Tony Award winner Randy Graff has been a fixture on Broadway for several decades, and with good reason. The versatile actress and singer is equally at home in plays and musicals, comedy and more serious fare. You could cast Graff in virtually anything, and no one would wonder what she was doing there. Indeed, her resume boasts a wide range of diverse projects, including revivals of classic chestnuts as well as original contemporary material, where she has consistently made a shining impact.
Graff's legacy in musicals is particularly lustrous, where her compelling acting is complemented by a powerful belt voice of great expressiveness and range. I'm tremendously excited about her recent solo cabaret debut at Manhattan's 54 Below, which she will reprise on March 5 at 9:30 PM.
Click through to read my selections for the essential Randy Graff on disc.
"Doing Something Right: Randy Graff Sings Cy Coleman" (1996 solo album)
Randy Graff has only released one solo album to date, but it's a winner. Her 1996 collection of Cy Coleman songs was an excellent choice, as Coleman's jazzy music gives her the chance to swing and croon and roar, yet also tends to be written in collaboration with top theatre lyricists ( Dorothy Fields and Carolyn Leigh make up most of the selections), and so Graff's masterful interpretive skills are gainfully employed. The results are particularly enjoyable on the bombastic opening track, "Hey There, Good Times" (where Graff blows the roof off whatever room you play it in), a tantalizingly slow waltz arrangement of of "Big Spender," a sweet, South American-styled "You Fascinate Me So," a jaunty "Pass Me By" that gives Peggy Lee a run for her money, and the inspired "Codependency Duet," hilariously pairing "Nobody Does It Like Me" from Seesaw with Graff's big number, "You Can Always Count On Me" from City of Angels to thrilling effect.
City of Angels (1990 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Randy Graff stole (and broke) Broadway hearts in the dual roles of Oolie and Donna, both quintessential "Girl Fridays" in City Of Angels, but more specifically, she probably won the Tony Award for making Broadway history, stopping the show with the tour-de-force "You Can Always Count On Me," in which Graff gave glorious release to both characters' frustrations. This socko showtune has become something of a standard, but no one has ever equaled Graff's appealing combination of a soft sell buttressed by real emotion and enormous voice. The cast album also provides Graff's enchantingly wordy "What You Don't Know About Women" duet with Kay McClelland.
A Class Act (2000 Original Cast Recording)
Randy Graff was also nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award for the Ed Kleban bio musical A Class Act in 2001. The original cast album is of the show in its Off-Broadway incarnation, also starring Graff. This is another production in which she stopped the show with the evening's best song, "The Next Best Thing To Love," a moving ballad musing on also-ran relationships. There is a lot more Graff to love on this album, including her sweet schoolgirl duet with Lonny Price on "One More Beautiful Song," her tear-jerking trio with Price and Carolee Carmello on the pulsating "Under Separate Cover" and the inspiring "Follow Your Star." Through it all, Graff's warm presence infuses the material with conviction and heart.
Les Misérables (1987 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
There may be no musical of the last 30 years more iconic than Les Misérables, and Randy Graff, as Fantine, sang what is perhaps its most iconic song, "I Dreamed A Dream," on the show's platinum-selling Original Broadway Cast Recording. Graff's legendary performance of the hit song is complemented on record by her full-throttle delivery of the rest of Fantine's big-voiced material, including her powerful descent into prostitution and shattering death scene. No matter how many times I've seen and heard different incarnations of Les Misérables, Randy Graff's recording always gets me right at the jugular.
Fiddler on the Roof (2004 New Broadway Cast Recording)
If some people complained David Leveaux's 2004 Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, which played with understatement against an elegant physical production perhaps more suggestive of Anton Chekhov than Sholem Aleichem, wasn't Jewish enough, Randy Graff's performance as Golde is beyond reproach. Graff's hearty Golde would have worked equally well in a more traditional rendering of the classic musical, and was the heart of this new version. While Golde is unfortunately lacking in a proper solo, Graff's voice anchors the New Broadway Cast Recording, strongly leading the company with beauty and strength in "Sabbath Prayer" and "Sunrise, Sunset" and sparring with Alfred Molina's Tevye naturalistically — yet without missing the laughs — in "Do You Love Me?"
High Society (1998 Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Arthur Kopit's 1998 Broadway stage adaptation of the film High Society was not a success (although it did introduce audiences to Anna Kendrick, who received a Tony nomination for her performance as Dinah). Still, the cast album is a worthwhile addition to the discography of Randy Graff, who deliciously duets on the Porter classics "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" (with Stephen Bogardus) and "I'm Getting Myself Ready For You" (with John McMartin). More important, and worth the price of the whole album all by itself, is Graff's heart-on-sleeve, open-lunged performance of "He's a Right Guy."
Do Re Mi (1999 City Center Encores! Cast Recording)
Jule Styne, Comden & Green and Garson Kanin's 1960 musical comedy received a short-lived revival at City Center Encores! in 1999, starring Nathan Lane and Graff. Lucky for Graff fans, this produced a recording, and Graff's on-point renditions of "Waiting," "Take A Job" and "Adventure" (and Graff's solo reprise of "Adventure") are preserved for posterity. Graff rises admirably to the broad comedy of this material and, as always, is totally convincing and in excellent voice.
(Ben Rimalower is the author and original star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues. Read Playbill.com's coverage of the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)