DIVA TALK: A Chat with Once Around the Sun's Maya Days Plus Greene in P-Town, McDonald at the Opera and Peters in Space

News   DIVA TALK: A Chat with Once Around the Sun's Maya Days Plus Greene in P-Town, McDonald at the Opera and Peters in Space
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Maya Days in Once Around the Sun
Maya Days in Once Around the Sun Photo by Jason Woodruff

MAYA DAYS

Singer-actress Maya Days was the most exciting component of the 2000 revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Playing Mary Magdalene in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock musical, Days belted out a fierce, emotional version of "I Don't Know How to Love Him." Days has also appeared on Broadway in the title role of Aida, and she played Mimi in both the Broadway and London casts of the Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Rent. The actress is back onstage this summer in the new Off Broadway musical Once Around the Sun, which began previews earlier this week at the Zipper Theatre. I recently had the chance to chat with Days, who spoke about her two new roles: pop star Nona Blue in Once Around the Sun and mother to 14-month-old Boston Quinn. That brief interview follows:

Question: In Once Around the Sun you play a character named Nona Blue. Tell me a little about her and how she fits into the new musical.
Maya Days: Nona is a superstar who had . . . a little bit of a breakdown, but not like [the one] Mariah Carey had [where] she was going places acting crazy. [Nona] just walked out onstage one day and tried to sing and couldn't. It was a reaction to stress and pressure. Because of that she stopped singing. . . . Then, this eccentric, rich guy decides to give her her own label, so she becomes a record mogul. And, the story goes from there. She looks at talent. She's extremely smart, [and] she knows what works.

Q: Going back a bit — where were you born and raised, and when did you start performing?
Days: I was born in a place called Fall River, Massachusetts. I did a community theatre version of A Chorus Line, where I played Diana Morales. I was maybe 15.

Q: When do you think you knew that performing would be your career?
Days: I knew that probably way before [A Chorus Line]. I knew when I was a kid. Every Halloween I wanted to be Donna Summer. A drag queen had nothing on me! [Laughs.] Q: The first time I saw you perform was in the Jesus Christ Superstar revival. What was that experience like?
Days: Superstar, to me, can very well transcend time, but it has to be done correctly, and I don't feel like it was done correctly. I feel like they were trying to be innovative, but at the same time trying to hold on to what they did 30 years prior. What I mean, specifically, is getting someone that looked just like Jesus Christ in our western world. Some people are superstars, and some people have amazing charisma. . . Jesus Christ was one of the people most talked about ever. In our history of histories, he's transcended through every race and gender and belief. He's got to have crazy charisma. It's not about what he looks like, it's about how he feels. I feel like the whole show did not bring that across. I'm not going to blame any one person, but I feel like the show did not bring that forward, and that's a huge mistake to me because we're talking about the most controversial, talked-about man ever, and the show did not bring that across.

Q: You also starred as Mimi in both the New York and London productions of Rent. How were those experiences different?
Days: Well, the English have a very different take on the whole AIDS [epidemic] than we did. I'm not saying it wasn't as devastating in London, but if it was, people didn't talk about it as much. . . . The English culture is very different from us, so people talk about things less. People are more concerned about how you should act and what you should say rather than what you feel like acting and what you feel like saying. The English community didn't quite get that whole thing — they didn't get it like the Americans got it. . . . But you still felt like a rock star. The good thing about doing it in London was that I had a huge hit song there, and I was about to put my single out. That's when I went to go to do Mimi there, so that was pretty amazing.

Q: How did your pop career in London start?
Days: I sang [a song called] "Feel It." A production group called The Tamperer got a hold of my vocal. I did this other song that originally was called "Want to Drop a House on That Bitch." . . . It was a song about infidelity. The basic thing is, "You come near my man, and I'm dropping a house on you!" [Laughs.] They took those vocals and they put those vocals on the sample from the Jackson [Five] song "Can You Feel It?" The Italians did this, and then they played it for the English. In Europe, whatever's going on in London usually takes over all of Europe. It's kind of like whatever's big in America, the whole world follows. That's what happens in the European world. It was number one in the U.K. and seven other countries . . . I was very blessed. I was very fortunate because it was something that I actually didn't set out to do. And then going to London on the coattails of that to be Mimi was equivalent to having Toni Braxton do Beauty and the Beast here.

