DIVA TALK: A Chess Preview With Julia Murney Plus News of Buckley, Peters, Pitre and More

News   DIVA TALK: A Chess Preview With Julia Murney Plus News of Buckley, Peters, Pitre and More
Belting fans first took notice of the steely voiced Julia Murney when she starred in the Manhattan Theatre Club's mounting of The Wild Party.
(L-R) Julia Murney, Josh Groban, Sutton Foster at a rehearsal for Chess at New Dance Group Studios on West 47th St.
(L-R) Julia Murney, Josh Groban, Sutton Foster at a rehearsal for Chess at New Dance Group Studios on West 47th St. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Murney also graced the stage in another Off-Broadway production, the Lonny Price-directed A Class Act, and at last year's Actors' Fund Funny Girl benefit concert, she nearly blew the roof off the New Amsterdam Theatre with her stunning rendition of "People." She'll be back on that stage this Monday night, Sept. 22, starring as Florence in the eagerly anticipated one-night-only concert version of Chess, the third Actors' Fund benefit concert.

Chess, which boasts one of the most exciting scores of the eighties, is being directed by Peter Flynn with musical direction by Seth Rudetsky, the same duo who helmed last year's acclaimed Funny Girl evening, which featured a slew of Fanny Brices (Lillias White, Jane Krakowski, Judy Kuhn, Sutton Foster, Ricki Lake, Carolee Carmello, Kristin Chenoweth) belting out the classic Jule Styne score. The Chess score — by ABBA's Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics) — similarly offers a non-stop parade of show-stoppers, including "Nobody's Side," "Pity the Child," "I Know Him So Well," "Anthem," "You and I," "Heaven Help My Heart" and "Someone Else's Story."

And, an equally exciting cast has been assembled for the concert of the musical about a chess match between an American and Russian competitor, set against the politics of the Cold War. In addition to the aforementioned Murney, Chess will star Adam Pascal as the American chess player, Josh Groban as the Russian, Raul Esparza as the Arbiter, Norm Lewis as Molokov, Jonathan Dokuchitz as Walter and Tony Award winner Sutton Foster as the Russian's wife, Svetlana. A choir, comprised of a host of Broadway talents, will include Meredith Aikins, Yassmine Alers, Albert Altovilla, Kim Alvarez, Farah Alvin, Carrie Ellen Austin, David Barrus, Kristine Bendul, Stephen Bienskie, John Bolton, Jerad Bortz, Kevin Bott, Stacey Lynn Brass, Rachel Bress, Ed Carlo, Lou I. Castro, Lanene Charters, Katherine Lynne Condit, Tim Cross, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Justin Daniel, Ryan Dietz, John Treacy Egan, Markeisha Ensley, Mary Faber, Phil Fabry, Barrett Foa, Susan Fulginiti, Laurie Gamache, Julie Garnyé, Tanesha Gary-Stickney, Chris Ghelfi, Brian M. Golub, Sue Goodman, Ann Harada, Nina Hennessey, Stephen Alexander Horst, Mary Ann Hu, Cristin Hubbard, William Hubert, Adam Hunter, Jessica Jackson, Gerti James, Natalie Joy Johnson, Naomi Kakuk, Raissa Katona, Damian Keenan, Trent Armand Kendal, Michael Klimzak, Audrey Klinger, Lynette Knapp, David Ladd, Anika Larsen, Jason S. Little, Kristoffer Lowe, David McKeown, Naomi Naughton, Darius Nichols, Terri O'Neill, Amanda Ryan Paige, Max Pearlman, David Petrolle, William Ryall, Charlie Schwartz, Nicole Ruth Snelson, Doug Storm, Eileen Tepper, Shelley Thomas, Grant Turner, Richard E. Waits, Jessica Walker, Nyjah Moore Westbrooks, Jason Weston, Schele Williams, Gustavo Wons, Wysandria Woolsey, Matt Zarley, Kristine Zbornik and Christopher Zelno.

Although the 7:30 PM concert is nearly sold out, there are a few tickets still available by calling (212) 221-7300, ext. 133. Don't miss your chance to see this terrific score performed by some of the greatest singers around!

