DIVA TALK: A New Year Filled with Divas

DIVA TALK: A New Year Filled with Divas Hello, diva lovers. Hope you caught the wonderful tribute to John Kander and Fred Ebb on "The Kennedy Center Honors" program this past Wednesday evening on CBS. If all TV could be this moving, I'd never leave my apartment! But, truly, what a classy, heartfelt tribute to these two Broadway legends. Kudos to whomever thought to include live performances from both Tony-winning Cabaret Emcees, Alan Cumming and Joel Grey. How exciting it was to watch Cumming sing "Willkommen" and then see Joel Grey appear out of nowhere to finish the song. If that wasn1t enough, the Tony-winning star of the most recent production of Chicago , Bebe Neuwirth, brought her own unique style to "All That Jazz" and was then followed by the incandescent star of the original production, Chita Rivera. And, how could such an honor be given to Kander and Ebb without the star of their first Broadway musical and the woman who has brought their music and lyrics into more homes around the world than anyone, Liza Minnelli? Although Minnelli1s voice appears to be in poor shape, her love for these two men made any vocal problem irrelevant. Wonderful tributes were also bestowed upon Bill Cosby, Willie Nelson, Shirley Temple Black and Andre Previn. A class act! . . . As we enter 1999, some of this column1s favorite ladies return to the stage. Let1s hope it1s a banner year for divas (and diva lovers)!

Hello, diva lovers. Hope you caught the wonderful tribute to John Kander and Fred Ebb on "The Kennedy Center Honors" program this past Wednesday evening on CBS. If all TV could be this moving, I'd never leave my apartment! But, truly, what a classy, heartfelt tribute to these two Broadway legends. Kudos to whomever thought to include live performances from both Tony-winning Cabaret Emcees, Alan Cumming and Joel Grey. How exciting it was to watch Cumming sing "Willkommen" and then see Joel Grey appear out of nowhere to finish the song. If that wasn't enough, the Tony-winning star of the most recent production of Chicago , Bebe Neuwirth, brought her own unique style to "All That Jazz" and was then followed by the incandescent star of the original production, Chita Rivera. And, how could such an honor be given to Kander and Ebb without the star of their first Broadway musical and the woman who has brought their music and lyrics into more homes around the world than anyone, Liza Minnelli? Although Minnelli's voice appears to be in poor shape, her love for these two men made any vocal problem irrelevant. Wonderful tributes were also bestowed upon Bill Cosby, Willie Nelson, Shirley Temple Black and Andre Previn. A class act! . . . As we enter 1999, some of this column's favorite ladies return to the stage. Let's hope it's a banner year for divas (and diva lovers)!

BETTY BUCKLEY
As Ms. B continues to rehearse for her upcoming role in Nicky Silver's The Eros Trilogy , here is a bit more information about the production, which will also feature T. Scott Cunningham (Pterodactyls, Fit To Be Tied ) and Zak Orth (Suburbia, "In and Out"). According to the official press release, the play is a collection of three thematically-related shorts directed by David Warren: "Act 1 consists of two solo pieces for a mother and her son; Act 2 is an epistolary duet for another mother and son." About his newest work, playwright Silver relates, "They're about four people who are trying to figure out whether physical or emotional connection offers them greater refuge in this world." And, Buckley recently told Jay Handelman of the Sarasota News Coast, "It's a four-character play and I play two of them. One's a glamorous, upper-East Side wealthy patrician woman and the other is an upper-middle class self-absorbed mother. . . Nicky [Silver] is really very funny and I love working out these characters, figuring out how to get to them. It's like doing really great puzzles."

The Eros Trilogy will begin previews at the Vineyard Theatre (108 E. 15th Street) on Thursday, Jan. 21 prior to an official opening on Thursday, Feb. 4. The play will run through Feb. 27, and the performance schedule is Monday through Friday at 8 PM and Saturdays at 3 and 8 PM. There will be an added matinee on Feb. 3 and 17 at 3 PM; there will be no performances on Feb. 5, 6, 18, 19 and 20. Tickets are priced at $35 and may be purchased by calling the Vineyard box office at (212) 353-3874.

