Nikka Graff Lanzarone
Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, February 23, 2017
Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes
Nikka Graff Lanzarone’s solo debut show certainly laid to rest any doubts on the pronunciation of her name. Through a parody re-lyric (by Kevin Jaeger) of Liza Minnelli’s “Liza with a Z” (Kander & Ebb), Lanzarone made it abundantly clear it’s Neekuh Lahnzuhrohnee. (Take note.) Beyond that, much else in the evening was nearly as concrete.
Born into a showbiz family, Lanzarone spent half of the evening tributing her familial heroes: Mother Ilene Graff (Broadway’s I Love My Wife, TV’s Mr. Belvedere); Uncle Todd Graff (Broadway’s Baby and now a movie director/writer); and cousin Randy Graff (no introduction needed). These are large shoes to fill, as many of their performances have been captured (and listened to ad nauseam) and, for a cabaret debut, it’s ambitious material to attempt. Lanzarone, quirky and distinctive, does her best, but often pales in comparison. She hits her notes and marks, but attacking these pieces straightforward, almost plucked from their show arrangements, does her no favors. Musical Director Brian J. Nash might find inventive takes on these pieces to highlight Lanzarone’s unique appeal.
Most disappointing were the missed acting opportunities that left us with impressionistic moments and moods. Both “What Can You Lose?” (Stephen Sondheim) and “A Quiet Thing” (Kander & Ebb), with their inherent exploratory arcs, were far too static and, conversely, “Mr. Monotony” (Irving Berlin) and “You Can Always Count on Me” (Cy Coleman/David Zippel) demand a charisma that Lanzarone doesn’t seem to intrinsically possess. Add video slides that offer the audience trivial tidbits and photos (while humorous) and you only distract from the discovery of who Lanzarone really is.
“Spinning Wheel” (David Clayton-Thomas), a tribute to father Ben, allowed our leading lady to let loose and rock out, rocking away from previous trademarks. It was here that we finally got a glimpse of a free, brash and modern woman and she, indeed, was the most interesting hero of the piece. One can only hope that in the future, Lanzarone focuses on translating these qualities into a more personalized cabaret trademark of her own.