DIVA TALK: A Diva Season Preview

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: A Diva Season Preview
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Sherie Rene Scott in The Little Mermaid
Sherie Rene Scott in The Little Mermaid Photo by Joan Marcus

ON BROADWAY

The Little Mermaid
Any musical that boasts a cast led by Sherie Rene Scott (as the evil sea witch Ursula) is off to a great start. Whether she's playing Off-Broadway (The Last Five Years) or on (Aida, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Scott always manages to impress, and here she's joined by Norm Lewis (as King Triton), who possesses one of the great voices of any musical theatre actor. I'm also looking forward to hearing newcomer Sierra Boggess, who stars in the title role of the Disney production at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The Alan Menken-Howard Ashman-Glenn Slater musical, which is currently in previews, will officially open Jan. 10.

Sunday in the Park with George
It was Sunday in the Park with George that led me to my great love of the many talents of Bernadette Peters — I still remember listening to Peters' thrilling sound on "We Do Not Belong Together" over and over on my parents' stereo — so it may be difficult hearing anyone else but that two-time Tony winner portraying Dot. That said, the upcoming production of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine Pulitzer Prize-winner received such acclaim in London — including an Olivier Award for Outstanding Musical Production — that I'm more than curious to revisit one of my favorite Sondheim scores when the musical arrives at Studio 54 beginning Jan. 18. Daniel Evans and Jenna Russell — who starred as George and Dot, respectively, in London — will reprise their work for New York audiences, and the cast will also feature Michael Cumpsty as Jules/Bob, Alexander Gemignani as Boatman/Dennis, Jessica Molaskey as Yvonne/Naomi with Mary Beth Peil as Old Lady/Blair.

Leslie Kritzer and Faith Prince in A Catered Affair
photo by Craig Schwartz

A Catered Affair
It was the late, great Nancy LaMott who introduced me (via her cabaret performances) to the work of John Bucchino: She recorded the definitive version of Bucchino's "It Feels Like Home" on her final recording, "Listen to My Heart." Bucchino's songs have also been recorded by such theatre royalty as Patti LuPone, Barbara Cook and Kristin Chenoweth, and who hasn't been touched by Bucchino's beautiful ballad, "Grateful"? So, when it was announced that Bucchino was penning his first Broadway score — with multiple Tony winner Harvey Fierstein writing the book (and co-starring) and Tony winner John Doyle directing — A Catered Affair became the new musical I was most looking forward to during the 2007-08 theatre season. And, the production, which begins previews March 25 at the Walter Kerr Theatre, features not one, but two divas: Tony winner Faith Prince as Aggie Hurley, mother of the bride; and up-n-comer Leslie Kritzer as the bride. Gypsy
After an acclaimed run at City Center this past summer, the latest Broadway revival of the classic American musical Gypsy is set to begin previews at Broadway's St. James Theatre March 3. Directed by Gypsy co-creator Arthur Laurents, the production will feature Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone as Rose, Laura Benanti as Louise and Boyd Gaines as Herbie — who all drew raves for their performances in the 2006 Encores! Summer Stars staging. Highlights of that production were numerous, including LuPone's "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and "Rose's Turn," which were as powerful vocally as they were emotionally; Benanti's surprisingly moving "Little Lamb"; and the Act II dressing room scene between the two leading ladies. LuPone and Benanti. Let the onstage fireworks begin again.

South Pacific's Kelli O'Hara

South Pacific
It's hard to believe that the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic South Pacific hasn't been seen on Broadway since it debuted in 1949 with Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza, but the upcoming production at the Vivian Beaumont Theater (performances begin March 1) will mark the musical's first Broadway revival. I've previously enjoyed two Nellies to date — Kate Baldwin in a production at Arena Stage and Grammy winner Reba McEntire in a one-night gig opposite Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell at Carnegie Hall — and I'm very much looking forward to seeing what gifted soprano Kelli O'Hara can do with the role and such R&H standards as "A Cockeyed Optimist," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" and "A Wonderful Guy." O'Hara was terrific in both Light in the Piazza and The Pajama Game, and she will be joined on the Lincoln Center stage by such Broadway favorites as Danny Burstein and Matthew Morrison as well as newcomers Loretta Ables Sayre and Paulo Szot; Piazza's Bartlett Sher directs. OFF-BROADWAY

There's one Off-Broadway musical that's on my radar, mainly because of the return to the New York stage of Tony nominee and phenomenal belter (and actress) Alice Ripley. Next to Normal, which will begin previews Jan. 16 at Second Stage, casts Ripley opposite another theatre favorite, Brian d'Arcy James. The musical, which features book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by High Fidelity's Tom Kitt, asks, "How does an almost average family navigate today's over-stimulated and over-medicated world?" Michael Greif directs the new work about "one suburban household [that] confronts its past and its future . . . [and] explores how far two parents will go to keep themselves sane and their world intact," according to show notes.

