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BWW Interview: Stage & Screen Legend Lainie Kazan Talks Music, Theatre Career & More!

Lainie Kazan is an American actress and singer. She was nominated for the 1988 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for St. Elsewhere, and the 1993 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for My Favorite Year. She had previously received a Golden Globe Award nomination for the film version of My Favorite Year (1982). Her other film appearances include The Delta Force (1986), Harry and the Hendersons (1987), Beaches (1988), My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) and My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016). Kazan made her Broadway debut in The Happiest Girl in the World in 1961 followed by Bravo Giovanni (1962). She served as understudy to Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, finally getting to go on 18 months into the run when the star was ill with a serious throat problem. Both had attended the same high school, Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, New York. Kazan's mother alerted the press and, encouraged by rave reviews for her performance, she quit the show and set out to establish herself in a singing career. A life member of The Actors Studio, Kazan returned to Broadway to recreate her film role for the musical adaptation of My Favorite Year, earning a Tony Award nomination for her performance. She completed a stint in The Vagina Monologues. She has also appeared in regional productions of A Little Night Music, Man of La Mancha, Gypsy, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Hello, Dolly!, and Fiddler on the Roof, among others. In 1984, she made a guest appearance on the Faerie Tale Theatre episode "Pinocchio" as Sophia the Blue Fairy.

Now, back on the concert scene, BWW's Kevin Pollack got to chat with Ms. Kazan about her upcoming concert appearances in NYC and what's next for her!

BWW: You received a Golden Globe nomination for the film My Favorite Year and also played the same role when it became a musical on Broadway and was nominated for a Tony Award. That's also where you met Andrea Martin, whom you later went on to work with in the My Big Fat Greek Wedding movies and TV show. Do you have a favorite story about that show and do you and Andrea Martin remain close friends?

LK: Andrea and I are still very close. She's a comic genius. After the movie, Nia, Gia, Andrea and I used to have lunch together regularly but now Andrea is on the opposite coast. I adore her.

BWW: Now in the 60s, you were the understudy for Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl on Broadway, which you finally got to go on 18 months into the run. How did that feel about that and what was it like working with Barbra?

LK: When the producers told me I was finally going to go on, I had made up a list of everyone I was going to call and invite when it finally happened. So that night I must have made a million phone calls. I showed up at the theatre...and so did Barbra. I was crushed. So the producers let me know that I'd be going on the next day at the matinee. But they said I couldn't call ANYONE. I asked them if I could at least call my mother and they relented. mom had a duplicate list.

Barbra is so wonderful and we've remained friends. I went to see her concert recently and enjoyed saying hello afterward.

BWW: After Funny Girl, you established quite a singing career releasing 8 studio albums, but never a live album. Why is that and do you have a favorite album of yours?

LK: I did release a live album recorded at Lainie's Room at the Playboy Club called "The Chanteuse Is Loose." The album has been out of print for a while but I've just had it remastered for CD and will have them available for the first time at all of my concert appearances!

BWW: You have a string of 7 live shows at The Iridium in NYC coming up October 18-22. What do you love most about performing for a live audience, especially singing the music you want to sing?

LK: Performing live is still my favorite thing to do. The connection between singer, live band and audience is electric and I love the intimacy of being close to the audience.

BWW: Did you ever think My Big Fat Greek Wedding would become such a classic?

LK: Never. My agent called me for a meeting at Tom Hanks' office and, of course, I said "Yes!" Next thing I knew, I was shooting in Canada with a wonderful cast. We set records for how long that movie played in theatres.

BWW: Who are your influences as a singer?

LK: Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

BWW: I know you've been doing movies, TV and making albums, but would you ever consider returning to the Broadway stage?

LK: Of course! But first I need a knee replacement.

BWW: You serve on the board of the Young Musicians' Foundation. How important do you think it is that children have a music education today in schools and elsewhere?

LK: Even more directly, I'm an adjunct professor at UCLA teaching "Acting for Singers." Music education is SO important and I'm getting to teach students how to connect with lyrics and perform more than just the notes. I'm also fortunate to get to keep the songs from the Great American Songbook alive for new generations of performers.

BWW: What plans do you have on the horizon?

LK: After New York, I'm heading to play the Smith Center in Las Vegas and next month I'll be in Florida. I plan to keep singing and singing. Music and laughter are what keep me young.

Make sure to go see Lainie Kazan at The Iridium in NYC from October 8-12. Get tickets here:

Photos courtesy of Lainie Kazan official web site

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From This Author Kevin Pollack