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"Lainie's voice is like fine wine, sparkling and mellow...it keeps flowing--smooth and tasty." - Lena Horne


There is nothing that Lainie Kazan does on stage that's less than true. As a singer, the voice keeps flowing, as Lena Horne says, "smooth and tasty." As an actress, she's proven her acting talent in several memorable film roles, including My Favorite Year, Beaches, and 29th Street. She's had running roles in many TV sitcom hits like The Nanny and Veronica's Closet. Her comic timing is hard to top; her characterizations on target. She also happens to be a sharp and witty lady, with a full, ready laugh.

Lainie Kazan is a triple threat who tackles all venues and makes them her own. Wouldn't it be terrific to see her again in a major musical role on Broadway? A Dolly Levy, Gypsy Mama, or a Mame Dennis? Come to think of it, wouldn't it be great to see her sink her teeth into a strong dramatic theatre role?

For now, we're fortunate to have Lainie in leading cabaret and concert rooms, recently Feinstein's at the Regency, and Atlantic City.  She also has a couple of promising films coming up this year. Read on about the fiery talent of Lainie Kazan.

"I do know I want to put my story into a show, with its pathos, its humor, telling the story of my life, which I think has such a tapestry."

Lainie's Story

"I've been on the stage forever."

She lives now in Los Angeles, but Lainie Kazan still spends a lot of time in New York. Born Lainie Levine, she grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, with a younger sister who is now a social worker.  She attended Erasmus Hall, as did Barbra Streisand, whom she would later understudy on Broadway, and from her earliest years, Lainie prepared for a career in show business, beginning with dance.

"I grew up as a dancer. My mother was a wannabe dancer and she shlepped me to every dance class."

Her mother, Carole Kazan Levine, took Lainie to dancing lessons practically as a toddler; at age 4-1/2 years, she participated in a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, singing and dancing. Growing up during the golden age of movie musicals and early television, she was exposed to musical influences like Lena Horne, Judy Garland.

"...And believe it or not, Betty Hutton. As a little girl I just loved her. She had such vitality and energy."

The show biz glamour glittered for Lainie until she reached high school, when she began to resent the fact that music set her apart from the other kids. Lainie wanted to be like everyone else, and so she cut back performing until she graduated and enrolled in Hofstra University on Long Island. At that time, Lainie realized that her true passion was really theatre and she joined other Hofstra classmates aiming for show business careers, like Francis Ford Coppola and Madeleine Kahn.

"During sophomore year, I happened to be in Greenwich Village with my girlfriend. There was a sign outside the Sheridan Square Playhouse saying 'Auditions today for Leave It To Jane.'"

Her girlfriend said she was going to audition, and Lainie went along. Inside, the director turned to her and asked if she could sing. Lainie could, she said, a little. He asked her to return in a few days and sing for him. Lainie and her girlfriend returned for the audition, and Lainie got the part.

The next two years were spent performing in Leave It To Jane every night, afterwards taking the Long Island Railroad out for classes at Hofstra the next morning, and then back again to New York for the evening performance. In summers she performed in industrial shows; she had earned her Equity card working in Lee Guber's summer theatre circuit.

After graduation, Lainie Kazan joined the famed Carol Haney dancers. In the mid '60's, when Haney was set to be in a new play, she suggested that Kazan also audition for the show. The play was Funny Girl, and the role Kazan wanted was the lead.

"I grew up knowing all about Fanny Brice. My father loved Fanny Brice, and I could always make people laugh. So I decided I wanted that role....Of course they gave it to Barbra."

The lead gone, Kazan took a job singing at The Living Room, a small nightclub in New York. One night Carol Haney brought in a group of theatre people to see her show. Included in the group were Garson Kanin and Ray Stark, involved in Funny Girl. Hearing her sing, they offered her a small part in the play, but she was already booked to perform in Toronto and Winnepeg, a job she wasn't looking forward to; Canada sounded distant, foreign, and unappealing to the Brooklyn girl.

"I thought, 'I don't want to go.'"

