Wesla’s back at the Plush Room 

Singer Wesla Whitfield always likes returning to San Francisco’s Plush Room.

This year’s engagement, which began Tuesday and runs through Feb. 4, marks the 26th year she’s appeared in the cozy cabaret in the York Hotel.

"It’s still the most wonderful room to work in," says Whitfield, who has noticed many changes over time, including the audiences.

"They’ve gotten younger," she said during a recent phone interview from the hotel. They’re also no longer filled mostly with gay men interested in hearing show tunes.

Whitfield’s new show is a smorgasbord. It won’t necessarily spotlight tunes off 2006’s "Livin’ on Love," a CDwhich was released, and celebrated with, performances last year.

"We’ll do a couple of songs from that," she says, "but we want to move on."

"We" refers to her husband and musical partner, pianist/arranger Mike Greensill, with whom she works almost exclusively.

"I feel totally comfortable," she says, so much that "it’s difficult when I work with other people."

It takes about six weeks to develop a show. She and Greensill each come up with long lists of songs they’d like to do, then whittle them down to about 16 total.

Famed in the Bay Area for her smooth, subtle interpretations of the Great American Songbook — she’s often compared to Rosemary Clooney — Whitfield admits to putting one "new" song on her current set list.

"The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress" by Jimmy Webb is unusual for her in that "it was written in my lifetime," she says.

Mostly, she sticks to old songs because they’re subtle, and because they tell stories.

Some songs translate better onstage than on a recording. Harry Warren’s "The Girlfriend of the Whirling Dervish" is a fun tune she likes to perform live because it works well with an anecdote.

But she’d never put it on a recording. To date, Whitfield has 18 albums; she and Greensill create new ones when her label, High Note Records, asks her to — an arrangement she calls lucky.

When she’s not singing, Whitfield, a resident of St. Helena, pulls out the crochet needle. It’s an avocation that makes her feel "quite centered" — not unlike the spirit-freeing feeling experienced by her many fans.

Wesla Whitfield

Where: Empire Plush Room, York Hotel, 940 Sutter St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 4

Tickets: $32.50 to $37.50

Contact: (866) 468-3399 or plushroom.com

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Leslie Katz

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