I had the chance to speak with the charming Julia Murney earlier this week during a Chess rehearsal break. That interview follows: Question: How are rehearsals going?
Julia Murney: They're good. They're overwhelming! [Laughs.] I liked it last year when I had one scene and one song to think about. This is a lot more involved. [Laughs.]

Q: How much rehearsal time will you have?
JM: In earnest, we started rehearsing last week — in terms of staging and that kind of thing. I had time prior with Seth [Rudetsky] and people like that, but Josh [Groban] didn't get here until Monday. . . Somebody said to me the other day — I was trying to explain to them what the concert was like, and they said, "Oh, is it like Encores!, like you hold your books?" I was like, "Well, no, because Encores! is a job and they pay you, so it becomes your focus for two weeks." This, because it's all donated time, I'm running around during my breaks doing voiceover jobs. I'm not complaining, it's all good things, but you almost wish you could put everything aside to give this your full concentration because it's so massive. . . . You don't hold the book, but you have it, but then you're like, "Oh no, I know this," and then yesterday we did a press preview, and we all went up on our lyrics. [Laughs.] That's just the nature of the beast.

Q: How did you originally get involved with the concert?
JM: Much to my surprise — when they announced Josh Groban for the concert and Lara Fabian, I thought, "Oh, okay they're going to go that way and use really big celebrities from a different world entirely." And I thought maybe I could be in the ensemble 'cause it's really fun to do. It's a great night. And they called and asked me if I would play Svetlana, which is the smaller of the two female roles, and I was totally flattered and honored. And I was like, "Yeah, absolutely." And, then, probably four weeks ago, they called and said, "How would you feel about the possibility of switching roles because Lara's schedule is so full up, and she didn't realize how much material it was?" And I know the correct response to that was supposed to be, "Oh, my gosh, yes!" I was like, "Oh." I didn't have the right answer at all. [Laughs.] I was like, "Well, whatever you need, I guess." But the notion of kind of getting in, singing two songs and getting out was very attractive. And, I tell 'ya, it's a bear to sing. The whole cast — they're such extraordinary singers, every one of them — and everyone has at least one moment in the show where they have to figure out how to negotiate some notes. You can't even move [the songs], really shift them, because they go really low, too . . . Note to self: Don't do Chess, it's crazy! [Laughs.] The Actors' Fund has been so incredible, and Peter Flynn, who's directing the piece, and Seth Rudetsky, who's music directing, have just been incredibly lovely to me.

Q: And Sutton Foster just took over the role of Svetlana. . .
JM: Yeah, it was very sad to lose Lara Fabian, who I never got to meet. But I've heard her sing a number of times on the "Today Show." She has an amazing voice, so I was sad we lost her, but at the same time, I was thrilled we got Sutton, who's a friend of mine. . . . We did Funny Girl together last year, but we really didn't do it together, but I've known her for a long time, and Hunter, her brother, is a very good friend of mine, and his wife.

Q: Which version of Chess are you doing Monday night?
JM: We're doing all the versions of Chess! [Laughs.] I don't really know the show frankly. I know we've done a large conglomeration. There's the American version, the English version, and the Danish version; I keep joking there's a Mesopotamian version! They've taken them all and put them together.

Q: Will you be doing "Someone Else's Story"?
JM: I don't know if I'm allowed to tell, simply because last year, I didn't know it was a secret as to who was singing what in Funny Girl, and I was like, "Blah, blah, blah," and then I was like, "Oh, it's a secret? I'm sorry." I would happily tell you, but I don't want Seth to get on me! [Laughs.]

Q: Have you ever seen the show?
JM: No, never seen it. I did a concert of it about two years ago that I was thrown into very last minute: Brian d'Arcy James was the American, and Lauren Kennedy was Florence, and I played Svetlana. But I was thrown into it so minute that I barely paid attention to anything about the show, except for what I had to do. [Laughs.]

