'Lainie's Cabaret' at UCLA brings back the sounds of Sinatra

By Anastasia Pineschi

In the rare minutes between rehearsals, the band is still in full swing.

Brassy trumpets, smooth bass and snappy drums recreate the rhythm of Frank Sinatra’s classic jazz style late into the night. The intensity in the room is palpable as the performers anticipate the opening of “Lainie’s Cabaret.”

Premiering Nov. 19 at the Freud Playhouse, “Lainie’s Cabaret” will feature UCLA students performing in the style of Frank Sinatra. The event is the culmination of an annual workshop on campus, taught by UCLA visiting associate professor and award-winning actress and singer Lainie Kazan.

In previous years, students learned jazz standards and classic Broadway numbers. However, this year, Kazan developed a tribute cabaret to Frank Sinatra for the 100th anniversary of his birth. Because she had personally worked with Sinatra, Kazan said she is confident he would be proud of the class’ progress.

“Frank Sinatra was an extraordinary man, and I think the grandeur of his emotions was so severe and so overwhelming to him that the only thing he could do was sing,” Kazan said. “There’s no better or more personal way to communicate your feelings than through singing. … And that’s what I teach in my class.”

The performance will feature 19 singers and the UCLA Jazz Orchestra, a 27-piece ensemble. But despite the scale of the event, Kazan said the students’ learning process is more than just practicing notes and patting down rhythms. The students in her class have worked since the beginning of the quarter to develop their own theatrical jazz style, she said. The singers must find their own individual relationship to each of the classic Sinatra songs, said Catriona Fray, a fourth-year musical theater student and vocalist in the show.

“It’s an emotional journey as well, because each song we sing in the show has a personal story attached to it,” Fray said.

Through these personal stories, Fray said, the singers use events in their own lives to relate to the lyrics of the song. For some of the performers in the show, such as Demi Pace, a fourth-year theater student, the name Frank Sinatra holds a deeper significance.

“In my family, (my grandfather) was the only other person who really sang, so I grew up hearing him sing all of Frank Sinatra’s classics,” Pace said. “So it’s really cool I get to do this. … I’m over the moon, ecstatic.”

The cabaret will perform some of Sinatra’s most famous songs, such as “Come Fly With Me,” “All of Me” and “Luck Be a Lady.” But while the songs are a tribute to Sinatra, the experience of each performer is just as integral to the cabaret as the lyrics, said Rodd Farhadi, a third-year musical theater student.

“We’ve listened to Sinatra’s version (of the songs), but you can’t replicate him, you have to make it your own,” Farhadi said. “But you also have to pay tribute and make it honest to what he would have enjoyed.”

In order to create an emotional connection with the music, Fray said the class participated in exercises such as private moment, which she described as a place where the actors can pretend to perform acts with personal meaning, as if they were alone in the room. To Fray, these exercises can often be a revelatory experience.

“You could do anything from shaving your whole body to having a deep conversation with your lover,” Fray said. “I’ve never done anything like that in a rehearsal process before.”

For Pace and her fellow performers, the process can become intensely personal, so she said it comes as no surprise that, for them, “Lainie’s Cabaret” is more than just another concert.

“Sometimes as people we don’t allow ourselves to get that vulnerable, so once you break that barrier you feel it,” Pace said. “It seems like all this work to get to this feeling of freedom but really … it’s just being human.”

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— Posted Nov. 13, 2015