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A Dramatic Evening of Song With Lainie Kazan

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a cute bit of acting, singer-actress Lainie Kazan acknowledged an ovation from the packed house Wednesday at Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood by declaring, “Acting is OK, but it ain’t it!”

What Kazan was suggesting to the adoring, celebrity-sprinkled audience was that she enjoyed singing more than making movies, that it was more satisfying. Still, theatrical skills play a big role when Kazan steps in front of a band, here a trio with pianist Bob Kaye. Her ability to assume a dramatic role is what made her first performance of a four-night run so compelling.

Kazan’s stage-like command of her modest voice made it seem larger than it is. She proved adept at manipulating moods--and attention--by tight control of volume, keeping it teasingly quiet in the upper register, mostly assertive in the lower. Her phrasing employed a thespian’s sense of timing, which she played to the highest dramatic effect.

Equally entrancing was her stage presence, as every part of her body was in concert with the music. Her facial expressions, all delivered with a near-sighted charm, ranged from sorrow to ecstasy. Amazingly, all of it seemed genuine and heartfelt.

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Employing songs that often reflected on personal history, Kazan sang a program designed to let her emote. She delivered a lusty “Body and Soul,” worked with swagger on “Livin’ Alone” and showed a comic side on “The Man That Got Away.” Pianist David Benoit and singers Jessica Williams and Jennifer Bena (Kazan’s daughter) joined her for a soulful version of “Everything Must Change,” as they do on Kazan’s recent album. Kazan seemed to shed actual tears as she sang “The Last Time I Saw Jimmy.”

Pianist-vocalist Loston Harris’ opening set suggested the second coming of Harry Connick Jr., only in a more complete package. Like Connick, the good-looking 26-year-old Harris, whose speech contains the same down-home charm as Connick’s, displays a broad knowledge of jazz piano styles, referencing Art Tatum, Erroll Garner and others during his short three-tune set. Unlike Connick, Harris has real vocal talents and knows how to meld his voice with the piano. His recent stint with the Wynton Marsalis Quintet hasn’t hurt his visibility. Harris could be the next big thing.

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* Lainie Kazan and Loston Harris appear tonight and Saturday at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood; 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. $17. (213) 466-2210.

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