Q: What are your memories of the Funny Girl concert last year?
JM: That was another one, where actually Audra McDonald was supposed to do that. She was doing "Mister Sterling" at the time, and she suddenly realized there was no way — she had to be on the set at like 6 AM the next morning, not in New York. And, so, I got a call about three weeks before the concert saying, "Would you like to come and do this?" They actually had me come over and sing through — they were shifting people all along until the last minute. They had me come and sing through "Don't Rain On My Parade" and "People." I didn't really know the show; I had seen the film a long, long time ago, and I remember thinking, "'People' is cheesy. I want to do 'Rain On My Parade,'" and then I saw the scene that goes with "People." It's a beautiful scene, and it makes the song mean a completely different thing . . . . It was a great honor, it was kind of ridiculous to go from "I'm not in the concert" to "You're in the concert and you're singing 'People.'" It was amazing to get to work with all those women, get to hang out with them, and Peter Gallagher, I cannot say enough about Peter Gallagher. He was the prince of the evening. He was such an even keel. And you would think, perhaps, a man could lose his mind with 16 women — or maybe not, ask Antonio Banderas. [Laughs.] But he was just so wonderful and gracious. And somebody put this really well and said, "Watching the show, he didn't pick favorites." He kissed me the way he kissed Lillias the way he kissed. . . And it kind of made it flow a little more. He was wonderful, and he really helped us all along.

Q: Is there much of a set for Chess?
JM: Yeah, they're not kidding around! It is an absolute shame that this is not being recorded for PBS. I know a lot of people are like, "Why aren't they recording it?" as if the Actors' Fund is saying, "No, no we can't record it." There's rights issues, there are label issues. People are with different labels. It's just not quite as simple as "push play and record," and there you have it. It is a shame, though, because the rendering of the set — "Oh, you're kidding me, this is going to go up for one night!" And it is constantly astounding to think that all of this is done by volunteered time. I think it's a 53-voice choir on stage. There are maybe 20 dancers, who have rehearsals — they're doing serious stuff, dancers who are in Movin' Out. And, then there's the orchestra. It's really overwhelming.

Q: I'm always amazed at how many benefits there are and how much people in the theatre community give of their time.
JM: This one — I've never been part of an Easter Bonnet — this one and Broadway Bares. I beg every year, "Can I please sing in Broadway Bares? Please, please, please?" 'Cause that's the one night I get to be a rock star, and it's just fun. There's no nonsense going on backstage. That was an amazing thing about Funny Girl. With all of those women and all of those people in the show, there couldn't have been less attitude. It was just the loveliest — I got to sit backstage during the second act at one point, just on the stairs chatting with Ana Gasteyer and Whoopi Goldberg, and I wanted to stop somebody and go, "Do you see who I'm sitting with? How cool is that!" [Laughs.]

Q: What other projects are you involved with these days?
JM: I'm actually doing a few episodes of the TV show "Ed," which was really fun. Most of my scenes are with Julie Bowen, the really pretty blonde girl who plays the lead and with Tom Cavanagh, who just did Urinetown. I know so many people in that show, and my best friends from college are the producers of Urinetown, so we had a lot to talk about. They are the nicest people on that set.

Q: Do you know when those episodes will air?
JM: I have to find out, I don't know. [Laughs.] I just filmed my first one last week, so I don't even think the season's begun on television. I'm playing a magazine editor for New York City. It's fun. I get to wear sassy clothes and get my hair done.

Q: When are we going to get you on Broadway?
JM: I don't know. [Laughs.] When somebody writes something that I want to do, I guess.

Q: Do you have any theatre projects coming up?
JM: I actually had a callback today for something at Paper Mill that I would love to do.

Q: Baby?
JM: Yes! How did you guess?

Q: That's a great show.
JM: It's such a beautiful show. I actually saw it on Broadway originally with my mom. We went to TKTS one day and saw that. It was so lovely. And I've always wanted to work with Richard Maltby and David Shire. I think they're so wonderful.

