Ilene Graff and Ben Lanzarone Band: It’s Better with a Band

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Ilene Graff and Ben Lanzarone Band

It’s Better with a Band

Birdland, NYC, 6/13/16

Reviewed by Rob Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Ilene-Graff-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Ben Lanzarone’s arrangement, piano, and affectionate looks reinforced the implied but unplayed statement that is the title song of I Love My Wife when his own wife, a star of that Broadway musical, was his band’s vocalist at Birdland. Ilene Graff sounds agelessly swell, looking too young to have married for 39 years. That’s how long ago, too, that Cy Coleman/Michael Stewart show debuted. Decades melted when she belted the score’s “Love Revolution” with verve. Broadway can make strange bedfellows, but ILMW, about wife-swapping, was also represented by the presence of the stars playing the couple she shared the sheets with—James Naughton and Joanna Gleason, cheering her on in this more G-rated activity. And on bass in the band of 12 this night was John Miller, member of that 1977 musical’s onstage band. Other colleagues attending were Michael Mark from the cast/band, veteran composer Charles Fox, and terrific singer Karen Wyman, for whom he’d also been arranger years ago. Broadway performer and cousin Randy Graff (City of Angels) was there, too (“Cy Coleman runs in my family,” quipped likeable, down-to-earth Ilene.) Her kin also includes brother Todd and she nailed a number from a show he’d been in, with Baby’s warm “Our Story Goes On.” Her own now-grown baby, Nikka, made a strong duet partner on “Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Ironically, despite the top-notch musicians, featuring Broadway vets who’d just played at the Tony Awards, it wasn’t always Better with a Band—for at least some of us seated right upfront by the brass section as the sound balance as heard there was frustrating, making the vocalist’s words and nuances too often lost in the blast. On ballads, like an effectively slowed-down “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” things were fine and mellow.

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Love was in the air. Mmmmm.

Rob Lester

2015 is native New Yorker Rob Lester's eighth year as contributing writer, beginning by reviewing a salute to Frank Sinatra, whose recordings have played on his personal soundtrack since the womb. (His Cabaret Scenes Foundation member mom started him with her favorite; like his dad, he became an uber-avid record collector/ fan of the Great American Songbook's great singers and writers.) Soon, he was attending shows, seeking out up-and-comers and already-came-ups, still reading and listening voraciously. He also writes for and, has been cabaret-centric as awards judge, panel member/co-host, and produces benefit/tribute shows, including one for us.