BWW Review: LAINIE KAZAN Cuts Her Suit To Fit Her Cloth and Shows Laryngitis Can't Stop Lainie at Feinstein's/54 Below
Heigh-Ho Friends & "Family"! Bobby Patrick your RAINBOW Reviewer here. Putting the silent T in CABARET to bring you all the T.
So the announcement came 13 minutes into Lainie Kazan's Wednesday night set at Feinstein's/54 Below. Filling the first 13 minutes, Kazan's trio of musicians started off with a nifty jazz arrangement of "Blue Skies" where Steve Rawlins - MD/Piano, Lew Scott - Bass, Eddie Caccavale - Drums each took some equally nifty jazz riffs to nice applause for their improvised solos, followed by a swing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," proving they were a tight unit of professionals with music in their souls. After playing a retrospective Ka-video of Kazan's Ka-reer, Scott, Kazan's assistant, came to the stage and, very sweetly, explained that La Lainie had awoken in the morning with a big bad case of laryngitis, the singers plague, and as such would only be able to sing a limited amount, GENTLY. In a last-minute retooling of basically everything, what the audience was to be audience to would be a couple of soft jazz-ish numbers followed by a sit-down, walkthrough "Lainie's Life" interview conducted by Scott, and then a special guest who had been commandeered to join Lainie to go a couple of rounds of back and forth chat. This, combined with the music from her excellent combo and whatever vocals she could manage, would constitute Kazan's Ka-night (see what Bobby's doing there?). How well this idea would play would be entirely up to Kazan's ability to put something over, with her voice at half-mast. Personality and star power would have to save the day if the day could be saved at all. Oh! The Drama, Mama!!
Once Scott, who was adorable BTW, announced "An Evening With Lainie Kazan", the lady came to the stage and kicked off with a mash-up of "A Song for You" & "Both Sides Now" and her vocal sufferings were apparent, but not insurmountably so for a real pro. Most of Lainie's low register resonated just fine and the notes she floated into her lighter head voice, floated well. Her customary powerful belt is where the strain was clear and for those passages, the consummate actress... acted. At times using song speak, at times a whisper, and for the times she went for it, her mic technique and musicianship covered a lot of the sins she was committing against her cords, just to give us a show. As she explained about her morning where she woke up with NO voice at all, and that she intended to give us the "REAL STORIES" from the amazing life she has lived, a kibitzer at the back of the house spoke up, and it was clear to everyone from the nasal, Bronxie bray that Renee Taylor was going to be her special friend's special guest. This bit of audience participation lead Kazan into the story of how she and Taylor first met, when Kazan was Barbra's understudy and Taylor was standing by for the late, great Anne Jackson, and they were introduced to each other on the Merv Griffin show. Not giving a $H!T (her word, not Bobby's) about Renee's objections to her telling it, La Lainie fast-forwarded to a chance meeting where, while boutique shopping, she felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to the fast-talking Taylor who said, "I'm doing a show and there's a part for you if you lose 30 pounds," whereupon she took Lainie to her home and made her get on the scale to weigh in.
As Ms. K launched into the venerable favorite "Blue Skies" my companion leaned into me and whispered, "She such a pro." Damn Right she is! You see, my lambs, this is what a pro does when the show is all you and there are bums on seats who have paid to be there: you do anything you can to give them everything you can, regardless of the obstacles. Once Scott came to the stage, all he had to do to get his friend and boss started was ask a simple question and off she would go, regaling her listeners with her beginnings in Brooklyn with a mother who was "A Jewish Blanche Dubois" and a father who was a bookie, to being at school with Barbara at Erasmus Hall, and her blind date with William Shatner a few minutes after arriving in Hollywood, where some hilarity happened with BOTH of their wigs. Of course, there was the story of being her schoolmate's understudy for Funny Girl as well as when she got tapped to go on how, under an extreme directive from the producers, she was forbidden to call any press. Undaunted, she sheepishly asked if she could, at least, call her mother... who proceeded to call all the right people on Lainie's List, and with her standout, stand-in performance, the understudy became a star.
Scott interviewed and the lady spoke, and the audience was enraptured by her candor, her humor, and her star power. There were calls from the floor to the stage asking her to tell a particular story or talk about a role in a film they loved, and she obliged, going off track to ramble charmingly through a career in which Kazan performed roles that have entered the pantheon (What? Bobby knows words!) of great screen moms. Of course, there's "Beaches" ... Playing mom to Blossom and then Bette! The quintessential Ocean Parkway mom to Cousin Larry in "My Favorite Year" (Golden Globe Nom peeps) and everyone sighed a collective sigh to hear her tell of how the cast of both "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" films still gather monthly for family dinners. Leave us not forget the other career she has made with her voice. As a singer, the lady knows very few peers and she has played practically every music establishment across the face of the earth, including some owned by the mob. There was the story of how her paycheck for appearing in one such night club had bounced more than once, and upon appealing to her boss, she was told to return to her Hotel. Later that night, someone calling themselves Johnny D knocked on her door and handed her a paper bag containing $40,000. Then there were the 4 ½ years she ran the playboy owned Lainie's Room East (New York) and Lainie's Room West (LA) furthering the careers of those who needed it and offering work to legends she admired. Finally, there was very little time for her and Renee Taylor to take the stage together, but for a few minutes, Taylor got to make her pal talk about her long affair with Bob Dylan, dating Frank Sinatra AND Dean Martin, and make jokes about dating Brad Pitt before Angelina...NOT. Taylor left the stage with one final bray of, "Always tell the truth, because it comes out."
Wrapping the show with a sexily hoarse rendition of "Peel Me A Grape" Lainie's Larynx got through it and gave the audience swinging and swaying fun to send them home. After expressing her sincere hope that everyone enjoyed what she was able to give them she encored with "I Remember You," a song she once recorded with her late husband Peter Daniels, whom she promised to remember forever, touching all our hearts.
In the end, was this "Evening With Lainie Kazan" the show the audience had signed on for? No. Was it better? Who can say really? What Bobby can say is everyone had a fine time and that we give the show 3 ½ Rainbows, but we give the lady the full 5.