Carol Lawrence, best known for creating Maria in West Side Story on Broadway in 1957, hasn't had too many opportunities to show New Yorkers her tap skills. "A tap-dancing Maria just didn't fit into Jerome Robbins's choreography," she jokes.
"Go," just one of the many numbers from the Irving Berlin songbook in the new revue, Puttin' On the Ritz. The show, which features Lawrence as a narrator-host plus four other singer-dancersKaren Culp, Jeffrey Denman, Susann Fletcher, Kevin Neil McCreadyplayed in New York in January 1998, the first stop on a 30-city tour, which during the month of March will come to Colorado (Denver's Buell Auditorium), California (Costa Mesa's Founders Hall), Florida (Ft. Lauderdale's Bailey Concert Hall), New Hampshire (Lebanon's Opera House) and New York (Schenectady's Proctor Theatre).
"I'm a ham from way back," says Lawrence, who went on to do more Broadway roles (Subways Are for Sleeping, I Do! I Do!, Kiss of the Spider Woman), numerous television guest shots, symphony concerts and shows on cruise ships. "Wherever there's a stage and people eager to listen to good music, I'm there."
Lawrence says that she's never done as extensive or concentrated a tour as this one, so she's stocking up on her vitamins to get her through the days and nights of room service, airline waiting lounges and opening-night receptions. She jumped at the chance to be in Puttin' On the Ritz, which is directed and choreographed by Karen Azenberg, not only to get a chance to tap but also to sing some songs from the hit-meister who gave the world such classics as "Blue Skies," "White Christmas," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Cheek to Cheek" and "God Bless America."
"Irving Berlin wrote nearly 1,000 songs," says Lawrence, who appeared as the princess singing "It's a Lovely Day Today" in a production of Berlin's Call Me Madam. "The real difficulty of doing a revue like this is knowing what to leave out. There's so much vitality and richness and romance in his music because he had such a varied and fascinating life. His father was a cantor, his first memories were of the pogroms of East Europe, he came out of the hovels and tenements of New York, waited on tables, began singing on street corners and made his Broadway debut writing a song for Fanny Brice in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1910. His life really was the American dream."
Now based in Los Angeles, Lawrence may not have had quite as eventful a life as Berlin. But, like him, she was predestined for a show-business career, growing up in Menlo Park, Illinois. "My mother says that as soon as I walked, I danced," she recalls. Though once married to Robert Goulet, with whom she had two sons, Michael and Christopher, Lawrence is now a single woman"Why do you ask? You interested?"but she adds she hasn't given up on romance altogether. In fact, she sings one of her favorite standards in the show: "Always," a simple tribute to lifelong devotion. "It's what we need to strive for," she says. "We're all disappointed by life's tragedies along the way, but you press on. What else is there?"
-- By Patrick Pacheco