BERNADETTE PETERS
Well, the most exciting news of the week has to be Bernadette Peters' return to the stage as Annie Oakley in the much-anticipated revival of Annie Get Your Gun . Peters began previews of the Irving Berlin classic this past Tuesday evening at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. I spoke with someone who attended a run-through of the musical, and she said that Peters brings such poignancy to the songs, and there is great chemistry between her and Tom Wopat, who co-stars as Frank Butler. The opening night in Washington of the musical, which features a new book by Peter Stone, is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 7, and the show will play through Sunday, Jan. 24. The performance schedule is as follows: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 PM with matinees on Saturdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 1:30 and 7 PM. Tickets are priced at $20-$75; call Instant Charge at (202) 416-8000. The musical will then arrive on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre a week later on Tuesday, Feb. 2 with an official opening on Thursday, March 4. The B'way performance schedule is as follows: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 PM with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Tickets are priced at $35 - $75; call TicketMaster at (212) 307-4100. An interesting side note: The A&E Network will debut a biography of the real Annie Oakley on February 22. Entitled "Annie Oakley: Crack Shot in Petticoats," the one-hour program will include interviews with Oakley's grandniece, her biographers as well as the Buffalo Bill Historical Center's curator. Footage from a benefit performance Oakley gave just four years before her death in 1926 will also be shown.

(Coming soon: an interview with Ms. Peters. If you have any Annie Get Your Gun-related questions, e-mail them to me, and I will try to have them answered!)

EMILY SKINNER & JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
I took a trip out to the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center this past Sunday to see Emily Skinner in a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar , which also starred former Grease! alum and gospel singer Billy Porter in the title role. The family of the show's director, Gordon Greenberg, hails from South Africa and he "chose to set the story of Superstar in a context that reflects the apartheid of South Africa to make the dire socio-political circumstances of Jesus' life immediate and familiar." An interesting concept that worked better in some scenes than others, the show boasted some wonderful singing, including Porter's aria, "Gesthemane"; Drew (Judas) Sarich's "Heaven on Their Minds"; and "King Herod's Song," a second-act showstopper delivered by the delightfully evil Nathan Lee Graham.

Skinner, whose smile lit up the stage when she and Alice Ripley starred in Henry Krieger's Side Show , looked her usual radiant self, and delivered a no-holds-barred version of "I Don't Know How To Love Him." It's a difficult song to make one's own, as it has been recorded dozens of times over the years by such ladies as Yvonne Elliman, Helen Reddy, Elaine Paige, Julia McKenzie and others. That said, however, Skinner managed to add a riff here and a trill there, which when coupled with her delightful belt, proved extremely enjoyable. Another highlight of the first act was a thrilling version of "Everything's Alright" offered by Skinner, Porter and Sarich. Ms. Skinner also offered a splendid take on Mary Magdalene's second-act tune, "Could We Start Again Please?" Let's hope this talented performer makes a speedy return to Broadway.

RODGERS AND HART SALUTE
A host of stellar performers can be seen in "The Rodgers & Hart Story: Thou Swell, Thou Witty," a one-hour "Great Performances" special that will premiere on PBS (check local listings) on Wednesday, Jan. 6 at 8 PM. Produced and directed by David Thompson, the songs will be presented with their original orchestrations under Rob Fisher's musical direction. Some of the wonderful tunes you can expect to hear are "Falling in Love with Love" (sung by Rebecca Luker), "Mountain Greenery" (Susan Egan with Brian d'Arcy James), "This Funny World" (Mary Cleere Haran), "The Lady Is a Tramp" (Christine Ebersole), "Sing for Your Supper" (Rebecca Luker, Christine Ebersole and Debbie Gravitte), "To Keep My Love Alive" (Christine Ebersole), "My Funny Valentine" (Jane Krakowski) and more. The telecast will also feature interviews with such veteran performers as Eddie Albert, Hugh Martin, June Havoc and Eddie Bracken as well as stories from Mary Rodgers and Larry Adler. The great song-writing team of Rodgers and Hart was responsible for such Broadway hits as The Boys from Syracuse, Babes in Arms, Pal Joey and more.

