A Fall Diva Season Preview Plus Betty Buckley's Haunting "Ghostlight"

Diva Talk   A Fall Diva Season Preview Plus Betty Buckley's Haunting "Ghostlight" News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Elizabeth Stanley
Elizabeth Stanley

The fall diva season kicks off this weekend with the first preview of the Broadway revival of On the Town Sept. 20 at the newly renamed Lyric Theatre. The cast of the iconic musical comedy created by Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jerome Robbins is led by Tony Yazbeck, Jay Armstrong Johnson and Clyde Alves as the sailors on 24-hour shore leave who take on the Big Apple; with Megan Fairchild, Alysha Umphress and Elizabeth Stanley as the women who steal their hearts. In addition to Tony Award winner Michael Rupert as Judge Pitkin, Allison Guinn as Lucy Schmeeler, Tony nominee Phillip Boykin and Stephen DeRosa, the company also features funny gal Jackie Hoffman in the role of voice teacher Madame Dilly. Audiences will also be treated to the largest orchestra on Broadway – 28 musicians led by musical director James Moore – playing such Broadway classics as “New York, New York,” “I Can Cook Too,” “Lonely Town” and “Some Other Time."

On Sept. 29 Grammy winner Sting, who appeared in the 1989 Main Stem revival of 3 Penny Opera, will make his Broadway composing debut with The Last Ship at the Neil Simon Theatre. Directed by Tony winner Joe Mantello, the new musical has a book by Tony winner John Logan and Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Yorkey with choreography by Olivier Award winner and Tony nominee Steven Hoggett. Last Ship, about a member of the English seafaring town of Wallsend who returns home after a 14-year journey, features Michael Esper, Rachel Tucker, Jimmy Nail, Fred Applegate, Aaron Lazar, Sally Ann Triplett and Collin Kelly-Sordelet.

For those who were fans of the original Tony-nominated production of Side Show — this writer included — one of the most eagerly awaited revivals of the season is that Henry Krieger-Bill Russell-Bill Condon musical, which arrives on Broadway Oct. 28 at the St. James Theatre. Directed by Academy Award winner Condon, who will be making his Broadway directorial debut, the roles of Violet and Daisy Hilton, memorably originated by Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, will now be played by Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, who starred in both the La Jolla and Kennedy Center engagements. The two actresses will be joined by Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster, Robert Joy as Sir, Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor and David St. Louis as Jake.

Rob McClure and Brynn O'Malley in <i>Honeymoon in Vegas</i>
Rob McClure and Brynn O'Malley in Honeymoon in Vegas Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Jason Robert Brown, who was represented on Broadway last season with the moving stage adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County, returns with Honeymoon in Vegas, which is based on the film of the same name and will play the Nederlander Theatre beginning Nov. 18. Directed by Gary Griffin and choreographed by Denis Jones, the Broadway premiere reunites all six principal actors who appeared in the acclaimed world premiere of the new musical at Paper Mill Playhouse: Tony nominee Rob McClure, Brynn O'Malley, Emmy and Golden Globe Award nominee Tony Danza, David Josefsberg, Tony Award nominee Nancy Opel and Matthew Saldivar. Honeymoon in Vegas has a book by "Blazing Saddles" and "Fletch" writer Andrew Bergman and a score by three-time Tony winner Brown.

Off-Broadway, the most intriguing production may be the new musical The Fortress of Solitude, which has a book by Itamar Moses and music and lyrics by Michael Friedman and begins previews Sept. 30 at The Public Theater. Conceived and directed by Daniel Aukin, the cast will feature Ken Barnett, Kyle Beltran, Adam Chanler-Berat, André de Shields, Carla Duren, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Jahi Kearse and Kevin Mambo, among others. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Jonathan Lethem, the new musical is described as "the extraordinary coming-of-age story about 1970s Brooklyn and beyond — of black and white, soul and rap, block parties and blackouts, friendship and betrayal, comic books and 45s. And the story of what would happen if two teenagers obsessed with superheroes believed that maybe, just maybe, they could fly." Also of interest is Classic Stage Company's upcoming mounting of the little-seen Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Allegro, which will begin previews Nov. 1. Directed by Tony winner John Doyle, the cast is headed by Claybourne Elder as Joseph Taylor Jr., a young physician learning about the mysteries of life and death, with George Abud as Charlie Townsend, Alma Cuervo as Grandma Taylor, Tony nominee Elizabeth A. Davis as Jenny Brinker and Malcolm Gets as Joe Taylor Sr.

