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Lainie Kazan

On April 18th, 1986, in The Philadelphia Inquier, Bill Kent wrote, “And, Lainie Kazan, who made her Broadway debut as Barbra Streisand’s understudy in “Funny Girl,” is still easing into what should turn into one of the best roles of her career.” He was talking about Lainie Kazan in Hello, Dolly! at The Claridge in Atlantic City.

Lainie Kazan had already conquered every area of show business when her agent called her up in 1986 with the opportunity to conquer Atlantic City and Yonkers, New York’s most famous citizen, Horace Vandergelder.

She would be headlining at the Claridge Casino.

Courtesy: David Buffam

She seized the opportunity.

She was there for six weeks and she told me it was a “great, great time.”

She said she had nothing but “delicious” memories especially playing oppositeJack Ritschel as Horace Vandergelder. Ritschel has since passed away.

Long after the show closed, he was very supportive of Lainie and went to see her all the time. Lainie said he was a delightful man. She thinks there was a love and caring for “Lainie” that translated well to his on stage persona. Very warm, sincere, and good-natured that made him play the role in a very interesting way.

Motherhood March Photo courtesy: David Buffam

He wasn’t after anything but Dolly/Lainie. Lainie loved doing the show, especially Before The Parade Passes By. That moment and the title song were so well received that she became very passionate about them. Over the years, Lainie, has seen a few actresses play the role.

Carol Channing’s and Pearl Bailey’s productions stand out as vividly as if it were yesterday. Lainie says Carol was BORN to play Dolly. Pearl was brilliant.

And, of course, the movie with Barbra.

Lainie feels that Barbra was too young to play the part.

She also feels that SHE was too young to play Dolly when she did so in 1986.

She feels Dolly should be older and wiser. She is a wheeler and a dealer.

Lainie would love to have the opportunity to play Dolly again. In fact, she was just asked to play Dolly at the Northshore Music Theater in Beverly, Massachusetts opposite Gary Beach. She, unfortunately, was unable to do it due to other commitments.

Courtesy: David Buffam

This was after Lorna Luft injured her back and also had to decline appearing this summer.

Lainie loved being in Atlantic City. This was before it really “boomed”.

She rented a bike and biked every afternoon on the boardwalk to Margate. She had not been there in a while. She had a great time with the cast which she refers to as superb.

She loved playing Dolly. Loved starring in this production. A very healthy and peaceful time for her with no negativity.

Lainie’s thoughts on Jerry Herman are that he is brilliant.

The melodies are not very intricate or complicated.

“His music communicates to the masses. The songs that he has written are written with the singers in mind. They are star-driven and are easy to interpret.”

The one thing that Lainie learned doing Dolly was “how to be the star of a musical.”

She had never really had that opportunity before.

“Of course, I was the standby in Funny Girl but only went on for two nights. Actually, a day and a night. With Dolly, I got the opportunity to be the star and how to react to that. How to be with the cast and crew. I was a little older than when I had done Funny Girland was very grateful not only for the opportunity but to also play this role. I sang with my company. I danced with them. I partied with them.” he production was short lived.

One memory that Lainie wishes she could forget was the night she had an anxiety attack on stage. She felt she was going to faint and the anxiety of that took over. All she could think of was “These people are going to watch Lainie Kazan die on stage.” She went into the wings and asked for a Xanex.

It was a matinee show. She was singing Before The Parade Passes By. She walked off the stage asked for a Xanex and a glass of water, went back on stage after getting the water, and ended Act One! During intermission, she was given half of a Xanex and was able to finish the show! She has no idea why this feeling came over her except for the possibility of a lack of sleep.

I love Lainie very much and I hope that some wise producer who sees this will make bring this Dolly back to the stage where she belongs!

Photo Courtesy: David Buffam

Variety: June 4th, 1986

Claridge, Atlantic City

Maynard Sloate production of”Hello, Dolly!” starring Lainie Kazan, Jack Ritschel. With David Buffam, Bruce Moore, Ellen McClain, Nicole Flender, Julie J. Hafner, Richard Reuter Smith, Clete Larkey, Betsy True, Helen Frank. Directed by Jack Bunch, musical numbers staged by Jack Payne. Music and lyrics, Jerry Herman; book, Michael Stewart, based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker. ” Orchestra conducted by AI Pellegrini.

The Claridge has latched onto a successful cafe policy with its legit musicals, all of which have name value on their own, as well as added headliner values. This time it’s “Hello, Dolly!” the Jerry Herman- Michael Stewart collaboration based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Matchmaker.”

Lainie Kazan, topping the cast, makes as grand a Dolly as her predecessors. She has. bearing and strength in depicting the wily widow about to snare Yonkers’ most eligible catch. She shows a talent for comedy and with her delineation ofthe Herman songs. The current epic emerges as one of the more diverting longruns on the Boardwalk. Kazan is surrounded by a hardworking, effective cast headed by Jack Ritschel as Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy but miserly merchant seeking a cost-effective bride.

He too is skilled at song and comedy.

Comedy roles are by David Buffam and Bruce Moore as the slaveys in Vandergelder’s grain and feed establishment.

Their enactments are somewhat exaggerated, but it’s in keeping with the character of the show. Ellen McClain shows a fine light soprano as one of the love interests.

Nicole Flender, Julie Hafner, Richard Reuter Smith, Clete Larkey, Betsy True and Helen Frank round out the generally excellent cast. In addition, there is a small but lively chorus that dresses up the production, which has been givenfine values by director Jack Bunch and by Jack Payne, who did the musical staging.

Kazan brings it together with her show of authority and projection of tunes and thespics. She is aided considerably by the other elements in the show,  including the band guided by Al Pellegrini