DIVA TALK: A Beechman Memorial; A Ruffelle Revue

DIVA TALK: A Beechman Memorial; A Ruffelle Revue LAURIE BEECHMAN
I wanted to thank all of you who wrote such beautiful notes after last week's tribute to Laurie Beechman, who lost her battle with cancer a little over a week ago. I was really moved by your many stories and recollections about seeing Beechman perform onstage in musicals and in concert over the years. Beechman's many fans should know that there will be a memorial to the late star of Joseph, Cats and Les Miz on Monday, April 6. Richard Jay-Alexander -- a close friend of Beechman's and director of her various night-club acts -- is organizing the tribute, which will be held at the Winter Garden Theatre, where Beechman touched audiences for years portraying Grizabella, the Glamour Cat. The memorial is open to the public and is scheduled to begin at 3 PM.

LAURIE BEECHMAN
I wanted to thank all of you who wrote such beautiful notes after last week's tribute to Laurie Beechman, who lost her battle with cancer a little over a week ago. I was really moved by your many stories and recollections about seeing Beechman perform onstage in musicals and in concert over the years. Beechman's many fans should know that there will be a memorial to the late star of Joseph, Cats and Les Miz on Monday, April 6. Richard Jay-Alexander -- a close friend of Beechman's and director of her various night-club acts -- is organizing the tribute, which will be held at the Winter Garden Theatre, where Beechman touched audiences for years portraying Grizabella, the Glamour Cat. The memorial is open to the public and is scheduled to begin at 3 PM.


PATTI LuPONE

Hope you caught La LuPone -- who currently stars on Broadway at the Booth Theatre in David Mamet's The Old Neighborhood -- on the tube twice this week, first in her hilarious performance as Frasier's Greek aunt on "Frasier" and then in an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS the following evening. . . A few weeks ago, I interviewed the Tony-winning actress for an article for the upcoming April theatre edition of Playbill. A slightly longer version is currently running on-line in the Features section, and what follows are a few other questions I posed to our Evita gal.--

You've done Mamet works before. Where did you two first meet?
LuPone: "When I was with the Acting Company -- the last year the company was together -- in 1976. John Houseman had commissioned [Mamet] to write a play for the company. They put him on our bus, and I guess we traveled from Louisville, Kentucky, to Ohio, and I remember seeing this stranger on the bus sitting behind me. We just went through our normal bus life. At the end of it, the company broke up, the play was never written, and David picked me up as an actor, and I started working with David in 1976.--

How did your role in The Old Neighborhood come about?
LuPone: "In 1989 David sent me these plays. I was doing 'Life Goes On' in L.A. I think he wanted to develop them with Gordon Davidson at the Mark Taper. It never happened. Then, I got a telephone call in the summer that David wanted me to do Jolly. Basically, I was thrilled because I hadn't worked with David for several years. And it wasn't surprising because Jolly had been on the horizon before. I pulled out my script. I had the script with David's handwritten notes in my library. I read it. Then I got the script that A.R.T. did, and the ending was different for some reason, and I was disappointed, but I didn't say anything. And halfway through rehearsals David reinstated the original ending."--

Is it a difficult process to learn his writing with his unique rhythms and pauses?
LuPone: "I think it's difficult to memorize lines until you sort of find a place that it cracks open . . .But with David . . . I think I feel an affinity with David's writing, so it's less troublesome for me, because it makes sense."-- What's the rehearsal process like? Is Mamet very involved?
LuPone: "Yes, he's very involved. I happen to think he's a wonderful director of his own material -- and he's directed me several times -- because he illuminates what might be confusing to the actor, and he edits. He actually can separate himself, writer from director, and the director can edit the writer."--

Is it draining to play Jolly every night?
LuPone: "It's not, because a beautiful well-written role, it can't possibly drain you. If you have a lousy part, something that taxes the actor to make work, that's draining. But if you have well-written roles, you can only be exhilarated by the release of it and by the ability to grow in it. So, I don't find well-written roles ever draining."

**And, a reminder that LuPone is scheduled to perform at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts, April 5. Tickets can be purchased by calling (978) 922-8500.


ELAINE PAIGE
I was very happy to receive a copy of a new Elaine Paige compilation album that has been released, at this time, only in the U.K. Titled From a Distance, the CD includes live versions of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "One Night in Bangkok" as well as numerous tracks from her albums for RCA Records. In addition to performing many standards -- "September Song" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" -- Elaine also shines on some pop hits. In fact, I most enjoyed her renditions of "From a Distance," the Julie Gold song that was a big hit for Bette Midler, and "True Colors," in which Elaine's voice soars. It's also a treat to hear the lovely Jimmy Webb song that Paige performed at last year's Boston Pops evening but was not included on the TV broadcast for PBS. The complete song list for From a Distance follows:

"I Only Have Eyes for You"
"From a Distance"
"Bangkok"
"True Colours"
"He's Out of My Life"
"Bohemian Rhapsody"
"If I Love You"
"As Time Goes By"
"Mad About the Boy"
"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes"
"September Song"
"Oxygen"
"Song of a Summer Night"
"Love Can Do That"
"Well Almost"
"Heart Don't Change My Mind"
"Only the Very Best"
"Grow Young"


FRANCES RUFFELLE
I was able to catch Frances Ruffelle's first U.S. concert last Thursday night at the Triad on West 72nd Street. Ruffelle, who received a Tony Award for her portrayal of Eponine in the original cast of Les Miserables (a role she created onstage in London), has not performed in the U.S. since her run in that epic musical. Although she is now the mother of three young children, the waif-like Ruffelle appears not to have aged at all in the past decade.

