There are very few performing in the musical theatre today with a voice as beautiful as Anne Runolfsson's. Not only blessed with a powerful and remarkably rangy high belt, Runolfsson also possesses a ravishing, pure soprano. That voice is currently on display in the Off-Broadway revue, Listen to My Heart: The Songs of David Friedman, which is currently playing Upstairs at Studio 54.
I had the chance to chat with Runolfsson, who has performed on Broadway — she was the acclaimed standby for Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria, and her vocal display in the short-lived Cyrano—The Musical was phenomenal — as well as on concert stages throughout the country. Upstairs at Studio 54 is a smaller, more intimate venue, which, the actress says, offers its own challenges and rewards. "I think you always have to take into account the size of the space that you're in, the amount of people, the energy," explains Runolfsson. "All of those things — because there is a partnership between the audience and performer in a live performance. I enjoy cabaret. I enjoy small spaces. I like being able to see some of the faces. I enjoy that there isn't always a fourth wall. So that part of it's really fun for me. [But] when you're in a Broadway show and you have the fourth-wall experience and you've got costumes and sets and it's so much bigger, there really is somewhere to hide. But," she adds with a laugh, "in this space, there's just nowhere to go! So if you're even slightly tired, you can't hide. It's just too small, so you have to absolutely rise to the occasion."
Runolfsson is married to Broadway producer Tony Adams, and the two are the proud parents of their four-year-old daughter Tess. About juggling career and motherhood, Runolfsson admits, "It's hard, it's really, really challenging. You always feel a little bit guilty for working, like you're not spending enough time at home. And it's hard not being at home at night."
Her nights, of course, are spent singing the works of David Friedman, who she met "sometime during Cyrano or shortly after Cyrano. He had called me to demo a song for him. As it turns out, we live a couple of blocks from each other, and it was really convenient." The two became friends, and Runolfsson says, "We ended up writing together a little bit for my record. We wrote the title song ['At Sea'] together. David was really helpful and instrumental in getting that song to come to be. We've just had this wonderful collaborative relationship on many, many levels for the last ten years now." And, now, that relationship has come full circle, as Runolfsson performs "Two Different Worlds" — the song she recorded as a demo in 1994 — opposite Michael Hunsaker eight times a week in Listen to My Heart. About Friedman's music, the singer-actress says, "I would describe it as soulful, as truthful, as accessible, melodic. I think it's hugely accessible to everyone, and every song seems to hit on some sort of human truth that I think that anyone can relate to." Among the other gems that Runolfsson interprets in the two-hour show are "What I Was Dreamin' Of," "Nothing in Common" and "We Can Be Kind." The latter was a signature tune of the late Nancy LaMott, who Runolfsson credits for influencing her own singing. "She was very influential," says Runolfsson. "She communicated in such an honest fashion, and her voice was just so beautiful and unique and pure and yet so full of reality. So she was very influential. . . She was a woman with a lot of grace."
Runolfsson's other vocal influences comprise an eclectic group. "I'm such a fan of the world, of everyone," she says with a laugh. "[I remember] listening to Karen Carpenter sing and how beautifully and how simply she sang. I always say that Steve Perry taught me how to belt — the guy that sang for Journey because I used to sing along with him. He just had this great tenor voice, and it was so much fun to sing those songs. And Ella Fitzgerald is one of my idols. And Billie Holiday and Barbra Streisand and K.D. Lang and, in terms of contemporary singers, Sarah McLachlan and Mary Black. There are just so many great voices, people who communicate through song."
Runolfsson is also now venturing into new theatrical territory — as a producer. She and husband Adams are co-producing a new musical: "I can't say the name," Runolfsson teases, "[but] there are some really great people in the cast. . . We're having a reading of the musical this week. I was just there this morning and introduced myself to the cast as the producer, which was fun. [I can] use all the things that I've been doing my entire life because I started working in musical theatre when I was 14. To look at it from a different point of view is challenging, and it's creative in its own way. And for me, now that I have a child, with those issues of being away, is kind of a natural thing. That would mean I wouldn't have to be always working at night."