Q: What part would you play?
JM: Pam. I'm a little long in the tooth for Lizzie, and if you're suggesting Arlene, I'm mad at 'ya! [Laughs.] Pam's the one that I always sort of wanted to play. I have some callbacks for some things. None of them are Broadway things, but I learned this lesson with Wild Party, which is something, obviously, I'm entirely biased about, but I thought was a real quality piece and really should have moved, and for reasons which I completely understood, it didn't. And it was a shame because if we had just kind of held our breath and jumped and risked the cash, I think we may have had a chance. But who knew? And it was one of those things where I thought, "Okay, something like that doesn't go, and the next show that I did was, A Class Act, which did go, which was sort of surprising to me only in that it was such a sweet, small show." And, I was like, "It's going to be on Broadway? Okay." And I had another job, I had Time and Again already to do, which was a show that was very important to me, to my heart, so I chose not to do A Class Act. It's not that I don't want to do Broadway; of course, but the lesson — long story — my lesson was, sort of, it's not everything. It's great, it's great, and of course I would love to do a Broadway show, but if I go to my grave without ever having done one, so be it, but it's a choice that I made, and that's okay.

Q: You also made one of the smarter moves last season.
JM: Well, of course, now the stories are becoming almost apocryphal, the things that I've turned down . . . The thing with Vampires was just when I do a show, I get very involved, and I take it very seriously. With Vampires they had sort of intimated that [my] role would grow, and I could tell at the first read through that on the list of what they needed to work on, [my character] was very low on the totem pole. Rightly so . . . but I just could tell it wasn't going to happen. And I thought the show would run, I really did. And that's why — I was like, "I don't want to do this for a year." It wasn't me judging the material. It was me going, "You know what? There's other things I would rather do." Because I know it's going to make me crazy to try and be in the show and help fix it and all that kind of stuff. Doing a musical from scratch, to me, is one of the hardest things you can possibly do, but it's really enjoyable if you're working with people who are collaborative. I've been very lucky to work, by and large, with people who are so collaborative and open to ideas and suggestions. Even down to Peter Flynn, in doing Chess and Funny Girl with him last year. He's so marvelous. He's got to do deal with so many things, and he deals with them in beautiful stride.

