Monday, February 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, Ilene Graff!

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's all you need.

Happy Monday!

I hope you had a great Academy Award winning weekend. Lots happened this weekend. Great things! Now I am wrapping up February...looking forward to the week and month ahead. It was a great month!
I had a birthday earlier this month. My Mom and my brother are both February well as some of my best friends.
And tomorrow is the birthday of one of the finest artists in the business, Ilene Graff.
I wish that I was going to be in California to learn from a great "master" . I'm thrilled that she sat down to take the time for this interview.
Grammy-nominated recording artist, television, cabaret, and Broadway star, ILENE GRAFF, will be teaching a new Vocal Performance Workshop: MAKING THE SONG YOUR OWN, on Saturday, 3/3, 3/10, 3/17, 3/24/2012 at 1 P.M. in Studio City.

The sessions will cost $25 per class for this special introductory offer. ASCAP Award-winning composer Ben Lanzarone will be the Musical Director.  

The focus of this no-stress workshop includes: choosing a song, analyzing the lyric and the importance of storytelling, understanding the relationship among the words, the music and the singer, and how to be a more confident performer, whether the interest is musical theatre, cabaret, or just the fun of singing for oneself.

 “We want each student to overcome their shyness, pick the perfect material, and find the joy in singing.”
All skill levels are welcome to bring a song and work out in a nurturing, supportive atmosphere.

For more information and to register, email: To find out more about Ilene, go to

Best known for playing the mom on the TV series, MR. BELVEDERE, Graff's career started on Broadway, performing in PROMISES, PROMISES, the original production of GREASE (Sandy), and in the original cast of Cy Coleman and Michael Stewart's I LOVE MY WIFE, creating the role of Cleo. 
She's performed her cabaret concert to sold-out houses in Los Angeles, New York and Florida. She has taught master classes in high schools and colleges, as well as serving as a Master Teacher for Crystal Cruises' Emerging Artists program. Ilene serves as a judge in the non-classical voice division of the world-famous Music Center Spotlight Awards for high school students in Southern California. Her Grammy-nominated CD, BABY'S BROADWAY LULLABIES, is a collection of show tunes arranged by husband Ben Lanzarone to help baby fall asleep.

Nikka and Ilene Graff
BEN LANZARONE, a winner of ASCAP's Most Performed Composer Award, is an arranger, conductor, pianist, and Musical Director who has composed hundreds of hours of music for television shows. He conducted and played piano for the original Broadway production of GREASE, and conducted, played and arranged for some of the biggest names in the business including Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, Peter Nero, Art Garfunkle, Mary Travers, Anthony Newley, Petula Clark, Lainie Kazan and Mason Williams. He has also played on countless records, jingles and movie scores and recorded his own piano album, IN CLASSIC FORM produced by the legendary Bob Crewe. (Source: Harlan Boll)

Ilene grew up in show business. Her dad was a singer who had a group called The Beachcombers With Natalie. They were very successful, toured with Arthur Godfrey, did his radio and tv shows, and worked consistently in Las Vegas during the Golden Age.

As a result, Ilene doesn't remember the first live show she saw…her whole life was live shows! She has a memory (or maybe it's just so many people telling her about it) of being very little, and being carried out on stage at the NY Paramount where her Dad's act was on the same bill as Eddie Fisher. The first Broadway show she saw was THE MUSIC MAN. At 10 years-old she thought it was corny. The next show was FLOWER DRUM SONG, which she liked much better. Nightclubs! Show girls! Now we're talking.
Ilene says she was probably in 6th or 7th grade when she had her first professional job and sang in a children's chorus on the Harry Belafonte album, "Streets I Have Walked." She then did several jingles as a young teenager…the most memorable being for Hairspray-A-Go-Go. Really. Here are the lyrics
The Mr. Belvedere Cast
 "Go-go, go-go for Hairspray-A-Go-Go.
For the swingin', natural look, Hairspray-A-Go-Go.
When you get a hairspray you want to be groovy,
Let your hair swing like the jerk or watusi,
"Go-go, go-go for Hairspray-A-Go-Go.
For the swingin', natural look, Hairspray-A-Go-Go."

