS as you're never heard it before, thanks to daring arrangements and exuberant playing. The band infuses new life into "Teach Me Tonight" (Gene DePaul/Sammy Cahn, lyrics), "A Foggy Day in London Town" (Ira and George Gershwin), "I've Got The World On A String" (Harold Arlen, Ted Koehler, yrics)" "My Blue Heaven" (Walter Donaldson/George A. Whiting, lyrics) and "That's Life" (Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon). First-rate drummer Paul Francis rounds out Newman's core band, joined for this gig by some of New York's top jazz talents: Frank Basile on baritone sax, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on alto sax, Max Seigel on trombone, Brian Davis on lead trumpet, and John Lake on second trumpet.

To underscore the continuity between the old venue and the new, Newman introduced "Mimi," who was celebrating her 90th birthday, a mere 74 years after her "Sweet 16" party at the Rainbow Room in the early 1940s. Michael Garin's connection to the Rainbow Room doesn't go back quite that far, but the veteran piano player whom Stephen Holden of the New York Times called "a virtuoso musical wit" says, "There's not a night at the Rainbow Room when I don't picture my poor old dad [who came to New York from Israel in the late 1940s] slaving away as a dishwasher in the employees' cafeteria of Radio City Music Hall across the street--and a million floors down. An example of heartbreaking progress, I guess."

BWW Review: Renovated RAINBOW ROOM at 30 Rock Provides a Sumptuous Feast for the Senses and An Unforgettable Experience
Michael Garin's eclectic mix of
music energizes the Rainbow Room.

Garin's primary goal as entr'acte is to "keep the room energized." Easier said than done when the headlining band is a 10-piece orchestra with the sterling musicianship of Brian Newman's crew, and you're a "non-singing solo piano player," the 1992 Drama Desk award winner (for Song of Singapore) told me. Here, as elsewhere, the solution for Garin was Latin music, a genre the versatile entertainer incorporated into his recent cabaret show, A Punch in the Mouth, which ran at the Metropolitan Room last fall.

Roughly 60 percent of the songs between band sets are Latin: tangos, boleros, and cha-chas. Several professional dancing couples set the tone, particularly with the Carlos Gardel tangos ("Volver," "Cuesta Abajo," and "Mi Buenos Aires Querido"). A full dance floor during these musical interludes was proof that Garin kept the energy and excitement where it needed to be. The non-Latin material complemented the mood well. Garin moved seamlessly from "Dance Away" (Roxy Music), "Sunday Girl" (Blondie), "Something Stupid" (Nancy Sinatra), "Sugar, Sugar" (The Archies), "She's Not There" (The Zombies), "Ente Omri" (Om Kalthum), and "Zay El Hawa" (Abdel Halim Hafez).

"Fun songs," Garin emphasized, "played by someone enjoying himself makes for a good party. And I make sure that I'm having fun. It shows and it matters." The same is true of Newman's extraordinary band --and all the employees at the Rainbow Room, from the managers to the wait staff. So rarely in an operation of this size does one feel as if every single person is dedicated to making each aspect of the experience unforgettable. Gabellini wanted an evening at the Rainbow Room to feel as rich and fulfilling as a sumptuous dinner and a Broadway show. He appears to have succeeded.

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