By RITA CHARLESTON
For 21st Century Media
Thanks to several of her celluloid roles — including the embodiment of the Jewish mother in “My Favorite Year” and the quirky Greek mother in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” — she’s become the quintessential mother of the past decades; a mother who, she reveals, was modeled in part on her very own mother.
“My mother wasn’t your typical, aggressive Mama Rose-type stage mother,” says Lainie Kazan. “But in her own gentle way she always encouraged me and told people what a talented daughter she had, even suggesting they might like to hear me sing or watch me dance. She often did it in hushed tones, but she always made me feel as if I had something special and loved to tell other people all about it.”
And so, it turns out, Kazan’s mother was right. Since she entered Hofstra University at her parents urging on a drama scholarship, Kazan has proven her worth over and over again, and she’ll be displaying some of that talent when she appears at the Rrazz Room in the Ramada in New Hope Friday and Saturday evenings.
“I never wanted to do much performing when I was in high school,” Kazan explains. “I didn’t want to stand out in any way and be considered different. I just wanted to be like any other teenager.”
But once she got to college all that changed. “That’s when I decided what I really wanted to do because I had some great training in college. They had a wonderful theater arts department that inspired me. By the time I graduated I had already been in a Broadway show, some off-Broadway shows, and done some summer stock. So I was already experienced and raring to go.” Kazan got her first big break while understudying Barbra Streisand in the Broadway smash, “Funny Girl,” but the constant comparisons between the two singers became somewhat of an albatross around Kazan’s neck for a long time, even after the show ended.
She says, “I really didn’t appreciate why people did that at the time, but I do now. We both chose the same kind of songs, we were around the same age, and we were both influenced by the same singers. I think we both understood music with the same kind of passion. And we both had that Brooklyn, Jewish sensibility. It’s something you can’t really put your finger on, but it’s translated and accepted by most people.”
It’s the same quality that led Kazan to her many fine film roles, numerous TV guest spots, and her Emmy nominated performance on “St. Elsewhere.” But acting is not the only thing this multi-talented lady does well.
“Actually, my favorite thing to do is live performance but that’s also the most difficult and it takes a lot of energy. I have to be the producer, the director, and then be on stage all by myself. It takes a lot out of me but it’s also the most satisfying.
“It’s really who I am,” she continues. “So if anyone wants to get to know me, I always tell them to come hear me sing. That’s the time I can really be in touch with my true feelings and emotions, so you’re almost looking into my soul.”
IF YOU GO
Lainie Kazan takes the stage Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Rrazz Room, 6426 Lower York Road in New Hope. Tickets are $30 and $40. Call (888) 596-1027.