Q: You also have a new baby.
Days: I have the most beautiful little boy you've ever seen in your life. He's 14 months. His name is Boston Quinn.

Q: How has motherhood changed you?
Days: It has put things in perspective. I know that everyone says that, but until you're a parent you don't know what that means. And I can still be that artist that can get a little uptight, but I put myself in check very quickly because I understand that there's nothing more important than the health and safety and happiness of my child.

Q: How do you find juggling a career and motherhood?
Days: It's difficult because some people would say I'm a little overprotective of my child, but he's not a puppy, he's a baby. Once something happens — it's like you can't unring a bell. Once a bell is rung, it's rung. And I will not take any chances with my child. I'll take chances with myself, with and for myself, but I will not take any chances with my child.

Q: Tom D'Angora features you in his Divas I've Done show. What's it like having that kind of admiration and devotion?
Days: It was a huge, huge compliment because it's so sincere — it's not like Divas I've Done: Diana Ross. It was me, Marla Schaffel. It's so random, and it's really wonderful. Tom saw Aida 36 times, and I did not know this. I knew [he had seen it a lot] because I would see him outside [the theatre]. People would say things like, "Those are the fans. Aren't they scary and invasive?" I said to people, "You know what? No one follows me home. No one calls me at home." ChemLawn is more invasive than these fans. Chemlawn calls me at 8:30 on a weeknight to find out how my lawn's doing, and they'll call me every day. These fans are not doing that. They're not invasive. And you know what, without these fans, who's going to come see us? It's one thing when people invade your space, but nobody invades my space at all.

Tom was one of these people [who'd] show up [at the theatre]. It was so funny because I'd go, "Oh God, I sucked tonight." And he was like, "Well, it wasn't your best." [Laughs.] I love him! He was like, "But you were still good." I'd be like, "Okay, Tommy, I totally love you." And, again, it was always with tons of respect. And, like I said, anybody that comes to see a show, and sits through a show like that, that's not scary to me. When they start sitting outside your house or when they start showing up everywhere you are — if you're at ShopRite or at Duane Reade, then that's scary. But if they're going to be at the theatre every day and they're young kids who are into that stuff. I'll tell you right now, when Whitney [Houston] was at her height — if she performed eight shows a week somewhere, I would have been there. I would have seen every single show. If Whitney became Aida, I would have stayed on as a standby and been there every day. [Laughs.] . . . I think that it was very complimentary. It was really wonderful, and I loved every minute of it.

Q: Are you involved in any other projects at the moment or are you focusing on Once Around the Sun?
Days: Because of my son, that doesn't leave me too much time to do much of anything else, but I love this show. It's smart, and it's current, and I love that. Let me say, and this is very important to me, this cast that I am working with, they're so outrageously talented that I have no choice but to step up. These people are incredible.

[Once Around the Sun plays the Zipper Theatre, located in Manhattan at 336 West 37th Street. Tickets, priced at $60, are available by calling (212) 239-6200.]

DIVA TIDBITS
It was a nine-hour drive to Provincetown and an eight-hour drive back to Manhattan, but Ellen Greene's concert at P-town's UU Meeting House last Saturday night more than compensated for the 17-hour car trip. Greene and Christian Klikovits performed their acclaimed evening of Torch! songs to an enthusiastic crowd. I've now caught Greene's show several times, and she never ceases to amaze me with not only her array of vocal colors but her emotional delivery of each and every song she chooses. And, her singing of these tunes — most of which can be found on her stunning debut solo CD "In His Eyes" — have only grown stronger and more powerful over the past few years. There is no one out there singing with more passion and heart than she; she lays bare her soul in riveting renditions of "Pretty Pretty," "Throwing Stones," "Too Much Love Will Kill You" and "Love Is Everything." Her thoughtful interpretation of Tori Amos' "Winter" remains a highlight, and her signature tunes — "Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly Seymour" — are simultaneously touching and thrilling. I was also knocked out by her encores: the best version of Peter Allen's "All the Lives of Me" that I've heard and the high-voltage "Only Women Bleed." If you happen to be near Provincetown, Greene and Klikovits' mesmerizing show — which plays through July 30 — should not be missed. (The UU Meeting House is located in Provincetown, MA at 236 Commercial Street. For reservations call (508) 487-9793 or visit www.ptowntix.com).

