After about 20 minutes, I finally gathered up my courage and dialed Somers' Connecticut home again and explained what had happened. Well, I have to say that my own mother couldn't have been nicer about it. We actually laughed about the tape snafu, and then proceeded with our second interview of the day!
Somers seemed to be riding high after debuting her cabaret show — An Evening with Brett Somers — this past Monday night to a sold-out crowd at the intimate New York cabaret, Danny's Skylight Room. The cabaret stage is, surprisingly, a new experience for the actress, who has triumphed on the small screen ("The Odd Couple"), the silver screen ("Bus Riley's Back in Town," "A Rage to Live") and the stage (Happy Ending, Maybe Tuesday, The Country Girl, Seven Year Itch). "It never occurred to me in a million years that I'd be doing a cabaret show," Somers admitted. "I was standing backstage [at Danny's], and I thought, 'You're an older person. You should be lying down somewhere in a nice cool bed watching TV!' And I went out there, and I just had a great time. . . . Oh, you'll never get an audience like that as long as you live! They were fabulous! You couldn't make a wrong move. They were the best audience I've ever had in my whole life — they clapped, they laughed, they hooted. It was really just marvelous."
The road to the cabaret stage seems to have been equally wonderful. Somers penned the show with Mark Cherry, and she has nothing but praise for the pianist who also serves as the evening's musical director and arranger. "Mark's not only a marvelous piano player but a wonderful arranger and great collaborator. . . . I told him when you go home, don't ever tell your wife how hard you've been working because we have [all our rehearsals] on tape, [and] we've been doing nothing but screaming and laughing!"
Somers' musical memoir — which details her life in and out of show business — begins with her running away from her home in Portland, Maine, at 18 to head to the Big Apple. "I came to New York to be a great actress, but, of course, I ended up doing many other things before I got around to that." One of those "things" included a nine-year run on the classic game show "Match Game," hosted by the late Gene Rayburn. Her journey to "Match Game" actually began on a New York set with former husband Jack ("The Odd Couple") Klugman. "Jack and I used to do [the show] 'He Said She Said' in New York," said the veteran actress, "and most people would give very nice little answers like, 'Jim's so sweet, and when I met him, I fell in love,' and I would tell stories about how Jack was choking me over the hood of the car and some woman came up and asked for his autograph! [Laughs.] So they always got fan mail [when we were on]. So, when we got to California ['Match Game'] asked if Jack and I would do it. And I said, 'Jack's on the road,' so they said, 'Would you do it?,' and I said, 'Sure!' So I did it! [Laughs]"
When asked why she thinks "Match Game" is still so popular today, Somers paused and then answered, "Because of the fact that there was no structure to it. It was just six people having a good time and teasing one another. There was never any meanness. And people really sensed when Charles [Nelson Reilly] would jerk his head and go, 'She seems a little odd today' — they knew there was no meanness in it. And, Gene was the greatest straight man who ever lived. He would ask you the questions and would set it up for you. He was wonderful. And I think the relaxation of the atmosphere." And, does she get residuals from the show, which airs several times a day around the country? "Not a goddamn penny!" she laughed. Though her two sons — David and Adam, then adolescents — were not thrilled with their mother being on a game show — "She's not my mother! I don't know who's mother she is, but she's not mine!" — they couldn't be happier about her latest gig, which also includes the actress' debut as a singer. "I've never even been in a musical," said Somers. "I've never sung in my life. I just started doing this. I said to Mark Cherry one day, 'Am I sounding better or am I just getting used to my voice?' He said, 'No, you're getting better, Brett. He's very supportive." Among the titles Somers interprets are "Most Gentlemen Don't Like Love," "I Get Along Without You Very Well," "It Never Entered My Mind" and "I'm Beginning to See the Light."
Though Somers would like to perform her show elsewhere, "I don't want to do a long run like Elaine Stritch," she commented. "Oh God, I couldn't do that! But I would love to do it around New York. I have this wonderful friend who said to me, 'You should be at the Algonquin.' And I go, 'Yeah, yeah, sure. . . Danny's is just fine with me." In fact, her engagement at Danny's has already been extended through August 8.
I posed one final question to the outgoing performer with the distinctive gravelly tones: When people hear your name, what would you like them to think? Her answer: "I would like them to think that I gave them pleasure and joy." For those who have ever watched her outrageous and often hysterical comments on "Match Game" or her many riotous performances on TV's "The Odd Couple," they think that already.
I'll be at Danny's July 21. Come join the fun.
[An Evening with Brett Somers plays Danny's Skylight Cabaret (346 West 46th Street) July 14, 21, 28 and Aug. 1 and 8. Tickets are priced at $15 with a two-drink minimum; call (212) 265-8133 for reservations.]