CABARET

Several of my favorite singing actresses will be seen on smaller stages within the next few months.

Christine Pedi

If you missed Liz Callaway's wonderful Between Flights act at the Metropolitan Room, fear not: Callaway will return to the intimate nightspot Jan. 11 and 12 with her mix of show and pop tunes. The cabaret on West 22nd Street will also welcome Christine Pedi and Maureen McGovern, who are both preparing new shows. Pedi — who just completed an extended run with Great Dames — will now turn her attention to the songs of Sheldon Harnick (Jan. 21 and 28 and Feb. 3, 4, 10 and 11). In Now I Have Everything Pedi will "gleefully take on the colorful characters and fantastic tales Harnick has given voice to in countless Broadway musicals with warmth, wit and boundless joy. These charming, sensitive and terrifically funny lyrics reflect the heart and kindness of one of the musical theatres greatest living treasures," according to press notes. McGovern, whose beautiful voice has been heard on Broadway and in concert halls around the world, has titled her new act A Long and Winding Road (Feb. 13-16 and Feb. 21-23). McGovern told me earlier this week that "putting together my new show with Philip Himberg has been an amazing experience. It's been a wistful, inspiring, tearful and hilarious journey back to my teens and early twenties. In this evening of intimate musical portraits, [audiences] will hear favorite songs of mine by Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon, Carole King, James Taylor, Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, Lennon and McCartney, Laura Nyro and other iconoclastic sixties singer-songwriters, who helped shape our lives as a generation." McGovern will wrap her gorgeous tones around "The Circle Game," "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress," "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" and "Imagine," among others.

Judy Kuhn, who is currently playing Fantine in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables (through Jan. 6), will reprise her evening of Laura Nyro tunes at the Iridium Jazz Club. After playing an acclaimed engagement at Joe's Pub, Kuhn will bring Serious Playground - The Songs of Laura Nyro, which includes a thrilling, moving version of "Stoney End," to the Iridium Jan. 10-31. Kuhn will offer shows Thursdays at 7 PM.

And, the one-and-only Betty Buckley, whose new CD "Betty Buckley 1967" hit the Billboard charts, will celebrate the release of her next solo recording, "Quintessence" (due Feb. 5 on the Playbill Records/Sony BMG Masterworks Broadway label), with a return engagement at Feinstein's at Loews Regency Feb. 5-23. Tony winner Buckley's newest program, entitled Then & Now, will be directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, and one can expect Buckley to cast her magical spell over audiences with her deeply felt and beautifully expressed renditions of tunes from the worlds of Broadway, country and pop. Looking further ahead: Tony winner Barbara Cook will once again grace the stage of the Café Carlyle (March 4-April 12), and Karen Akers will bring her sultry sounds to the Algonquin's Oak Room May 13-June 14.

WISH LIST

Ellen Greene in "Pushing Daisies."
photo by ABC

Rather than make a list of New Year's Resolutions, I thought it would be more fun to come up with productions I'd love to see. . . A fully-staged Broadway revival of Follies with Bernadette Peters as Sally and Betty Buckley as Phyllis and Chita Rivera belting out "I'm Still Here."

A concert version of Evita to benefit the Actors Fund of America with all the original London and Broadway Evas — Patti LuPone, Elaine Paige, Marti Webb, Florence Lacey, Derin Altay, Loni Ackerman, Nancy Opel, Terri Klausner, et al. — each taking one song in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice score.

Elaine Paige in concert at Carnegie Hall to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS . . . with the great British star re-creating moments from all of her stage outings.

"Pushing Daisies" star Ellen Greene back on Broadway. . .how about the multi-talented Greene as Roxie Hart in Chicago?

Okay, those are some of my theatrical wishes. Let me know yours.

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

Patti LuPone in the Encores! production of <i>Gypsy</i>.
Patti LuPone in the Encores! production of Gypsy. Photo by Joan Marcus
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