A host of familiar faces (as well as such holiday tunes as "Silent Night," "Deck the Halls," "Carol of the Bells" and "Joy to the World") are currently lighting up the new production of A Christmas Carol, which plays New York's famed Beacon Theatre through Dec. 5. In addition to Barry Williams ("The Brady Bunch") and Jeff Conaway ("Taxi"), audiences will also recognize the vivacious singer-actress playing Mrs. Fezziwig, Jackée (Harry). Jackée — who made her Broadway debut in Gower Champion's A Broadway Musical before going on to appear in such hits as Eubie and One Mo' Time — gained national attention and an Emmy Award for her performance as the flamboyant, tart-tongued Sandra on the long-running TV series "227." Last week I had the chance to speak with the lively performer, who was most recently on Broadway in the revival of The Boys From Syracuse. That brief chat follows.
Question: How did you become part of this new production of A Christmas Carol?
Jackée: I was doing Sheryl Lee Ralph's charity event, Divas Simply Singing, and the producers saw me there. I was a full effect. [Laughs.] . . . I was singing "My Handyman Ain't Handy No More" from Eubie.
Q: Did you start out as a singer? Was that your goal?
Jackée: Yes, I was going to be an opera singer. But what happened?! [Laughs.] Q: How did you segue into television?
Jackée: Well, I did theatre mostly — I came up in theatre. [My first show] was A Broadway Musical, which only lasted one night — opened and closed. [It was directed and choreographed by] Gower Champion. And, from there, I did show after show after show, got lucky. I was doing a Broadway workshop, and I got discovered there by a casting agent who put me in a soap opera. The soap opera ["Another World"] led to "227."
Q: Did you enjoy working on "227"?
Jackée: Oh, yes. Are you kidding?! [Laughs.]
Q: Tell me about this production of A Christmas Carol. How is it different from others?
Jackée: Well, it has me, of course! [Laughs.] It's multicultural, so that's very different. We're singing all public domain songs — "Joy to the World," "Deck the Halls," "Angels We Have Heard on High" — I'm singing that. Angela Bofill is in it, and she can sing! She sings "The First Noel" like you have never heard. She's an angel, she's so clear . . . We have so much in common. We were talking the other day — I went to [the School for] Music and Art, and she went to Hunter School of Music. We're so alike — that New York thing, nobody else has that in the world. When you're brought up — the teachers take you everywhere, and you're never the same. [Laughs.] Jeff Conaway is Marley, and he's fabulous. And Barry Williams from "The Brady Bunch" is also in it.
Q: And then the show's going to tour. . . .
Jackée: Yes, all over the northeast. Cold! [Laughs.] [After its Beacon run, A Christmas Carol will play a month-long tour, which includes stops in Detroit, MI (at the Music Hall, Dec. 7-12); Syracuse, NY (at the Landmark Theatre, Dec. 15-16); and Buffalo, NY (at Shea's Performing Arts Center, Dec. 17-19).]
Q: You were recently on Broadway in the revival of The Boys From Syracuse. What was that experience like for you?
Jackée: Weird . . . it was hard clearing the music. I never worked with [the estate of] such a big composer, so you didn't have any control over what you were doing. It was all about what they want, and I don't like that. I had to take a lot of stuff to get that going. The music was the star of that show is what I'm trying to say, so you had to kowtow to the music.
Q: Do you get to see much theatre?
Jackée: Oh yeah. Well, my good friends [are in many shows, and] I see them all. I fly where they are. Phylicia Rashad, she's on Broadway now, Gem of the Ocean, [by] August Wilson. My girlfriend Marva Hicks, my best friend, she's in L.A. at the Ahmanson doing Caroline, or Change with Tonya Pinkins, [who's also a] friend of mine. We're all so close. My girlfriend Lynn Whitfield's doing White Chocolate Off-Broadway, so I get to see a lot of theatre.
Q: What's next for you after A Christmas Carol? Any other projects in the works?
Jackée: Uh-huh. I can't tell you though. It's pretty big. It's a play, but it's a big play. It's with a super-diva. [Laughs.]
[The Beacon Theatre is located in Manhattan at 2124 Broadway. Tickets, priced $33-$62, are available by calling (212) 307-4100. Visit www.achristmascaroltour.com for more information.]
Jamie McGonnigal and Kate Shindle, co-producers of Monday night's star-studded benefit concert of Pippin, found the perfect title player in the young actor Michael Arden. The sweet, innocent-faced Arden, who starred on Broadway in Big River and Off Broadway in Bare, a Pop Opera, possesses a beautiful, rangy tenor and an emotional stillness that is remarkably touching. From his beautifully performed "Corner of the Sky" through his second-act epiphany, Arden's performance as the son of the Emperor Charlemagne who searches for meaning in life was truly wonderful. Particularly notable were his renditions of "Corner," "With You" and "Morning Glow." Backed by a large onstage chorus on the latter, the Stephen Schwartz song swelled to a rousing conclusion that was spine-tingling.
The role of the Leading Player, created on Broadway by Ben Vereen, was shared by a host of theatre favorites, including Rosie O'Donnell, Billy Porter, Darius de Haas, Shindle and Tony winner Vereen. Porter, de Haas and Shindle impressed with their vocals on, respectively, "Glory," "Simple Joys" and "On the Right Track." Realizing he would be a tough act to follow, Vereen was saved for the show's finale, clearly demonstrating why he nabbed the Tony for his performance in the original Bob Fosse-directed production.