QUOTABLE QUOTE
Lea Salonga discusses returning to Miss Saigon in Harry Haun's upcoming Playbill article:
"Now, I feel pretty good about coming back. When I left the show, I really needed to leave the show. I'd done Miss Saigon a year and three months in London, then a year here. I needed to get away . . . [Then, I saw the show as an audience member and] truly enjoyed it and felt, 'Okay, I'm ready to go back up there if they ask.' Then, Cameron [Mackintosh] asked and asked and asked, and here I am."

IN OTHER NEWS
Patti LuPone was part of "Anne Klein's Significant Women" fashion shoot this week at the Day for Night Studio in Chelsea . . . Liza Minnelli has canceled her concerts at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey, which were scheduled for Jan. 9 & 10. However, NJPAC will be the home of two other diva events: On January 26, the touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita opens for a limited engagement through January 31. And, on February 2, the new national tour of Sunset Boulevard starring that "Downtown" gal Petula Clark will begin performances for its limited run. Call 1 888-GO-NJPAC for ticket information . . . Susan Egan , fresh from her performance in the Stephen Sondheim revue Putting It Together, will sing at The Cinegrill, the cabaret space at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Egan is scheduled to delight audiences through song on New Year's Eve and again on January 2, 5 and 9. Call 213-466-7000 for reservations.

Favorite TV line of the week: Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) in a "Seinfeld" repeat, discussing her actress roommate: "It's like living with Ethel Merman, without the talent."

REMINDERS:
BETTY BUCKLEY
BB concert line-up:
December 30 in Fort Lauderdale, FL
December 31 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, FL
January 14, 1999 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, CA
January 16 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, DE
February 6 at the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, CA
April 17 at the Lehman Center for the Perf. Arts in Bronx, NY
April 23 at the College of New Jersey in Erwing, NJ
May 3 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, Ill.


Buckley will also be honored with a "Life in the Theatre" Award by T. Schreiber Studios on Monday, Jan. 25 at the Players Club (16 Gramercy Park South). Buckley will not perform that evening as originally announced; instead, video footage from the upcoming BB documentary will be presented. Producer Roger Berlind will also be honored, and Edward Norton will serve as the evening's chairperson. Call (212) 741-0209 for tickets ($250) PATTI LuPONE
LuPone will bring her acclaimed new concert act, "Matters of the Heart," to the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia on January 11 and 13. The new act, which premiered this past August in California, was conceived and directed by Scott Wittman, the same man responsible for her Broadway concert, Patti LuPone on Broadway. The new act is an evening of original and contemporary music and boasts an eclectic mix of songwriters, including works by Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter and Randy Newman. For ticket info and orders, go to www.tickettek.com.au/Sydney Festival Home Page or www.sydneyfestival.org.au. Trivia buffs will recall that Patti has performed in Australia on one other occasion when she received critical acclaim in the Australian production of Evita in the early eighties.

After her Sydney engagement, LuPone will bring the new act to the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert, California on January 29 and 30, 1999. Call the McCallum's box office at 760-340-2787 for tickets. And, on March 5, 6, and 7 she will appear with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore. Tickets go on sale January 4, but they may be purchased during the Symphony's early sale from December 1 to 23; call (410) 783-8000.

Also, LuPone will join opera star Bryn Terfel for a concert version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd to be held at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall from May 4 to May 6 in the year 2000. The performers will be backed by the New York Philharmonic, and the event will celebrate Sondheim's 70th birthday.

KAREN MASON
Mason in concert:
January 2- 11 "Broadway in Concert" in Sweden with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (performing with Greg Edelman, Stephen Bogardus, Debbie Gravitte and Kim Crosby
March 12 at the Tilles Hall at Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y. 8pm concert is sold out. Tickets for 10p.m. performance are $25. Call 516 299-3100

MAUREEN MCGOVERN
McGovern in concert:
February 4 at Carnegie Hall (a tribute to Alan & Marilyn Bergman)
February 5 and 6 at Lincoln Center (a tribute to Harold Arlen)
February 20 with the Louisville Symphony in Louisville, KY

Well, that's all for now. Happy New Year and happy diva-watching!

--By Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com

Diva Talk is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard, 1976- 1998.