It's an incredibly busy time for powerhouse belter Liz McCartney, who is currently in rehearsals to become the newest Rosie in Broadway's Mamma Mia!. McCartney will join the hit ABBA musical Oct. 20 with a host of other performers, including Carolee Carmello (as Donna Sheridan) and Judy McLane (as Tanya). Before that, however, the singer-actress will take part in two star-studded benefit evenings: On Oct. 10 McCartney will join Alfred Molina, Cady Huffman, Michael Cerveris and several other luminaries at the Ars Nova Theater for the third and final Voices for Change concert, which benefits Running for Change, the grassroots organization to help elect John Kerry as President (visit www.concertsforchange.com). And, on Oct. 11 McCartney will be part of Women on Stage, a benefit for the Songbook Project, which brings professional singers into schools and community centers to promote the art of live performance. That evening at the Lucille Lortel Theatre will also feature the talents of Baby's Liz Callaway, Smokey Joe's Cafe's B.J. Crosby and Falsettos' Barbara Walsh (call 212- 279 -4200 for tickets).
I recently had the chance to chat with McCartney, who provided one of the show-stopping moments of the short-lived musical Taboo, when she opened her mouth and heart to deliver a passionate version of Boy George's "Talk Amongst Yourselves." My brief interview with the new bride and new mother follows:
Question: How are rehearsals for Mamma Mia! going?
Liz McCartney: They're going well. Today we had our first rehearsal on the stage, and that's a little daunting I must say. [Laughs.] . . . It's wide, and the house looks tiny from the stage, but I know it's not. It's my first time working on a rake since Les Miz, and it's a little weird. But we did a good chunk of the first act today. Q: How did casting come about for Mamma Mia! — did you go after the role or did someone approach you?
LM: My agent did call me and tell me that they're having replacement calls. I'm sure you know that the whole principal team has been replaced — eight principals and one secondary principal. When he called me, I was working with [Mamma Mia!] musical director David Holcenberg on another show that he had written called Bingo. I asked David about it, and he said, "Well, unofficially, yes, I hear that the whole cast is being replaced." When I went in for the audition, David is so professional that he didn't even tell them that he knew me until after I was cast. I was like, "Wow, that makes me feel more special, actually, because I totally got this on my own." [Laughs.]
Q: What songs do you get to do in the show?
LM: My song is "Take a Chance On Me." We just did "Dancing Queen" and "Chiquitita" five minutes ago.
Q: Were you an ABBA fan at all?
LM: Oh my God! The one thing you have to know — I have only left the country once in my life, and that was in the summer of 2000. My mother and I went to London, and we saw Mamma Mia! twice.
Q: Was that the purpose of the trip?
LM: No, we went to see as much theatre and as many castles as we could. And I did have tickets to Mamma Mia!, and we went back the next night. We were only there for a week. I went to see it twice, and I was like, "What's wrong with me?" [Laughs.] I was an ABBA fan. I did a cabaret a couple years ago, and we did an ABBA medley. . . It's a silly, fun show — even though we just did something four times and we're all sweating . . . we're just silly and jumping around. And, it's great [that] the resident director right now, Martha Banta, is very open to letting us change things. There are certain things that absolutely have to be set, especially where the rake is concerned. But she's very open in letting us change things, which is good for every cast.
Q: Tell me a bit about the upcoming Women on Stage concert you're doing Monday night. How did you get involved with that?
LM: [Producer] Phil Bond just e-mailed me. Apparently he saw Taboo, and I guess he's a fan. He asked me to do it, and it sounded like a great idea. I'm also doing a benefit the night before, the Voices for Change for the Democrats.
Q: What songs will you be doing Monday night?
LM: I did a few of them in the Rosie O'Donnell [R Family Vacations] cruise. One or two of them I've never performed before in a cabaret, and one of them I'm still learning. [Laughs.] There's only one standard — "Love You Didn't Do Right By Me" by Irving Berlin. A couple of more pop/rock-n-roll things. When I was reading about the concert itself, it said "and songs that ladies have introduced onstage." I thought I'd better drag out a song from Taboo and a song that I didn't originate onstage here in New York but I did in London from An Unfinished Song. And, another song that is from an original musical called The Vision, which I've been trying to get produced for half-a-dozen years. [Laughs.] And a song that seems like a good song to do nowadays called "Beautiful City." It was from the movie "Godspell," and Stephen Schwartz rewrote it after the L.A. riots, but it's all about rebuilding and coming together to build a new world for everybody. I think I'll be opening with that. I'm also going to be doing a small medley dedicated to my parents because my mom was a sailor's wife and raised kids alone, and my dad was a sea captain. That's so far the favorite part of my set.
