By Tania Fisher
We love Lainie. We just do. Can anyone define exactly why? I don’t think so; it’s like putting a label on a piece of artwork, and Lainie Kazan, is a true, living piece of artwork. She is still beautiful, still magnetic, and still the queen of all of them. With her steely gaze, her shoot-straight-from-the-hip attitude, and her brash tongue, she oozes talent and still has buckets to spare, and we love her for everything she is.
Her three night only cabaret show at Feinstein’s/54 Below was filled to the brim every night with loving and adoring fans. There was a tingly electric vibe in the air as the full-capacity room waited with heightened anticipation for the entrance of a legend. The lights dimmed and a hush fell as eager heads turned, looking around the room to guess where Ms Kazan might enter from. Ms Kazan’s recording of Leon Russell’s “Song For You” is then heard over the speakers while two large screens either side of the stage begin a montage of clips depicting each stage of her decorated career; Ms Kazan singing on “The Dean Martin Show” (circa mid to late 60s), a still shot from her scene with Frank Sinatra from the 1968 film “Lady in Cement”, through all the way to “Beaches” (1988), TV shows “The Nanny” (1995-99), Will & Grace (2001) and the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002). Almost every clip prompted applause coupled with impromptu affectionate sighs and cheers. Eventually the audience realized Ms Kazan was standing in a corner of the room also watching the TV screens and reminiscing right along with us.
The montage ends and the audience explode with applause and an appreciative energy bubbles that helps carry the nearly 79 year old to her place on the stage. Ms Kazan still looked elegant and was dripping with sparkling jewelry, but relied heavily on a handsome young staff member assisting her to the stage very slowly and then carefully maneuvering her up the few steps and across to center stage. Nobody minded continuing the applause until she was ready and settled, and in some respect, the obviousness of the physical effects of aging only endeared her to us more, as though she herself was a talisman for us to recognize just how many years she’s given to the industry and the vastness of her talent.
Ms Kazan greets us as though we’re all old friends and explains that she grew up in Brooklyn, and that her mother “was a Jewish Blanche Dubois who looked at life through rose colored glasses” and that her father was a bookmaker, but that until she was 12 years old she “thought he was in publishing!” She takes her wine glass filled with water and we all toast “L’Chaim” with her.
Ms Kazan still reached all her notes and belted out her tunes with the same gusto she did 40 years ago, but excuses herself for having sheet music present on stage, barking at us, “I’m old!”
She openly shares her personal stories, often filled with heartache and disappointments; a true testament to the harsh reality of the industry. Even in moments where the stories have likely been told hundreds of times in hundreds of previous shows, she skillfully calls upon her natural acting ability to make us believe it’s the first time she’s told them. From her big break moment in 1964 when Broadway’s “Funny Girl” star Barbra Streisand fell ill and Ms Kazan got her shot to play the lead having been her stand-in for a year and a half, as she puts it, “Me, little Lainie Kazan from Brooklyn” to being put up in a filthy motel in Wisconsin and being paid in cash from an ominous brown paper bag, to catching a “freedom bus” in the late 60s across the country to meet with Hugh Heffner, resulting in her opening the Playboy Jazz Clubs “Lainie’s Room” both in LA and New York.
Her acting talents again come to the forefront in her cabaret show as she melodically recites the poem, “If You Go Away” by Jacques Brel. She regales the story of meeting her greatest influence, Judy Garland before singing “Over The Rainbow” (The Wizard of Oz) and “Trolley Medley” (Meet Me in St Louis), both made famous by Ms Garland, yet only Ms Kazan has the skill and talent to make them her own.
Ms Kazan closes with David L Frishberg’s “Peel Me a Grape” using her sexy, flirtatious charm on some lucky men in the audience, but not before telling a few dirty jokes in that unabashedly brash loveable way she has about her, and finally, a standing ovation that lasts several minutes. Nobody minded. Because, yes, we just love Lainie.