Opening with a version of "Where I Want to Be" from Chess, it was apparent that Ruffelle's voice, with her trademark pop-styled delivery, is as strong as ever. I was quite impressed by her focused interpretations of the songs she chose, displaying a quiet intensity that, at times, was very moving. Her hour-long act included an eclectic mixture of theatre tunes, pop tunes and songs she has written herself, and most of the songs focused on heartbreak, a theme that she revealed is "my personal favorite." I particularly enjoyed her beautifully sung version of "Unusual Way" from Nine, which had Ruffelle singing in her sweet sounding upper register (or head tones) as well as her forceful belt. Also pleasing was the lyrically challenging "The Miller's Wife" from A Little Night Music .

Ruffelle concluded the show with Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive," and after rapturous applause she returned to perform her signature tune, "On My Own," which she delivered in both English and French. Ruffelle has a very enjoyable, down-to-earth stage presence, although I wished she had spoken more between the songs. It's been ten years since we've seen this lady in action, and it would have been nice to learn more about what she's been doing in the interim or even what these songs mean to her. But for now we'll have to content ourselves with Frances Ruffelle, her newest CD that features classic torch songs.


THE SIDE SHOW GALS
A few weeks ago one-half of the Side Show duo, Emily Skinner, was forced to withdraw from a concert reading of Irene due to vocal problems, but Skinner is back in action this Saturday, March 21 when she will perform in a concert reading of Kismet, which will be presented by the Masterwork Chorus at the Community Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey. The evening will begin at 8 PM and tickets -- priced at $27.50 and $37.50 -- are available at the door or by calling (973) 539-8008 . . . As reported earlier, the other half of that shining SS pair, Alice Ripley, will star in the City Center Encores! production of Li'l Abner, which runs from March 26-30. That production also stars Lea DeLaria, Cady Huffman, Dana Ivey, Julie Newmar, Cynthia Onrubia plus Burke Moses, Dick Latessa, David Ogden Stiers and more.


IN OTHER NEWS
One of the most beautiful stage voices belongs to Lea Salonga, and the Aladdin star will soon host a program on The Discovery Channel that explores various topics in the Asian culture. The program is titled Living Asia and will begin airing on the Discovery Channel in April. Check local listings for more details. By the way, it looks more and more likely that Salonga will return to the Broadway stage in the role of Belle in Beauty and the Beast sometime this summer. Stay tuned for more about the Tony winning Miss Saigon star. . . That Simply Barbra guy, Steven Brinberg, will return to the cabaret room of Don't Tell Mama with his new act, The Wedding Tour, in which he masterfully impersonates the legendary Barbra Streisand. Brinberg will perform at DTM on March 28 (11 p.m.), April 1 (7 p.m.), April 8 (7 p.m.) and then on Saturday nights (at 11 p.m.) from April 11 through May 30. He will be joined by special guests Karen Mason (on March 28) and Rohn Seykell (on April 1). For more information about his Don't Tell Mama appearances, call the club at 212-757-0788. And, coming soon is a CD entitled Simply Barbra Duets, which features Brinberg in duets with such ladies as Kaye Ballard, Donna McKechnie, Mimi Hines, Julie Wilson, KT Sullivan, Claiborne Cary, Alix Korey, Heather MacRae, Karen Mason, Marcia Lewis and Betsy Joslyn.


REMINDERS:
BETTY BUCKLEY
Buckley will appear at the Union Colony Civic Center in Greeley, Colorado, this Sunday, March 22. Tickets may be purchased by calling 970-356-5000 . . . Also, BB has been nominated for two MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Awards, one for Major Female Vocalist of the Year and the other for Major Artist Recording of the Year. The MAC Awards will be held on April 19 at the Manhattan Center's Hammerstein Ballroom on West 34th Street. Call 212-465-2662 for more information... Check the Betty Buckley website (on PBOL) for a complete list of concert appearances.

DIXIE CARTER
Carter has returned to the cabaret stage of the Cafe Carlyle (Madison Avenue at 76th Street); reservations can be made by calling 212-744 1600.

KAREN MASON
On March 29 Mason will sing with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus at Avery Fisher Hall in a tribute to George Gershwin.

DONNA MURPHY
The recent King and I star will portray Mary Todd Lincoln in a TNT production of The Day Lincoln Was Shot, which will air on that network on April 12.

ELAINE PAIGE
On March 26 Elaine Paige officially opens in Moliere's The Misanthrope at London's Piccadilly Theatre. Tickets are available by calling 011-44-171 287-0464. . .On April 7 Paige will be one of the many stars celebrating Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th birthday through song at the Royal Albert Hall. . .On June 7 and 8 EP will take part in the charity concert Hey Mr. Producer, which will celebrate the work of another legendary Brit, producer Cameron Mackintosh. . . .And, Paige will appear in concert at the Hampton Court Palace Festival on June 19. Tickets may be purchased by calling 011-171-344-4444

BERNADETTE PETERS

Peters will perform in concert on March 27 and 28 in Dayton, Ohio, at the Dayton Convention Center.

JULIE WILSON
Julie Wilson is currently performing at Michael's Pub at 57 East 54th Street (between Madison and Park Avenues). Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. There is a $20 music charge Tuesday-Saturday, $25 Friday and Saturday and a $15 food or drink minimum for all performances. Call 212-758-2272 or 212-355-0243 for reservations.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

-- By Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com