Thankfully, however, Runolfsson has no plans to stop performing. "That's what I've always done and I'll always do it, but I just feel like [producing] gives me some more options, and it's also something I'm attracted to and enjoy doing." If you want to hear Runolfsson's glorious voice, don't miss Listen to My Heart. "I think if you go into his show with an open heart and open mind," Runolfsson says, "you're absolutely going to be moved and have an experience. I think [David's] music is all about the human condition."
(Upstairs at Studio 54 is located in Manhattan at 254 West 54th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. The revue plays Tuesday through Friday evenings at 8 PM, Saturdays at 7 and 10 PM with matinees on Wednesdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Call 212-239-6200 for tickets.)
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Florence Henderson, who will headline this week's Singular Sensations Off-Broadway at the Village Theatre, can also be seen on the small screen this week. The stage and screen star will make an appearance on the syndicated "The Wayne Brady Show" Nov. 17, and she will also guest on NBC's "The Today Show" Nov. 20 (she will appear some time between 8:30-9 AM ET); check local listings. . . . Former Mamma Mia! star Karen Mason will bring her acclaimed show, "The Winner Takes It All," to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center Nov. 15. Part of the "Cabaret at the Chase" series, Mason's concert is scheduled for 7:30 PM in the NJPAC's Chase Room. Backed by musical director Christopher Denny on piano, Mason's program salutes songs from movies on the big and small screen that the singer actress watched as a child. The centerpiece of her concert is a tribute to such film stars as Doris Day, Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland. Concertgoers can expect to hear such tunes as "Secret Love," "People," "Get Happy" and the Beatles' "Just to Dance With You." Barry Kleinbort directs. Tickets are priced at $46 and are available by calling (888) 466-5722 or by visiting www.njpac.org. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center is located in Newark, NJ, at One Center Street. . . . Carole Bayer Sager, whose songs can be heard in the new Broadway musical The Boy From Oz, will headline Feinstein's at the Regency this month. Sager will play the posh Manhattan nightclub Nov. 18-22. Show times are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:30 PM with late shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 11 PM. Feinstein's at the Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. There is a $60 cover and a $30 minimum; call (212) 339-4095 for reservations. . . . I was sorry to hear that cabaret star Mary Cleere Haran, who was to perform Nov. 13, 14 and 15 in the American Songbook series, has canceled her Lincoln Center weekend due to illness. Haran was to perform three different evenings of song at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse: a master class (Nov. 13), a tribute to the film "The Band Wagon" (Nov. 14) and her own concert (Nov. 15). Lincoln Center ticket buyers will be contacted about how to exchange their tickets for a different American Songbook event, request a refund, or donate the value of their tickets to Lincoln Center. Lincoln Center's Customer Service phone number is 212-875-5456. . . . Deborah Gibson, who was most recently on Broadway as Sally Bowles in the Tony-winning revival of Cabaret, will autograph copies of her new CD. On Nov. 16 at 6 PM, Gibson will sign copies of "Colored Lights: The Broadway Album" at Rockefeller Center's FYE, which is located at 1290 Avenue of the Americas at 51st Street. Gibson's recording was recently released on the Fynsworth Alley label and features songs from musicals she has starred in — Les Miserables, Funny Girl, Gypsy, Cabaret — as well as those she has not: The Wild Party, Rags, The Rink, Flower Drum Song and The Boy from Oz.
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Nov. 22 at the Dominican University in River Forest, IL
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Dec. 13 in Arlington, VA
Jan. 17, 2004 in Asheville, NC
Jan. 31 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 8 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
Feb. 14 with Jason Graae in Palm Springs, CA
Feb. 26-28 with Jason Graae in West Palm Beach, FL
April 24-25 with Jason Graae in San Rafael, CA
May 1 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Nov. 22 in Mostly Sondheim Revisited at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Nov. 29 in Mostly Sondheim at the Paramount Theatre in Peeksill, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
Jan. 23, 2004 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jan. 24, 2004 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Karen Mason in Concert:
Nov. 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!