Q: You just mentioned Taboo. What was that experience like for you?
LM: You know what? It was probably, without a doubt, the hardest work I've ever done in my life. Aside from the fact that I started rehearsals five months pregnant and left the show a week before my daughter was born. It was a great experience as well a hard experience. You get really attached to the characters, and you also get attached to some of the material that [gets cut]: "Oh we don't think that's necessary." "Oh, but it is, you don't understand, it's really necessary for me!" [Laughs.] It really should have found an audience. I mean, it did. It found a very small audience, who kept coming back night after night, but it really should still be open.
Q: Tell me about your casting in Taboo. I know Rosie O'Donnell was a big proponent of yours.
LM: I went in [to the audition] knowing how to sing the song ["Talk Amongst Yourselves]. For some reason I was like, "I know how to sing this." Other songs I had to figure out where they sat in my voice. I went in there and I thought, "I'm going to do my best Linda Eder impression!" First, I backed up a lot because I'm loud, and it was a small room. And [Rosie] was like, "Come here, what are you doing?" I said, "I'm loud!" I went for the key change, and she stood up and went, "Woh, woh! Wait a minute! Okay, thank you!" She was like, "Where's this one been Bernie?" She started yelling at the casting director, and I was like, "Oh my God! This is the best feeling I've ever had in my entire life." She didn't say it to me, but she turned to the director when I was getting ready to read the scenes, and she said, "If she can read English, she's got the part." She said, "Liz, do you want to do this show?" I said, "Yes, I do." She said, "Tell your agents not to be greedy, and the job is yours." As I was leaving, she went, "Liz McCartney, ladies and gentlemen" and she's clapping, and I walked out, and there were two other girls there up for the role. What do you do? . . . This has never happened to me before, but I left there with someone who had just handed me the role. That was the greatest feeling possibly in my life. And, she sat in the same place every night she came to see the show, which was right in front of me, and her arms went up on the key change every night. It was great.
Q: Was it intimidating having her sitting there in front of you?
LM: A little bit. She came to almost every rehearsal. "Do you have to sit right in front of me?" [Laughs.] She was like, "You have no idea what it does to me when you sing. I can't sing. If I could sing like you, I'd sing all the time." She's great, and the first time George heard me sing, he said, "That was amazing. I wrote this song for my mother, and no on has ever sung it like that." George O'Dowd, that's another one. George O'Dowd is one of the sweetest people in the world, and Euan Morton, who played Boy George, I could work with again 100,000 times. Even if they smoke, I don't care. [Laughs.] And I got on them about that almost every single day.
Q: Even though Taboo didn't run that long, was it a good experience overall?
LM: It was a good experience. It was hard because — I'm sure you read the nastiness in the press about it. We were on the Rosie cruise watching the documentary they made about the making of Taboo. [In the film] all of us were reading the newspaper with Michael Riedel's column. And I was like, "This is just lies. Where does he get this?" And he said, "Oh I get my information from hair people and costume people. . . " No, but it's just lies. He would take one shred of something that's true and spin it out of control and make it into something that never happened and apply it to other people in the cast even. What I said, which I'll say again, is — How can somebody write about theatre who clearly hates theatre? He's not a theatre columnist, and he's not a critic. He's a gossip columnist, which means he doesn't have to say anything true. He just has to make something interesting and dishy.
Q: On a happier note, how has it been combining motherhood and working?
LM: Well, I just got married a week ago Sunday. Our daughter [Megan Elizabeth Moynahan] was christened the same day. . . [My husband] Tom works at the Shuberts. He's assistant director of creative projects at the Shubert Organization. It was the most star-studded event. We had Norm Lewis singing, David Benoit and Euan Morton. It was just incredible. We had seven songs [laughs], and David Holcenberg was our accompanist. The day went by so fast. . . . But mixing motherhood with theatre — rehearsals are hard because I have to leave her for ten hours. We leave at 9, we come back at 7. But she's the happiest baby. She plays with everybody. On my day off, I watched Sarah Uriarte Berry's daughter as well. Sarah was in Taboo with me. The two of them were playing together. She is well-loved. And Tom's parents live in Jersey, so they have a standing Wednesday matinee gig to babysit her. . . . Rehearsals are hard because it's every day, but when I come home, she's just great. And she knows that it's not forever, and so do I, but it's really hard to leave her for the better part of the day.
