Ilene Graff '70 played the part of Nellie (photo) with Glenn Close and Harry Connick Jr. in the recent Disney/ABC TV movie South Pacific. Nellie is a character from the book by James Michener, Tales of the South Pacific, on which the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical was based. "We filmed in Australia for eight weeks --- one week in Sydney for prerecording of music and preparation, and the other seven in the tropical north of Queensland in a town called Port Douglas, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef," Graff reports.
What was it like working with Glenn Close? "She is the consummate professional, a real team player --- which is difficult to do when you're also an executive producer. She is a wonderful acting partner, extremely focused and giving." Graff's first professional job was in the Broadway company of Promises, Promises. On Broadway she has also played Sandy in Grease and Cleo in the original company of I Love My Wife. During the 1980s she spent five years playing Marsha Owens on the TV series Mr. Belvedere. She also guest starred on shows such as St. Elsewhere, Touched by an Angel, and Sisters, and regularly sings the national anthem at Los Angeles Dodgers, Clippers, and Kings games. Most recently she repeated a character she played during her senior year at Ithaca: Rose in Gypsy. "Being the proper age now," she laughs, "I think I did a better job this time than when I was 21! But Rose is one of the ultimate roles for a musical theater performer --- singing, moving, heavy dramatic acting, comedy, endurance. She's a character who runs the gamut from cute and sexy to horrifying."
Graff performed several concerts in Florida last year that were well received, she reports. She'd like to do more musicals and perhaps another TV series. "I loved Belvedere," she says, "and hope I get another chance at that form." She is an active volunteer, too, and among other work she recently produced a fund-raising benefit for her daughter's high school.
Graff and her husband, composer Ben Lanzarone --- who serves as her musical director, conductor, and arranger --- live in Los Angeles with their daughter, Nikka, who's also a performer and is now getting ready for college.