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by Jerry Tallmer


Robin Williams at the Oscars had his own solution to the Kazan problem: "Let Lainie sing."

Lainie Kazan
Lainie Kazan
And boy, is she singing.

Brought back to the Algonquin by popular demand, not to mention the particular demand of Oak Room impresario Arthur Pomposello, who knows a good thing when he hears it, Lainie Kazan is here through April 10 to restore for us some sense of what power, vulnerability, sexuality, and artistry are all about.

"I am like 'Seinfeld,' " she says with a gut-laugh at the outset. "My show is about nothing. Just great songs. Hope you like the singer."

In the next breath, opening with "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," that singer soars from tiny little, lonely little, scared little girlchild to the fullblown earthy demanding shoulder-pumping woman who in another moment will be telling us, via, yes, a great Sondheim number (naughtily updated), that with all the battering of time and circumstance, notably the deaths of one after another of the famous soignee New York cabaret rooms: "I'm still here." As is the mighty Oak.

"My forte," she says, just a bit in jest, also just a bit otherwise, "is I can handle pain." It's the intro to her "suicide section," climaxing in "the quintessential unrequited-love song," Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin's "The Man That Got Away." Her foray into it is a barn-burner, and a soul-burner -- not Judy's, but her own. Lainie, like Judy, also knows one or two things about the songs of love, not unrequited.

Mae West would have loved Lainie's self-identifying closing homage of "You know, I used to be Snow White, but I drifted"; and Sophie Tucker, of course, must be up there somewhere, beaming down on this heir apparent -- very apparent -- to THAT buoyant, devouring, prefeminist 1920s bearer of the torch, keeper of the flame.

King Canute sat at the edge of the ocean, commanding the ocean to retreat. As soon command Lainie Kazan to retreat. Don't worry, Mr. Williams. She's no canary, but she's singing. [Tallmer]

LAINIE KAZAN. Through April 10, Oak Room of the Algonquin, 59 W. 44th St., (212) 840-6800; $45 music charge plus $15 minimum.

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