Already in previews is the world-premiere production of Found, the original musical inspired by found letters and notes, at the Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater. Featuring a book by Tony Award nominee Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree and original music and lyrics by Eli Bolin, the musical, directed by Overtree, will officially open Oct. 14. The cast includes Christina Anthony, Nick Blaemire, Andrew Call, Daniel Everidge, Orville Mendoza, Betsy Morgan, Molly Pope, Danny Pudi, Sandy Rustin and Barrett Wilbert Weed.

Lauren Worsham
Lauren Worsham

On the concert stage, The New York Philharmonic will present a semi-staged production of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's ground-breaking and Tony Award-winning musical Show Boat Nov. 5–8 at Avery Fisher Hall. Initial casting includes Tony nominee Vanessa Williams as Julie, Julian Ovenden as Gaylord Ravenal and Gentleman's Guide Tony nominee Lauren Worsham as Magnolia, all in their Philharmonic debuts. The performances will be conducted and directed by Tony winner Ted Sperling.

Six-time Tony winner Audra McDonald, who concludes her record-breaking, award-winning run in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill Oct. 5, will return to Carnegie Hall Dec. 12 at 8 PM. Broadway's most-honored soprano will be backed by music director Andy Einhorn on piano, Mark Vanderpoel on bass and Gene Lewin on drums.

Tony nominees Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Morrison, who shared the stage in both The Light in the Piazza and South Pacific, will once again join forces for The New York Pops' Kelli and Matthew: Home for the Holidays Dec. 19-20 at Carnegie Hall. Attendees can expect to hear seasonal classics and contemporary holiday songs as well as the Essential Voices USA.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Olivier winner Elaine Paige, who has appeared on New York stages in Sunset Boulevard, Sweeney Todd and Follies, will offer her "farewell" concert tour. Entitled Page by Page by Paige, the tour will commence Oct. 9 at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff and conclude Oct. 22 at the Brighton Dome. Paige will also offer an evening at London’s Royal Albert Hall Oct. 20 with special guests and the BBC Concert Orchestra. The upcoming tour, according to press notes, will "encompass Elaine Paige’s monumental career, with songs from the world of musical theatre and her hugely successful recording catalogue."

Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

On smaller stages the one-and-only Betty Buckley will celebrate her new album "Ghostlight," which reunites the Tony-winning actress with producer T Bone Burnett, with seven concerts at Joe's Pub in October. The concerts, which will feature songs from the Palmetto Records release, are scheduled for Oct. 7-8 at 7 PM, Oct. 9 at 7 PM and 9:30 PM, Oct. 10 at 7 PM and Oct. 11 at 7 PM and 9:30 PM. Buckley will be accompanied by pianist Clifford Carter, bass player Tim Luntzel, drummer Tony Mason, guitarist Oz Noy and Rick Martinez on synthesizer. Triple-threat Chita Rivera will be seen at the famed jazz club Birdland Oct. 7-11 at 8:30 PM. Chita's Back! will feature the two-time Tony winner performing some of her favorite songs, offering a special tribute to her friends John Kander and Fred Ebb and re-creating signature moments from her legendary career. She will be accompanied by long-time musical director Michael Croiter, associate music director/pianist Michael Patrick Walker and Jim Donica on bass.

Tony and Olivier winner Patti LuPone will return to the intimate Manhattan nightspot 54 Below for her seventh engagement Nov. 3-15. The Broadway favorite will offer Far Away Places - Part Two, conceived and directed by Tony winner Scott Wittman and featuring songs by Irving Caesar, Billy Joel, David Yazbek, Johnny Mercer and Kris Kristofferson.

