DIVA TALK: A Spring Diva Season Preview, Plus Signature's Sunset Boulevard

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: A Spring Diva Season Preview, Plus Signature's Sunset Boulevard News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Bernadette Peters
Bernadette Peters Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"Hats off,
Here they come, those
Beautiful girls.
That's what
You've been waiting for."

Without a doubt, the must-see diva-filled production of the spring is the Kennedy Center's upcoming mounting of the Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman 1971 musical Follies, which will play the Washington, DC, venue May 7-June 19. The cast not only boasts leading lights from both sides of the Atlantic (two-time Tony winner Bernadette Peters as Sally and Olivier winner Elaine Paige as Carlotta), but also features such theatrical treasures as Florence Lacey as Sandra Crane, Linda Lavin as Hattie Walker, Jan Maxwell as Phyllis Rogers Stone, Susan Watson as Emily Whitman and Terri White as Stella Deems. And, that's only the women! Danny Burstein will play Buddy Plummer, and Ron Raines will be Benjamin Stone for director Eric Schaeffer and choreographer Warren Carlyle. One can hardly wait to hear Peters wrap her inimitable tones around "Don't Look at Me," "In Buddy's Eyes" and "Losing My Mind" or Paige belt out "I'm Still Here."

Sutton Foster
photo by Andrew Eccles

A few months earlier, the Roundabout Theatre Company will offer the second Broadway revival of Anything Goes, Cole Porter's musical comedy confection set on a transatlantic ocean liner. Tony winner Sutton Foster, who has built an impressive Broadway resume at an astonishing speed, is cast as nightclub singer Reno Sweeney, the role created on Broadway by Ethel Merman and more recently played by two-time Tony winner Patti LuPone. Foster gets the lion's share of the Porter score, including such classics as "I Get a Kick Out of You," "You're the Top," "Friendship," "Blow Gabriel Blow" and the title tune. She will be joined in this revival by fellow Tony winner Joel Grey as well as Colin Donnell, Jessica Walter, Adam Godley, Laura Osnes, John McMartin and Walter Charles. Kathleen Marshall directs and choreographs the musical comedy, which will begin previews March 10 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre.

Not much has been revealed about the new musical comedy Book of Mormon, from the creators of "South Park" and a co-creator of Avenue Q, but if it's anywhere near as funny as Avenue Q, it will certainly be one of the highlights of the second half of the Broadway season. The cast of the production, which will begin previews Feb. 24 at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, will be headed by Josh Gad ("The Daily Show with Jon Stewart") and Andrew Rannells (Jersey Boys) as, respectively, Elders Cunningham and Price, "a pair of mismatched Mormon boys sent on a mission to a place that's about as far from Salt Lake City as you can get." Also featured will be Nikki M. James (All Shook Up) as Nabalungi, Rory O'Malley (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) as Elder McKinley and Michael Potts (Grey Gardens) as Mafala Hatimbi.

Nick Adams in Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical
photo by Joan Marcus

