Q&A with Lainie Kazan

Lainie Kazan is famous for her roles in films like Beaches and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but the actress has a soft spot for music. She started her music career as Barbra Streisand’s understudy in Funny Girl, eventually taking over the role on Broadway. Kazan returns to the Colony Hotel December 27-30 to treat audiences to an evening of Great American Songbook standards, love songs, and Latin melodies.

Ahead of the happenings, PBI spoke to Kazan about working with giants like Dean Martin and prepping the next generation of songbirds for flight.

PBI: Lainie’s a sweet sounding name. Does it have a special meaning?

Kazan: There was a little girl in the building where my family lived and her name was “Melanie.” She was named after Olivia de Havilland’s character in Gone with the Wind. My mother had to name me after a relative with a name beginning with the letter “L,” so she named me Lainie.

You have a long history with Palm Beach, don’t you?

I’ve performed at the Colony Hotel several times. The last time I was here was three years ago. I love Palm Beach—the weather, the shopping, the hotels, and the people in the hotels.

You’ve done it all—movies, television, and Broadway. What do you love about singing?

Singing is like something from the heavens. It’s an intimate form of communication and it thrills me to express myself that way. When I play a role, I take a part of myself and I magnify it, but when I sing, it is all who I am.

You’ve worked with some of the greatest talents ever—Dean Martin, Peter O’Toole, Divine. Any favorites?

Dean was my favorite. Ella [Fitzgerald] used to come and see my shows all the time. We sang at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco and she’d sit in the back on my closing nights.

What would you consider your greatest professional achievement?

Working on the Dean Martin Show. I adored him and he adored me and we had a blast together. We were never romantically connected—it was just a friendship, but what a friendship. Not only did I love singing with him, I’d go into his dressing room and there’d be The Duke [John Wayne], Ethel Merman, presidents. Everybody would be there.

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What’s your favorite song to sing when you’re feeling happy or in a blue mood?

When I’m sad or longing, I sing the “Man that Got Away.” That’s been a staple of mine for many, many years. When I’m happy, I sing about joyous love, hope, and falling in love. I sing songs from Judy Garland’s albums like “The Trolley Medley” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

What’s next?

I’m playing an Arab woman in a new movie called The Real Me. It’s a cute script and I play the girl’s grandmother who’s from an Egyptian country.

Your greatest indulgence.

Eating and massages, amongst other things.

What’s the best thing about being Lainie Kazan?

Sometimes people stop me and speak Greek to me. They think I’m Greek or Italian but I’m a Jewish girl, and proud of it.

What’s your greatest non-musical talent?

Acting and teaching. This is my fifth year teaching at UCLA. I teach “Acting for the singer.” I love it. They built me an Art Deco theater, and I put on these great shows, I think that’s my next horizon, to be a full-time professor, because it takes another kind of energy.

What is your advice for aspiring entertainers looking to follow in your footsteps?

First, you have to have the fire in your belly. You’ve got to want it more than anything. You can’t do it just to be a star. I teach them [her students] to act the song like it was a play. I think of how singers like Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billy Holiday had such soul—they felt their music.

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