VIDEOS for CHARITY
Many of you are probably aware of this — but for those who are not — the video production company Broadway Beat sells copies of many of the annual Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraising events. Proceeds from the videos also benefit that worthy organization, and the videos can be ordered by simply logging on to www.broadwaybeat.com (click on "Order Forms"). Recently on sale are the 2002 Gypsy of the Year competition and the 2003 mountings of the Easter Bonnet Competition and Broadway Bares. All three offer several divine diva moments you won't want to miss! Other videos on sale of interest to diva fans include the 2001, 2002 and 2003 Nothing Like a Dame concerts as well as the all-star Broadway tribute to Elton John — featuring Betty Buckley, Heather Headley and Sherie Rene Scott — plus a video that spotlights the "Fabulous Ladies of New York Cabaret" and a tribute to the late, great Nancy LaMott.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Side Show Tony nominee Alice Ripley will join forces with Grammy-nominated singer songwriter Everett Bradley for a concert at the Zipper Theater July 22. Part of the Sh-K-Boom Room concert series, the concert will be held at 8 PM at the Zipper, located in Manhattan at 336 West 37th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. All tickets are priced at $20; call (646) 205-2246 for reservations. . . . Comedian/actor Mario Cantone will host a star-studded concert July 28, also at the Zipper Theater. The concert concludes the aforementioned summer concert series presented by the Sh K-Boom Room and will feature such talents as Adam Pascal, Sherie Rene Scott, Ripley and Michael Cerveris. Special surprise guests are also expected to take part in the evening; show time is 8 PM. Call (646) 205 2246 for reservations; all tickets are $30. . . . Those who want to catch Grammy Award winner Toni Braxton in the Disney musical Aida should avoid certain matinee performances. A spokesperson for the Elton John-Tim Rice musical confirmed that the singer-actress will not play Wednesday and Saturday matinees during her engagement in the musical. The spokesperson said that Braxton, who has a four-month-old child, wanted to "maximize the time she can spend with her family" and that the six-show-a-week schedule was agreed upon long before she joined the company. The Wednesday and Saturday matinee performances will be played by Braxton's standby, Saycon Sengbloh, who has been seen in the national tours of Aida and Rent. Braxton, however, does play the 3 PM Sunday matinees as well as Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM. Although opera companies regularly feature two or more performers sharing the same vocally demanding role, that practice is a rare occurrence on Broadway. Some notable exceptions: the women portraying Evita played evening performances only, and those starring as Kim in Miss Saigon also played selected performances. Six-time Grammy Award winner Toni Braxton's last Aida performance is scheduled for Nov. 16. . . . Mamma Mia!'s Louise Pitre — who will end her run in that blockbuster musical Oct. 19 — will take to the intimate stage of Joe's Pub in August. Pitre will offer two shows Aug. 25 — at 7 and 9:30 PM — at the cabaret room located within the Public Theater. Part of the "Upper North Side Canadian Music Series" at Joe's Pub, Pitre will perform an eclectic mix of tunes, featuring songs by or associated with Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, Al Jolson and Bonnie Raitt. Pitre will be accompanied by her musical director, Diane Leah. Tickets for the concerts are priced at $25 (in advance) and $30 (at the door). Call (212) 239-6200 for tickets; those wishing to dine before the show should make reservations by calling (212) 539-8778. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. . . . Chicago has been good to Marcia Lewis, and now Marcia Lewis Bryan — the actress recently changed her stage moniker with Actors' Equity to reflect her married name — is ready to be good to you. The actress, who received a Tony Award nomination for her role as Matron "Mama" Morton in the Tony winning revival of Chicago, will return to that role in August. Bryan, who was also Tony nominated for her work in the Grease! revival, will replace Roz Ryan in the national tour of Chicago. Ryan departs the tour after its stop in Houston to begin filming the new WB sitcom "All About the Andersons." Bryan will play three engagements on the tour: San Francisco, Costa Mesa and Chicago. She begins Aug. 4 in San Francisco and plays through Sept. 26 in Chicago. . . . Former Mamma Mia! star Karen Mason will bring her new concert act, "The Winner Takes It All," to The Supper Club in August. Mason, who premiered her new show at Chicago's Davenports, will sing in the Supper Club's King Kong Room Aug. 18 at 8:30 PM. Christopher Denny will accompany Mason on piano. The King Kong Room is located in Manhattan at 240 West 47th Street. For reservations, call (212) 921-1904. . . . Ruthie Henshall — who starred on Broadway in Chicago and Putting It Together — will join the international touring company of Fosse this fall. According to Henshall's official website, the actress will join the Fosse company Nov. 24 at the Manchester Opera House. The musical featuring the works of the late Bob Fosse then transfers to the Edinburgh Playhouse, Dec. 1-13. Henshall, who is currently starring as Velma Kelly in the London production of Chicago at the Strand, will leave that Kander and Ebb musical Sept. 6.
REMINDERS Liz Callaway in Concert:
July 18-19 in 101 Years of Broadway at the Lenape Center in Marlton, NJ
Aug. 29-30 at the Stockbridge Cabaret in Stockbridge, MA
Jan. 31, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
May 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
July 19 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, CA
Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Aug. 22-23 in Passion at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
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:
July 12 at the Andalusia on the Delaware, PA
July 18 at the Hampton's Cabaret Convention at Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY
July 25-26 at the Desisto School Cabaret in Stockbridge, MA
July 27 at the Bradstan Country Inn in Whitelake, NY
Aug. 8 at the Gala Opening of the Chicago Theater Festival in Chicago, IL
Aug. 15-16 at Odette's in Philadelphia, PA
Aug. 18 at the King Kong Room in New York, NY
Oct. 4 with the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra at the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, IL
Oct. 18 at the Emelin Theater in NY
Nov. 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!