Other highlights of the one-night-only event: The always thrilling Julia Murney was, simply, thrilling. Obviously relishing her role as the not-so "ordinary housewife and mother" Fastrada, Murney made all her onstage moments count and belted the best rendition of "Spread a Little Sunshine" I've heard. Laura Benanti's singing was also beautiful, sounding especially lovely on "I Guess I'll Miss the Man." Terrence Mann drew laugh after laugh as the befuddled Emperor, and Avenue Q's John Tartaglia — and his alter-ego Rod — made a few humorous surprise appearances.
Best of all, the evening raised nearly $93,000 (before expenses) for The National AIDS Fund. For more information visit www.pippinconcert.org.
FOR THE RECORD Six new recordings — from two record labels — have hit stores just in time for the holidays.
The premiere releases on the Ghostlight label — Sh-K-Boom Records’ new division devoted solely to theatre recordings — include Finian’s Rainbow, The New Moon and "In Your Dreams."
Melissa Errico, back on Broadway this season in Dracula, heads the cast of Finian’s Rainbow, presented this past summer at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Errico, blessed with one of the finest sopranos in theatre today, wraps her rich tones around the Burton Lane-E.Y. Harburg classic “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” and also duets with Max von Essen — he of the soaring tenor — on “Look to the Rainbow” and “That Old Devil Moon.” The recording also features the vocals of Malcolm Gets, David Staller, Terri White and Jonathan Freeman.
The New Moon, a recording of the City Center Encores! mounting of the Sigmund Romberg-Oscar Hammerstein musical, features a 36-piece orchestra and such Broadway favorites as Christiane (Jekyll & Hyde) Noll, Burke (Beauty and the Beast) Moses, Alix (Chicago) Korey and F. Murray (Triumph of Love) Abraham. Among the gems heard on the 21-track disc are “Marianne,” “Lover, Come Back to Me” and “Stout-Hearted Men.”
Last season, Tony winner Christine Ebersole and her 42nd Street co-star, Billy Stritch, premiered a new act entitled "In Your Dreams," now preserved by Ghostlight. Accompanied by pianist Stritch, Ebersole begins her recital with the charming Paul James-Kay Swift tune “Fine and Dandy.” Not only is the tone of her voice beautiful, but she is able to use it in a manner of styles; in fact, the recording reveals that Ebersole is completely at home whether she’s singing jazz, musical-theatre tunes or standards. Among the disc’s highlights are a lovely version of Oklahoma!’s “Surrey with the Fringe on Top”; a slowed-down rendition of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill”; belty versions of 42nd Street’s “Lullaby of Broadway” and the Gershwins’ “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York”; and a terrific “My Ship.” On the latter Ebersole imitates a trumpet solo with her voice to dazzling effect. (Stritch also solos on “Nobody Else But Me” and “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me.”)
The independent label PS Classics has also just issued a trio of new CDs. Luba Mason, who starred on Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde and Capeman, combines Latin, pop, jazz, theatre and folk on her debut solo disc. Aptly titled "Collage," the 14-track recording features such tunes as “Moondance,” “Mr. Bojangles” and “I Can See Clearly Now,” the latter a duet with Rubén Blades. Blades also penned a new Spanish lyric for Mason’s rendition of Bacharach and David’s “Look of Love.”
Deborah Tranelli, perhaps best known as Bobby Ewing’s secretary Phyllis on TV’s “Dallas,” is also an accomplished cabaret performer who possesses a pleasing belt. She offers standards (“Little Girl Blue,” “The Way You Look Tonight”) as well as new works by Stephen Schwartz and Steven Lutvak (“Rewriting History”); John Bucchino (“I’m Not Waiting”); and Marie Cain (“A Mattress in the Kitchen”) on her PS Classics disc, A Lot of Livin’.
Jessica Molaskey has titled her third solo recording for PS Classics "Make Believe," and it is a terrific mix of jazz and Broadway. A skilled jazz vocalist who also appeared in A Man of No Importance, Molaskey sings jazz-flavored renditions of such Broadway classics as “I Cain’t Say No,” “Guys and Dolls” and “All That Jazz.” A jazz ensemble, led by husband John Pizzarelli, accompany Molaskey, and the disc also features a tune she co wrote with Ricky Ian Gordon, the poignant “Cradle and All.”
Audra McDonald will premiere an all-new show when she opens the seventh season of the acclaimed American Songbook series next month. A Lincoln Center spokesperson told me earlier this week that McDonald's concerts — Jan. 6-8, 2005 — will boast works by Elvis Costello, Laura Nyro, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Prince. Featuring a ten-piece band, the evenings at the Rose Theater will also include songs by such McDonald favorites as Michael John LaChiusa and Adam Guettel. The four-time Tony winner is also at work on a new album that will feature the works of these many composers. McDonald's other projects: a workshop of a new production of Harvey Schmidt and Tom Jones' 110 in the Shade and a Houston Opera debut in 2006 in Francis Poulenc's La Voix Humaine. Tickets for American Songbook are available by calling (212) 721-6500. Visit www.lincolncenter.org for more information.
Side Show star Alice Ripley will be joined by Marcy Harriell and David McDonald for two evenings at the Duplex Cabaret Theatre devoted to the work of Bill Russell. On Dec. 13 and 20 the three performers will offer Belters We Have Heard on High at the downtown cabaret space. Show time is 7 PM. Russell, who wrote the book and lyrics for Side Show, also penned the book and lyrics for Off Broadway's Angels, Punks and Ranging Queens and Pageant. His other book/lyric credits include Lucky Duck, Kept, Fourtune, The Texas Chainsaw Musical and Family Style. The Duplex Cabaret Theater is located at 61 Christopher Street. There is a $10 cover charge and a two-drink minimum; call (212) 255-5438 for reservations.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to email@example.com.
(Look for a condensed version of "Diva Talk" in the theatre edition of Playbill Magazine.)