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Tony Award winner Betty Buckley's fall concert schedule is starting to fill up. The multi talented Buckley, who will return to Feinstein's at the Regency Oct. 28 Nov. 8 (no shows Sunday and Monday eves.) with a brand-new act, has also booked concerts for Oct. 18 at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts in Atlanta, GA and Nov. 22 at the Dominican University in River Forest, IL. Stay tuned for more dates . . . . The Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, NY, has announced its 2003-2004 Cabaret Series. Karen Mason, who was most recently on Broadway in Mamma Mia!, kicks off the season Oct. 18 at 8 PM. Mason will perform her newest act, the critically acclaimed "The Winner Takes It All." Judy Kuhn, the three-time Tony nominee for her performances in Les Misérables, Chess and She Loves Me, follows with her cabaret act on Nov. 15 at 8 PM. Then, on Dec. 13 at 8 PM singer-songwriter Stevie Holland will bring her evening of pop and jazz standards to the New York cabaret. Brent Barrett, the current Billy Flynn of Broadway's Chicago, will be featured at the theatre on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14 at 8 PM. And, the season concludes with Maureen McGovern, who recently celebrated her 30th anniversary in show business. McGovern will display her rangy soprano March 19 at 8 PM and March 20 at 7 and 9:30 PM. The Emelin Theatre is located on Library Lane in Mamaroneck, NY. Tickets are available for individual performances or as a package ($132). For reservations, call (914) 698-0098. . . . Mamma Mia! star Louise Pitre will play the pie-baking Mrs. Lovett in the Calgary Opera Company's production of the famed Stephen Sondheim musical Sweeney Todd Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2004. Baritone John Fanning will star opposite Pitre in the title role. Others in the cast include Jennie Such as Johanna, Joseph Kaiser as Anthony Hope, Michel Corbeil as Tobias Ragg, Mark Pedrotti as Judge Turpin, John MacMaster as The Beadle, Jean Stillwell as the Beggar Woman and Benoit Boutet as Pirelli. Kelly Robinson, who directed the world premiere of Filumena, will helm the production; Jeffrey Huard will conduct the orchestra. For more information about the Calgary Opera Company, visit www.calgaryopera.com. . . . Side Show Tony nominee Alice Ripley will perform a benefit concert for ArtSpeak! Sept. 29. Ripley, who is currently starring in the world premiere production of Ken Ludwig's Shakespeare in Hollywood at the Arena Stage, will offer a 7 PM concert at Mimi's American Bistro in Washington, D.C. The concert will benefit ArtSpeak, an arts education program that brings performing artists to Northern Virginia schools. Artists who have taken part in the program include such Broadway favorites as Kristin Chenoweth, Melissa Errico, Sally Mayes, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Tony-winning A Chorus Line composer Marvin Hamlisch. Ripley will perform songs from her acclaimed solo CD "Everything's Fine," as well as new songs and some surprise musical theatre favorites. The $35 ticket includes concert, dinner and wine. Reservations may be made by calling (202) 464-6464. Mimi's American Bistro is located in Washington, D.C., at 2120 P Street NW. . . . Amour Tony nominee Melissa Errico, who recently starred in the Williamstown Theatre Festival's production of The Threepenny Opera, will return to the intimate stage of Joe's Pub next month. On Oct. 6 and 27, Errico will be backed by a full band at Joe's Pub, the cabaret space at the Public Theater. The singer-actress will offer 7:30 PM concerts, featuring tunes from her recent solo debut CD, "Blue Like That" (Manhattan Records). Concertgoers can expect to hear tunes by Randy Newman, Rickie Lee Jones, Billy Joel, Rodgers and Hart and Mike Errico, the actress' brother who will also accompany her on guitar. Tickets for the concerts are priced at $20; call (212) 239-6200. 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. . . . And, finally, some of Broadway's biggest names — including Bernadette Peters, Barbara Cook, Donna McKechnie and Donna Murphy — have recently been added to the ever-growing list of celebrities who will take part in the 17th Annual Broadway Flea Market and Grand Auction, scheduled for this Sunday, Sept. 21. The annual outdoor fundraiser in Shubert Alley is a day-long event (10 AM-7 PM) that raises money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. More than 50 stars from Broadway, Off-Broadway and television serials will be part of the "Celebrity Table," where theatre fans can purchase autographs by or photos with their favorite stars. Jim Caruso and WPLJ radio personality Jason Drew will co-host the "Celebrity Table," which runs from 11 AM-4 PM. As of press time, those scheduled to take part in the "Celebrity Table" include the following talents: 11 AM-12 noon: Real Andrews, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Christian Borle, Delta Burke, Kerry Butler, Martha Byrne, Hunter Foster, Ann Harada, Dana Ivey, Rebecca Luker, Joe Machota, Tina Madigan, Mary Beth Peil, Chita Rivera; 12 noon-1 PM: Bradley Cole, Ellen Dolan, Harvey Fierstein, Eileen Fulton, Ricky Paull Goldin, Joel Grey, Dick Latessa, Jeff McCarthy, Matthew Morrison, Denis O'Hare, Elizabeth Parkinson, Louise Pitre, John Selya, John Tartaglia, Ashley Tuttle; 1-2 PM: Mario Cantone, Sean Dugan, Lesli Kay, Nathan Lane, Beth Leavel, Grayson McCouch, Donna Mckechnie, James Mitchell, Austin Pendleton, Bernadette Peters, Billy Porter, Roger Rees, Peter Samuel; 2-3 PM: Polly Bergen, Rebecca Budig, Marj Dusay, Tovah Feldshuh, Patricia Elliott, Ilene Kristen, Barbara Luna, Donna Murphy, Bebe Neuwirth, Phyllis Newman, Angelica Torn, Ann Wedgeworth; 3-4 PM: Jennifer Bassey, Barbara Cook, Andre DeShields, Penny Fuller, Randy Graff, Sandra Joseph, Swoosie Kurtz, Andrea McArdle, Mark Menard, Betsy Palmer, Eden Riegel, Jana Robbins, Tamara Tunie, B. D. Wong.


Betty Buckley in Concert:

Oct. 18 at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts in Atlanta, GA
Oct. 28-Nov. 8 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 22 at the Dominican University in River Forest, IL

Liz Callaway in Concert:

Oct. 11 with the Binghamton Philharmonic Pops in Binghamton, NY
Oct. 20 at the 14th Annual New York Cabaret Convention in New York, NY
Jan. 31, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
May 1, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY

Barbara Cook in Concert:

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:

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:

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

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!

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