Ilene's thoughts on Arts in Education
My husband Ben Lanzarone and I have always been advocates for arts education in schools. We were both products of New York City public schools where there was music and art in every grade level. He went to the High School of Music and Art, which really started him on the path to being a serious musician. When we had a child, we brought as much of our expertise in the arts to wherever she was…producing shows, raising money for arts programs and just generally being there. Nikka (our daughter, Nikka Graff Lanzarone) attended the Hamilton Academy of Music in Los Angeles and got priceless training not only in her field of musical theater, but for life. There is nothing likes an arts education to learn discipline, teamwork, focus, concentration and the joy of the creative process. That all takes money. Money that is well spent. Give a kid a reason to go to school and you've got a much better chance at having a successful life.

Have you ever felt like you were born in the wrong era? What other period of time do you relate to and why?
I think I'm right where I'm supposed to be! The thought of life without antibiotics or equal opportunity just doesn't appeal to me. And corsets? No way. I did a Civil War mini-series called BEULAH LAND and we had to wear corsets. Can you imagine? The Civil War and corsets? No way. Though I do adore watching "Downton Abbey" more than I can say.

Your thoughts on Carol Channing (All my blogs focus on Carol Channing’s Foundation For The Arts)
(I’m campaigning for Carol Channing to receive the 2012 Kennedy Center Honor in 2012. If you agree that she should receive this honor, can you say why you think this should happen)
My dad was in the Army with Charles Lowe, so Carol was always a name in my life. Jerry (my dad, Jerry Graff) wrote arrangements for her in the 60's (don't think she remembers!) and my folks would always go see her act when she played in the city. I adore her. We were lucky enough to have Carol and Harry in our home for a rehearsal when Ben was Musical Director of the Kander and Ebb concert for the Actors Fund. It was thrilling to have this icon of American entertainment in our living room!

Of course she should receive a Kennedy Center Honor. I've signed many a petition making my feelings known. She's an all-American girl who has devoted her life to entertaining others…to making us happy. She is the epitome of the hard-working craftsman and artist who has taken her brains, talent and beauty and developed them to the point of perfection. And no one has been a greater advocate for the power of an arts education.

Most recent appearance
Ilene and Scott Porter
I am a recurring character on the CW series, HART OF DIXIE and that was my most recent work. I've filmed 3 episodes so far, playing the mom of Scott Porter (original ALTAR BOYS, and my brother Todd's film, BANDSLAM). There's one more to shoot…the big season finale.

Next appearance
My next appearance is going to be as teacher! My husband and I are starting a vocal performance workshop called MAKING THE SONG YOUR OWN. I'm so excited to be sharing what I've learned in the many years I've been in the business. And for our students to be working with Ben? How lucky can they get! We'll be getting together for the 4 Saturdays in March and see where it goes from there.
What is your biggest success in Show Business
The 5-and-a-half seasons I had the good fortune to play the mom on the TV show, MR. BELVEDERE. Those years were absolutely golden. Steady work, great company, lots of laughs, and a fabulous schedule that let me be a hands-on Mom. Ranking right up there as well was creating the role of Cleo in the Cy Coleman-Michael Stewart musical, I LOVE MY WIFE. What an exciting time! We were a hit and I got to be funny, cute and sing my face off.

What was your lowest low and how did you surpass that
I left GREASE on Broadway to do a new Broadway show called TRUCKLOAD. I loved TRUCKLOAD so much…it had a great score by Louis St. Louis, but we closed after 5 previews. It was the biggest heartbreak of my professional life…nothing has come close since. What do you do? Just wake up the next day. No matter how excruciating, somehow I woke up each day and got through…one minute by one minute.