Following a London run and a North American debut in Toronto, Priscilla Queen of the Desert The Musical, adapted from the Academy Award-winning film "The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert," will begin Broadway previews Feb. 28 at the Palace Theatre. Olivier Award nominee Tony Sheldon (as Bernadette), Hair Tony Award nominee Will Swenson (as Tick/Mitzi) and La Cage aux Folles actor Nick Adams (as Adam/Felicia) star as "the trio of friends on a heart-warming, uplifting adventure who hop aboard a battered old bus searching for love and friendship in the middle of the Australian outback and end up finding more than they could ever have dreamed." The cast also features C. David Johnson (Bob), James Brown III (Jimmy), Nathan Lee Graham (Miss Understanding), Mike McGowan (Frank), J. Elaine Marcos (Cynthia), Jessica Phillips (Marion), Steve Schepis (Farrah), Keala Settle (Shirley), plus "Divas" Jacqueline Arnold, Anastacia McCleskey and Ashley Spencer, with Thom Allison, Kyle Brown, Bryan West, Tad Wilson, Joshua Buscher, Susan Dunstan, Gavin Lodge, David Lopez, Ellyn Marie Marsh, Jeff Metzler and Eric Sciotto. The Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying will not only feature the return of "Harry Potter" and Equus star Daniel Radcliffe (as J. Pierrepont Finch) but also Emmy Award winner Tammy Blanchard, who was last seen in the title role of the Bernadette Peters revival of Gypsy. Blanchard, who won an Emmy Award for her performance in "Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows," will play office bombshell Hedy La Rue in a cast that also features John Larroquette ("Night Court") as World Wide Wicket Company president J.B. Biggley, Christopher J. Hanke (In My Life, Cry-Baby) as Bud Frump, Rose Hemingway (Parade at the Mark Taper Forum) in her Broadway debut as Rosemary Pilkington, Rob Bartlett (Chicago, Little Shop of Horrors) as Twimble/Wally Womper, Mary Faber (American Idiot, Avenue Q) as Smitty and Ellen Harvey (Thou Shalt Not, The Music Man) as Miss Jones. Directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Rob Ashford (Promises, Promises), How to Succeed will officially open March 27 following previews that begin Feb. 26 at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.

Kerry Butler in Catch Me If You Can
photo by Chris Bennion

A slew of Broadway favorites — including the golden-voiced Kerry Butler — will be seen in the new musical from Tony Award winners Scott Wittman, Marc Shaiman and Terrence McNally, Catch Me If You Can. The talented cast, who will be directed by Jack O'Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, includes Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Is He Dead?) as FBI Fraud Agent Carl Hanratty, Aaron Tveit (Next to Normal, Wicked) as suave con artist Frank Abagnale, Tom Wopat (Sondheim on Sondheim, Annie Get Your Gun) as Frank Sr., Rachel De Benedet (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) as Paula Abagnale, Linda Hart (Hairspray) as Carol Strong and Nick Wyman (Tale of Two Cities) as Roger Strong. Previews will begin March 7 at the Neil Simon Theatre.

Patina Miller, who dazzled in the Public Theater's 2007 outdoor staging of Hair, heads the cast of the new musical Sister Act, which is based on the hit film of the same name and produced by that motion picture's original star, Whoopi Goldberg. Featuring a score by Oscar winner Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, previews are scheduled to begin at the Broadway Theatre March 24 prior to an official opening April 20. Miller originated her role as Deloris Van Cartier in the West End production of Sister Act, earning an Olivier Award nomination for her performance. Four-time Tony winner Jerry Zaks directs.

Janet Dacal as "Alice" in Wonderland
photo by Michal Daniel

The longest-titled new musical of the spring season is Wonderland A New Alice. A New Musical, Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy's musical update of Lewis Carroll's Alice tales, which begins performances at the Marquis Theatre March 21. Janet Dacal of In the Heights plays modern mom Alice in a company that also includes E. Clayton Cornelious as the Caterpillar; Carly Rose Sonenclar (Les Miserables, Little House on the Prairie) as Chloe, Alice's daughter; Darren Ritchie (Little Shop of Horrors, Thoroughly Modern Millie) as the White Knight; Jose Llana (Spelling Bee, Flower Drum Song) as El Gato; Karen Mason (Hairspray, Mamma Mia!) as the Queen of Hearts; Kate Shindle (Legally Blonde, Cabaret, Jekyll and Hyde) as the Mad Hatter; Edward Staudenmayer (Spamalot, Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me) as the White Rabbit; and Danny Stiles (regional productions of Guys and Dolls and Sister Act: The Musical) as Morris.

Two-time Tony winner Donna Murphy will return to Broadway in April when the new musical The People in the Picture begins previews at Roundabout's Studio 54 on the first of that month. Mike Stoller, Artie Butler and Iris Rainer Dart's musical about three generations of women and their conflicting responses to the past casts Murphy as a Jewish grandmother who conjures stories of her theatrical life in the old country. Leonard Foglia directs.

