On Sunday August 26, singer/actress Ilene Graff brought her heavenly show First You Dream to Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal to a packed house of ardent fans and celebrated LA friends. Among those on hand to see Graff were Tippi Hedren, Joanne Worley, Estelle Harris, Nancy Dussault, Michael Orland, Allison Arngrin, Barbara Van Orden plus several original Broadway cast members from Grease. Graff's husband talented musician/composer Ben Lanzarone is her musical director and accompanied her with some of the most gorgeous arrangements bar none. Their daughter, Nikka Graff-Lanzarone, who recently played Velma Kelly in Chicago on Broadway and was in the original Broadway cast of the musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown made a special guest appearance and sang a duet with her mom, a delightful rendition of "Class" from Chicago. To say the least, this evening was certainly among the Top 10 shows to appear at Sterling's in their 6-year history. Graff not only possesses a golden voice, but is warm, charming and really knows how to captivate an audience - and those arrangements!
Among the highlights of the mostly Broadway/pop offerings were: "Lullaby of Broadway", from Promises, Promises: "I'll Never Fall in Love Again", from I Love My Wifez: Cy Coleman's "Love Revolution", a medley from Grease: "Summer Nights", "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee" and the "Hand Jive". Before I proceed any further, let me tell you that Graff, before she became a household name on TV's Mr. Belvedere, co-starred on Broadway as a pit singer in the original Promises, Promises, then played Sandy in Grease for almost 3 years, followed by her role as one of the original wives in I Love My Wife. Also on this bill were: "Wonderful Guy" from South Pacific, "Starlight Express" from that very Lloyd Webber show, and a lovely medley from Porgy and Bess: "There's a Boat That's Leaving...", "Summertime", "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "I Got Plenty of Nothing". Also from the stage, as well as "Class" by Kander and Ebb, were their "Quiet Thing" from Flora the Red Menace and the title of her show "First You Dream" from their Steel Pier. Graff displayed quite a range as she moved smoothly and slickly from one tune to another.
From the world of pop were: "Change the World" by Eric Clapton, Harold Arlen's and Johnny Mercer's stunning "Out of This World" with a simply angelic sounding accompaniment by Lazarone, a beautiful "How Do You Keep the Music Playing?" by Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and a love medley to family: "Mama, a Rainbow", "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" and "Mother's Prayer".
The 90-minute show also included some rare photos projected on screens above of Graff's career and family and a delightful short video of her appearances on Game Shows including Password and Pyramid. Ilene Graff is one helluvan entertainer par excellence. I hope she and Ben Lanzarone return again soon, and when they do, don't miss them! What a class act!
left to right: Ben Lanzarone, Ilene Graff, Nikka Graff-Lanzarone