Among the many other gals set for evenings at 54 Below are Tony winner Randy Graff (Sept. 23 and Oct. 7 and 21), Kelli Rabke (Oct. 9), Lesli Margherita (Oct. 11 and 19), Tony winner Joanna Gleason (Oct. 14), Sierra Boggess (Oct. 15-18), Christine Andreas (Nov. 18-22), Ann Hampton Callaway (Nov. 23-29), Annaleigh Ashford (Dec. 1 and 8), Laura Osnes (Dec. 9, 12-13 and 15), Luba Mason (Dec. 10) and Lorna Luft (Dec. 17-18).

Over at the Café Carlyle, actress, singer and producer Rita Wilson will make her debut at the East Side venue beginning Sept. 24. The performer, whose second album is due in early 2015, will play through Oct. 4. An Evening with Molly Ringwald, featuring the star of "The Breakfast Club," "Sixteen Candles" and "Pretty in Pink," will be presented Oct. 7-18, and the season will also include husband-and-wife duo John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey (Oct. 28-Nov. 22).

And, the annual celebration of New York cabaret will be presented Oct. 20-23 in the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Frederick P. Rose Hall. Presented by The Mabel Mercer Foundation, The 25th Annual New York Cabaret Convention will kick off Oct. 20 with I Love a Piano, which will celebrate the singing pianist. The Convention will continue with Quiet Please, There's a Lady On Stage, a celebration of Julie Wilson's 90th birthday (Oct. 21), Something Sort of Grandish, featuring the songs of Burton Lane and Yip Harburg (Oct. 22) and Come On And Hear, an all-Irving Berlin evening (Oct. 23). All shows begin at 6 PM.

Whether you prefer your evenings in a cozy cabaret or in a Broadway house with a full orchestra, get out there and catch one of your favorite gals!

Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley Photo by Victory Tischler-Blue

BETTY BUCKLEY: "Ghostlight," Palmetto Records
Betty Buckley's newest album "Ghostlight," which reunites Buckley with her longtime friend and producer T Bone Burnett, finds the Tony-winning actress in a peaceful, almost hypnotic mode. This is not the big-voiced, belty, raise-the-roof Buckley; in fact, the vocals on the 12-track, jazz-influenced recording are more subdued and sweet, delivered mostly in Buckley's ethereal upper register, leading to what may be the gifted artist's most intimate recording to date.

This is not to say that the emotions are not large – they just overwhelm you in a more surprising manner as Buckley, here more vulnerable than ever, presents a heartfelt journey of loss and love.

Buckley begins the new disc with the classic Brigadoon ballad "Come to Me, Bend to Me," gently caressing the Alan Jay Lerner lyric, and follows with the great Jacques Brel ballad "If You Go Away." This plea may be delivered in hushed tones, but the interpretation is so deeply felt that the effect is wholly moving.

The Irving Berlin standard "Blue Skies" is the recording's most upbeat offering, and Buckley imbues her interpretation with a mix of restrained optimism and joy. Her delivery of "Lazy Afternoon" paints a vivid portrait of two lovers sharing a welcome day alone together in a quiet meadow, and her readings of two Richard Rodgers classics, "Bewitched" (with lyrics by Lorenz Hart) and "This Nearly Was Mine" (with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II), are understated but beguiling.

Other highlights include the hypnotic "Dreamsville"; a simply gorgeous reading of "Comin' Back to Me"; and "Take It with Me When I Go," which may be the most touching, breathtaking offering of the recording. Buckley concludes her recital with Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Where Time Stands Still." As she does on much of the recording, she creates a spare, almost haunting atmosphere, which allows the listener to be completely drawn into the song, taking away what he or she feels from the lyric.

"Ghostlight" may lack the sheer vocal fireworks of Buckley's live concert recordings; nevertheless, it is a welcome addition to the ever-growing recording canon of this formidable singing actress, who somehow manages year after year to surprise anew with her many talents.

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"Ghostlight" is available as a commemorative limited art box, which includes two separate vinyl records of the complete recording, a 24-page booklet of photos and notes, as well as CD copies of the "Ghostlight" recording and “Bootleg: Boardmixes from the Road,” the promo CD for "Ghostlight." It is also sold as a CD and booklet.

For more information visit the newly redesigned www.bettybuckley.com. ("Betty Buckley 1967," the actress' first collaboration with Burnett, was released by Playbill Records.)

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

Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.

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