What one change would you like to see in today’s industry?
I wish there were more work for us older rank and file actresses. I don't see "myself" on TV very much…the roles for women my age are being done by movie stars. It gets a little frustrating, but then again this has always been a young person's business.
I also wish there were less pressure for young performers to be outrageous. It seems like you need to be an addict or inappropriate to get any attention. I don't know. I'm just glad I'm not starting out now!
How do you deal with receiving invitations from friends/colleagues to events that are either too many or too costly to attend?
I simply say how much I'd love to attend, but have a conflict! And of course it's very important to wish them the very best of luck.

If you could not be in show business, what would you do?
Are you happy at the point you are right now in your career?
I've accomplished a great deal in my career and have gotten to do a little bit of everything, but things do slow down as the years pass. It would be fun to have a concert career…sing with symphonies…tour the world! I'd be thrilled if I could sing every day. And not just in my house.

Do you feel you have achieved what you set out to do?
Pretty much. I'm most pleased that I have a life outside of work and that I've been able to use my talent to raise money for those in need. I was raised in the tradition of doing for others. My mom Judy was always involved in the community and I've tried to carry on her legacy through my work with the Variety Club, the Actors Fund, The Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards and other arts education projects.

What do you do to remain positive when life's hiccups get you down?
I have an amazing family. A husband who is not only my life partner, but my work partner and creative partner. We have a daughter who is the light of our lives…a talented, beautiful, kind and caring young woman. We have a family of unsurpassed quality…funny, loving and supportive. So, I just think of them and eventually realize how great I have it!
How on earth do you reach theatregoers now that newspapers are obsolete and there are so many channels on TV you can’t pick the right ones to advertise on and with the web being so hit and miss.
Advertising has always been prohibitively expensive, so it never was an option for me. At least we have social networking these days. I've found it to be the best way to get the word out about what I'm doing. When we played Birdland in New York, I posted on every conceivable page that I ever had any connection to, and people came! It was absolutely amazing.

A genie pops out of the lamp, he grants you three wishes. What are those wishes?
Nikka as Velma in Chicago(Bway)
A huge hit Broadway show written by my brother Todd, starring Nikka, with nice roles for me and my cousin Randy, with Ben as Musical Director. Does that count as 5 wishes all by itself? Too bad.
World Peace. That's for all the Miss Americas. 
If you could travel anywhere in the world and spend some time there, where would you choose, and what would you do?
Italy! I'd eat!
What is the last stage show you saw? Local or professional.  
The last show we saw was MAN OF LA MANCHA at Musical Theatre West in Long Beach, starring Davis Gaines and Lesli Margarita. It was fantastic! Davis sings like an absolute angel, and Lesli is the best trampy slut on the planet. Don't tell her I said that.  

When do you know it’s time for a Ilene Graff show?
I book a show when I think I'll explode if I don't get to sing on stage.
What do you see for the future of Cabaret?
Cabaret is a performer-driven art form. As long as we have the need to do it, we'll figure out how. The tough part is finding venues. Nobody goes into cabaret for the money, but we still want to be in nice clean clubs with good sound and lights and a great piano. If there were more places like Birdland, we'd all be happy little chanteuses and chanteurs.

Who would YOU like the subject of my next blog to be?
Nikka Graff Lanzarone! I'm an excellent stage mother. Oh! I know! I really want to do GYPSY with Nikka. Me as Mama Rose (which I've done and adored) and Nikka as Gypsy, of course. Perfection. 

The following is from Ilene's husband, Ben Lanzarone:
She is the most amazing human I've ever met. Intelligent, talented,honest and made the best baby one could ever hope for. I am one of the luckiest people on the planet. 


 Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!

                                                  Tomorrow's blog will be... Remembering Zena Bethune

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!

  Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Now, GO OUT AND see Carol Channing: Larger Than Life  now in theatres.


Richard Skipper,

                                                        Happy Birthday, Ilene Graff!

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