New York City offers any number of training opportunities for those interested in perfecting their skills with regard to America’s greatest contribution to the arts – the Musical Theatre and its distant cousin, cabaret. While, 3,000 miles away, in the film capital of the world, there is a curious lack of choices for an individual who wishes to develop his or her talent in the same area of entertainment.
Brooklyn transplants and Broadway favorites, Ilene Graff (Promises, Promises / Grease / I Love My Wife) along with her husband/musical director, Ben Lanzarone, not to mention the parents of stage success Nikka Lanzarone (Chicago / Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) have been tackling the need and are filling the void with a now popular workshop that has attracted an eclectic roster of talent. The most recent list of graduates includes an established attorney, a staff writer for the local news media, a Disney TV star, as well as a celebrated PR rep. The program designed to “Make the Song Your Own,” offered a salon style performance this week before an equally eclectic crowd, which included such noted patrons as screen stars Tippi Hedren and Dee Wallace, cabaret sensation Barbara Van Orden, Daytime Drama personality Kate Linder, commedienne Geri Jewell and ABC Entertainment reporter George Pennacchio.
“Ilene and Ben are filling a very real need on this coast,” says Kate Linder. Barbara Van Orden remarked, “I attended the program to hear Romi (Dames) and Harlan (Boll) and walked way realizing there is a lot of talent on the West as well as the East Coast.” While Tippi Hedren added, “I was stunned. Harlan (Boll) has the most amazing voice and is a real singer/actor! I am so very impressed with him and full of admiration for the entire company that Ben and Ilene have brought together.”
Classmates/Cast members range from Harvard ilumni to graduates of the school of life and their motivations for taking the workshop are equally as varying. While some are tackling their fear of appearing in public forums or over coming stage fright, others needed a creative outlet for themselves (outside of their work and family obligations), and those with musical aspirations sometimes need new audition material or a fresh eye on what they are doing. Award winning writer/producer and industry PR pro, Harlan Boll, who participated in the most recent workshop/production commented “It has been 20 years since I appeared on the professional stage, but Im surrounded daily by the most talented people in the industry, which tends to keep that pilot light of creativity burning. Like an itch that needed to be scratched, I just had to find out if I could still generate, even just a little, of that special magic for both myself and others, that can only be found in a center stage spotlight.”
“We’ve heard numerous reasons from our students,” says Ilene Graff, “People who felt that something was missing from their lives, and that something was music. They were nervous, they were insecure, but their love of song led them to try the Workshop. And how they blossom! By mastering even a few basic techniques they became stronger, surer, more grounded and more fulfilled. We work with everyone from novices to working professionals. Students not only learn from us, they learn from their classmates as they become a supportive, cohesive group. We focus on choosing a song, analyzing the lyric, the importance of storytelling, and understanding the music. Perfect for people interested in audition preparation, musical theater, or cabaret or club singing, our class is stress-free and fun!” Adding, “As I watch the news and the horror in Boston, I am even more grateful for the joyous things in life. Don’t ever underestimate the value of singing. Every time we lift our voices we add to the good of the universe, not the bad, the sweetness of life, not the tragedy, the fellowship and not the painful loneliness.”
The two month course culminated in a showcase worthy of any New York review featuring a repretoire of music by such noted musical teams as Kander & Ebb, Rodgers & Hart, Crew & Gaudio, Menken & Schwarts, Schonberg & Boublil, George & Ira Gershwin and composers Jerry Herman, Joe Raposo, Neil Diamond and even the great Charlie Chaplin.
Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy: Legendary Photographer Bill Dow 1.) Broadway family Ben Lanzarone, Ilene Graff and Nikka Lanzarone; 2.) Student, Romi Dames, seen here with Hanna Montana co-star Miley Cyrus; 3.) Student B. Harlan Boll seen here with client and colleague, Broadway Icons; Carol Channing and Angela Lansbury; 4.) Class & Cast – Anna Raner, Alison Brush, Angela Perlinger Gleason, Brian Carroll, Ilene Graff, Joyce Malloy, Ben Lanzarone, B. Harlan Boll, Romi Dames, Johnny Cannizzaro and Matt Boone.
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