Two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters was in glorious voice this past Tuesday evening when she serenaded a room full of theatre/entertainment writers to celebrate the upcoming release of her new CD, "Sondheim, Etc., Etc. Live at Carnegie Hall: The Rest of It." Accompanied by longtime musical director Marvin Laird on piano, Peters poured out her golden voice in a medley of two Stephen Sondheim classics, "With So Little to Be Sure Of" and "Children Will Listen," which both appear on the terrific new disc. Composer Sondheim was also in attendance at the CD party, beaming from ear to ear as he listened to Peters' wonderful interpretations of his songs. And, Peters not only has a multitude of fans on earth, but there's at least one currently traveling through space. Astronaut Charles Camarda, currently aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery, personally called Peters' press representative to request a copy of the new CD so he could listen to the disc during his space voyage. Coincidentally, both Camarda and Peters are Ozone Park natives. ("Sondheim, Etc., Etc." hits stores on the Angel Records label Aug. 2.)

Four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will make her Houston Grand Opera debut in March 2006. The centerpiece of McDonald's performance will be Francis Poulenc's La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice). Poulenc's work concerns a "jilted woman [who] strangles herself while talking to her lover on the telephone." The evening will also include a companion piece written by Michael John LaChiusa that concerns "the lighter side of love." Tony winner Ted Sperling will conduct the concerts, and Lonny Price will direct. McDonald is scheduled to play the Houston venue March 4, 7, 10, 16, 18 and 24 at 8 PM and March 12 and 26 at 2:30 PM. Subscriptions to the Houston Grand Opera season will go on sale Aug. 1. Tickets for all performances will be available to the general public beginning Aug. 22. For more information visit www.houstongrandopera.org.

The First Annual Broadway Cabaret Festival will be held Oct. 21-23 at New York's Town Hall. The three-day event, hosted by producer-writer Scott Siegel, will kick off Oct. 21 at 8 PM with Life Is a Cabaret: A Tribute to Kander and Ebb. The salute to the creators of Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Chicago, The Rink and Woman of the Year will feature performances by Ann Reinking, Brent Barrett, Robert Cuccioli, Billy Stritch and Jim Caruso. Tony Award nominees Euan Morton and Louise Pitre will be featured in the festival's second evening — Oct. 22 at 8 PM — which is simply titled Euan Morton & Louise Pitre Sing Broadway!. The Cabaret Festival concludes Sunday, Oct. 23 at 3 PM with Broadway Originals. Hosted by Siegel, the afternoon will feature several Broadway actors performing the songs they originated in various musicals. Among those scheduled to be part of the concert are Nine's Karen Akers, Falsettos' Stephen Bogardus, Baby's Liz Callaway, Assassins' Michael Cerveris, The Life's Chuck Cooper, Jerome Robbins' Broadway's Debbie Gravitte, Hair's Annie Golden, The Life's Sam Harris, The Most Happy Fella's Liz Larsen, Fiddler on the Roof's Austin Pendleton and Side Show's Emily Skinner. A three-show subscription to the First Annual Broadway Cabaret Festival is priced at $120. Individual shows are priced $40 and $45. Town Hall is located in Manhattan at 123 West 43rd Street. For more information call (212) 840 2824 or visit www.the-townhall-nyc.org.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Musical director Marvin Laird, Bernadette Peters, EMI Jazz CEO and Executive Producer Bruce Lundvall and Executive Producer Richard Jay-Alexander celebrate Peters' new CD
Musical director Marvin Laird, Bernadette Peters, EMI Jazz CEO and Executive Producer Bruce Lundvall and Executive Producer Richard Jay-Alexander celebrate Peters' new CD Photo by Todd Kaplan for Star File
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