Q: How long are you contracted with Mamma Mia!?
LM: A year. I think they pretty much change the principal cast every year. I think it does keep it fresh. And you know what, I signed a contract for Dance of the Vampires for a year, and I signed a contract for Taboo for a year. [Laughs.] At least I know this one is going to stay open.
Q: Do you have any other projects in the works?
LM: At the moment I don't. Just these two benefits. I always have other things that I'm working on though — like The Vision, because I think it's the most beautiful music ever. It's by Thomas Megan. It's about William Butler Yeats. It's about the Irish revolution — it's a gorgeous show. There's always that, and a friend and I are writing things. I'm sort of dipping my toe into different areas.
DIVA TIDBITS "Someone was kind enough to tell me just as I was about to go on, that more people would possibly see our single performance than all the packed houses at My Fair Lady for 100 years. Remember, it was all live!" So says Julie Andrews about her 1957 performance in the CBS-TV broadcast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Cinderella," which will be reaired — for the first time since the original telecast — on PBS stations in December. About the role of Cinderella, Andrews added, "I was given a wonderful gift by two of the most famous writers of any stage. For me, they wrote the part that every little girl longs to be." The national air date for "Cinderella" is Dec. 13 at 9 PM ET. Those in the metropolitan area will get the chance to see the acclaimed production a few days earlier: WNET/Thirteen will air the black and-white production as part of its pledge drive on Dec. 5 from 8-9:30 PM ET. Academy Award winner Andrews will host the broadcast of the musical, and the program will include interviews with three of the show's other stars, who reminisce about the filming of "Cinderella": Jon Cypher, Kaye Ballard and Edie Adams.
What an exciting season has been lined up for Lincoln Center's American Songbook series! I'm most looking forward to the all-star concert of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Passion, which will star one of my favorite gals, Patti LuPone, as Fosca with four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald as Clara and Assassins' Michael Cerveris as Giorgio. [The three will re create the roles they played during the 2003 Ravinia Festival in Chicago.] The Tony-winning musical will be presented at the Rose Theatre March 30-April 1 boasting a full orchestra. Other diva highlights of the season include solo concerts by McDonald (Jan. 6-8, 2005), Rebecca Luker (Feb. 12), Tonya Pinkins (Feb. 26) and Elaine Stritch (March 4). Ann Hampton Callaway will also host "Café Society, Table for Three" on Feb. 25. That evening will reunite Blossom Dearie and Julie Wilson and will feature performances from all three cabaret greats. Visit www.lincolncenter.org for more information.
I'm also looking forward to the new series at Birdland, produced by Jim Caruso. Titled The Winter Season, the two-month Monday-night series kicks off Nov. 8 and 15 with Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole and Billy Stritch. The twosome will celebrate the release of their new CD, "In Your Dreams" (Ghostlight Records), a studio re creation of the show they debuted last season at Feinstein's at the Regency. The Winter Season continues with former Side Show star Alice Ripley and her band, RIPLEY, Nov. 22. The Tony-winning Avenue Q composers — Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez — will offer their first public appearance together Nov. 29. Cabaret favorite Karen Mason, most recently on Broadway in Mamma Mia!, will head to Birdland Dec. 13, and Avenue Q Tony nominee John Tartaglia will celebrate the holiday season Dec. 20 with an all-new show titled "Johnny T's Christmas Spectacular." The series concludes Dec. 27 with composer Georgia Stitt and a star-studded cast to be announced shortly. (Birdland will also feature upcoming concerts with Stephanie J. Block, Max von Essen, Natalie Douglas, Peter Eldridge, composers Amanda Green and Tom Kitt and Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich. Stay tuned for details.) Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street. For Ebersole and Stritch's concerts, there is a $30 cover plus a $10 food/drink minimum. Call (212) 580-3080 for reservations.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Look for a condensed version of "Diva Talk" in the theatre edition of Playbill Magazine.)