But she went. There Kazan received a phone call offering her 15 weeks at the Playboy Club. She also learned that the offer of a small part in Funny Girl still stood, and this time she chose Funny Girl. She was then offered a film contract and $50 more a week if she would understudy Streisand. Kazan accepted.

Streisand was not one to take a sick day, and Kazan took over the role only one day -- matinee and evening -- receiving rave reviews, but this led to a record contract and a manger. Her career began in earnest. Years later in the theatre, she would create the role of Gittel Mosca in Seesaw as well as the conniving Crystal in the musical version of Clare Booth Luce's The Women. Other stage roles she has taken on include Gypsy, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and dramas like Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, House of Blue Leaves, and Orpheus Descending.

Kazan left Funny Girl and New York and went to Hollywood where she would be based from now on, moving quickly into television variety shows ( 26 times on The Dean Martin Show alone), and successfully building her singing career. Eventually her singing engagements, which began in the Hungri I, took her into world-class rooms, including San Francisco's Venetian Room. Here Kazan's Hofstra schoolmate, Francis Ford Coppola, later saw her performance and offered Lainie Kazan her first film role in One From the Heart.

In the mid-70's, Kazan suffered a serious car accident that limited her ability to work. Her career veered in another direction when Hugh Hefner asked her to set up a cabaret, Lainie's Room, in the Los Angeles Playboy Club. Kazan was told she could run it as she saw fit; while insisting she's not a jazz singer herself, she immediately asked to bring in jazz musicians.

"Playboy had always been synonymous with jazz. (By the '70's) they were doing disco and rock and roll, and jazz musicians were having a hard time. I (booked) Bill Evans, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams...everybody. That was really satisfying to me."

Besides the satisfaction of helping other musicians and treating them with professional courtesy, Kazan installed new lighting and sound systems and new dressing rooms. The dancer-singer-actress-comedienne-raconteur was now also a businesswoman.

"It's difficult for me to fight and be in the business world, even though I've done it successfully. It's the most difficult part of what I do."

The following year a Lainie's Room was set up at the New York Playboy Club. With all these talents, Lainie Kazan defines herself first as a singer, secondly as an actress.

"I'm a jazz singer in my choice of material and my jazz musicians and (my sense of) 'time'. I think it comes from tap dancing. I hear 'time' all around me. And I had my black period, you know. There were years in the '70's when I sang with an all-black band and three gospel singers. I did a lot of rhythm 'n blues.

"I love acting and I love becoming other people. You take a seed of the character and in that character is a small part of you. You heighten that part of your personality to play that role. But as a singer I'm all of me. It's so much more satisfying. The sound of your voice ruminating in your body, and the physical part of listening to the musicians and hearing the sound of your own voice...there's nothing like it. It's better than sex!"

She bursts out laughing.

Lainie Kazan's acting credits include the cult film, Lust In the Dust, Disney's, The Journey of Natty Gunn, and in 1983, the acclaimed, My Favorite Year, which won her a Golden Globe nomination for her classic portrayal of a Jewish mother. She recreated the role on Broadway, winning nominations for a Tony and an Outer Circle Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical. Her personal success in the portrayal, however, did not help the play. As she says of the story about Jewish writers in the golden age of television

"We had a wonderful director, but it was the wrong director. It needed a Jewish head."

Kazan played part of the lead's mother though she was barely 40, far too young for the part. However, she had worked with Mel Brooks in When Things Were Rotten, a TV series about Robin Hood. The writer of that TV show was Norman Steinberg, who later sent her the script for My Favorite Year, asking her to play the journalist. Kazan read the script and knew she wanted to play the Jewish mother.

"They all laughed. At that time, I was known as a glamourpuss, you know? 'I said, "But I really understand this character." They asked me to come in and read, and I said, 'Definitely.'

"So I got dressed as that character. I knew that woman. She was a combination of my mother and my aunt and everyone who lived on Avenue H, and I went in as the character. I won the role."

While Kazan can portray a Jewish (or Italian) mother from Brooklyn to a tee, her personal life is far different. Today, in her free time, Kazan enjoys horseback riding, Hatha Yoga, and reading. She spends a lot of time with her daughter, Jennifer Bena, and her granddaughter, and she also teaches other singers voice and how to act out a song.

