DIVA TALK: A Chat with "Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa… and Me" Author Tony Cointreau, Plus Randy Graff Is Well-Made in Brooklyn

By Andrew Gans
07 Mar 2014

Randy Graff

Randy Graff
Tony winner Randy Graff paid glorious tribute to her native Brooklyn in her new cabaret show, aptly titled Made in Brooklyn, this past Wednesday evening at the Manhattan nightspot 54 Below.

Although much of the show spotlighted Brooklyn-born songwriters, Graff also spoke about the profound effect the borough's arguably-most-famous resident, Barbra Streisand, had on her life. In addition to a humorous recollection of the night Streisand came to see the original Broadway production of Les Miserables — in which Graff memorably created the role of Fantine — the actress also recalled how, as a 12-year-old girl in Brooklyn, Streisand's voice was the first to ever elicit goosebumps. Years later, Graff realized that it was not only the voice but Streisand's interpretation of songs that so affected her, the first to make her aware one could tell stories and share the ups and downs of life in song.

And, tell stories she does. In fact, as funny as Graff can be — her comic timing in song and story is impeccable — the singing actress can grab at the heart like few others. In her newest show, such moments sneak up on the audience: She draws laughs with a 60s medley that includes "One Fine Day," "This Magic Moment" and "Bossa Nova" and then pulls at the heartstrings with a belty and surprisingly moving "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do." Similarly, a compilation of Burt Bacharach and Hal David tunes, including "Close to You" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again," are delivered with a humorous bent, and then Graff goes for the jugular with a terrifically touching "Alfie."

Other highlights of the evening, which featured musical director (and Graff's husband) Tim Weil on piano, included a haunting, beautifully sung version of the World War II anthem "I'll Be Seeing You"; an upbeat, humorous take on George and Ira Gershwin's "Somebody Loves Me"; the little-heard Marilyn and Alan Bergman gem "What Matters Most"; a heartfelt delivery of Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia's "That's How I Say Goodbye," a song cut from The Sweet Smell of Success; and the City of Angels classic "You Can Always Count on Me," which was a master class in song interpretation, flawlessly delivered with measured doses of comic sarcasm.

An encore of Jule Styne's "People" demonstrated one of Graff's true gifts, the ability to take a song one has heard dozens of times and make it completely new to the listener: The way she interpreted the Bob Merrill lyric was not only moving but completely spellbinding. Graff, it should be noted, is not a showy performer. She doesn't strut around the stage or gesticulate wildly. She simply stands, sings from her big heart and beguiles.

Click here for calendar of artists at 54 Below.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.


Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.

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Randy Graff
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