Kazan married only once, the late British musician, Peter Daniels. She ends most of her shows end with a song, "I Remember You," dedicated to Daniels' memory.

"He was a brilliant man, an extraordinary piano player. He was the assistant musical director of Funny Girl. He had been Barbra (Streisand)'s conductor, which was a big problem for us, though he left the show and Barbra long before we got together.

"We were on again, off again, throughout our lives. We were together for ten years, and five of those years we were married and five we were not married. We just couldn't live together.

"He was an eccentric. They broke the mold, you know? He was very avant garde. He marched to his own drummer...He wanted so much to be a star."

She credits Peter Daniels for much of her successes.

"(Daniels) nurtured me, the whole Svengali thing. He was really responsible for much of my success; he wrote most of my arrangements, he supported me, he made phone calls for me, he was there for me 150%. He nurtured me, and then he wanted to kill the thing he had created. When I started to make all this money and started to become so successful, he resented it. It's a classic piano-player/singer story.

"(Although) he was quite brilliant, he never got recognized by any of the people he worked for. Barbra -- he did her first three albums -- she finally did a compilation album of all the years, and she dedicated the '60's (era) to Peter. So that was nice, but throughout his life he never really saw success. He was bitter, and I think that's what killed him."

Daniels returned to live with Kazan and her daughter for the last two years of his life.

Lainie Kazan has a strong sense of herself and her art. Calling herself a perfectionist, she expects others to treat her professionally, including the audience. She dislikes talking, eating, drinking, by members of the audience while she is singing her heart out.

"I want the audience to like me...I'm nearsighted, but I have extra-sensory perception when I'm onstage. I see everything. I see shadows of people's outlines, I know who's in the room.

"There's a misconception that I'm very aggressive, very strong, sometimes difficult. I guess the difficult part is because I want the best, not only for myself but for the people around me. I think that's misconstrued as being difficult. I'm really very very fragile and sensitive."

Occasionally someone in the audience will asked for a song, usually a dramatic ballad like "Body and Soul," "If You Go Away" "The Last Time I Saw Jimmy," and most frequently requested, "The Man That Got Away," which is Kazan 's personal favorite song to sing because of its emotional depths.

"I'm there. I guess I'm a singing actress. I don't know how many people go there, but I do. I don't just sing the song musically, I'm in the experience of that scene."

Words About Lainie

"More talent in her little finger than most singers have in their dreams." Rex Reed

"Lainie's voice is like fine wine, sparkling and mellow...it keeps flowing--smooth and tasty." - Lena Horne

"Lainie slays me. Supremely sexy, knowing, and worldly wise, these are the songs she was born to sing. How wonderful to have her recording again." -Bette Midler

"One of the most effective moments was the first of "three really depressing songs" - the melancholy "The Last Time I Saw Jimmy" in which she had the audience believing she was waltzing with a long-ago lover."- - Jim Van Buskirk

"Ms. Kazan beautifully displayed her talents for touching the softer side of her audience, and proved that she could sing a sad ballad with passion and power." - Vernon Bauer, 7/1/00

"(Her) CD Body & Soul ripples with passion." - Linda-Marie Singer, Jewish Observer


Body and Soul

In the Groove


The Vagina Monologues
Currently starring Lainie Kazan, Veanne Cox, Marla Gibbs

$10 of every full-price ticket sold is donated directly to the V-Day Fund, which supports groups working to end violence against women.
Westside Theatre
407 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036 212-239-6200

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2001: Lainie entertains at Vint-Age 2001
John Jay College Theater
899 Tenth Avenue in Manhattan

Vint-Age 2001 presented by the NY Coalition of Professional Women in the Arts & Media is an all-day conference to discuss finding positive solutions to the problems of Ageism. Keynote Speaker: Valerie Harper



Send suggestions and comments to ahlfors@citycabaret.com

© 2001 Elizabeth Ahlfors. All rights reserved worldwide.