Jennifer Damiano

And, of course, there is Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark, which at the time of this writing, is still scheduled to officially open this season — March 15. The new Broadway offering from Tony winner Julie Taymor features Reeve Carney as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Next to Normal Tony nominee Jennifer Damiano as Mary Jane Watson, T.V. Carpio as Arachne and Broadway veteran Patrick Page as Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin. Spider-Man, which began previews Nov. 28, 2010, features a book by Taymor and Glen Berger, and new music and lyrics by Bono and The Edge. Manhattan cabarets will also feature several gals of interest: Two-time Tony winner Christine Ebersole is currently wowing audiences at the Cafe Carlyle through Jan. 29 with a show that explores the complexities of aging in Hollywood and America. Ebersole is at her most touching in songs that follow heartfelt discussions of her mother and her children. Singer-songwriter Judy Collins will play that East Side venue beginning Feb. 15... Over at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, Brooke Shields, recently seen in the world premiere of the new musical Leap of Faith, will make her cabaret debut Feb. 1-12. The intimate nightspot will also welcome "American Idol" finalist Melinda Doolittle (Feb. 22-March 5), Sheldon Harnick and Kate Baldwin (March 8-12) and Shirley Jones (March 15-19)... In the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, cabaretgoers can enjoy Maude Maggart, who will offer a Valentine of a show Feb. 15-March 12; KT Sullivan, who will perform songs by female composers and lyricists May 3-28; and Claire Martin and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, who will pay tribute to the work of Irving Berlin May 31-June 18 in a show titled A Couple of Swells.

Florence Lacey as Norma Desmond
photo by Chris Mueller

RECENTLY SEEN
As some of the most phenomenal artists of the musical theatre got the chance to strut their stuff during the original London, Broadway, Canadian and German productions of Sunset Boulevard, there was one voice I kept hearing in my mind sing the Andrew Lloyd Webber score. As those productions closed, I figured my chance to hear that singular voice belt out "With One Look" or "As If We Never Said Goodbye" had vanished. So, when it was announced last year that former Evita Florence Lacey would finally have the opportunity to play Norma Desmond, I booked my tickets, and I'm happy to report that her performance more than lived up to my extremely high expectations.

Truth be told, I'm not sure how well Norma Desmond would have fared in the talkies of the 1950s, but with that voice, Lacey would have surely been spectacular. Lacey, who is playing the deluded silent-film star in the Signature Theatre production of the Lloyd Webber musical, brings her tremendous voice — which can be soaringly powerful one minute and heartbreakingly tender the next — to the role. Especially exciting is her emotional rendition of "As If We Never Said Goodbye," which builds to a stunning vocal climax and encompasses the (false) realization of Norma's years of longing and hopes for "new ways to dream."

In addition to the two show-stopping ballads, Lacey also "ignites a blaze" throughout the production, which has been mounted on a thrust stage and features a superb 20-piece orchestra. In fact, she imbues Norma with great heart, eschewing camp to provide a human portrait of a lonely, desperate woman vainly trying to recapture her lost glory. Her performance in "New Ways to Dream," as the faded star watches her earlier successes on screen, is simply riveting and extremely touching. She also has great fun in "The Lady's Paying," but never sacrifices humanity for laughs. We feel her desperation as Joe Gillis begins to escape her grasp, and her final mad scene is a triumphant horror show that concludes with another burst of voice in the brief reprise of "With One Look." It is one of the great performances of the season and one not to be missed by diva lovers.

Lacey, it should be noted, is well-matched by the Joe Gillis of D.B. Bonds (The Phantom of the Opera; Les Misérables; Signature's The Visit) and Ed Dixon (Les Miz, The Iceman Cometh, The Three Musketeers), who is an especially convincing Max von Mayerling. Director Eric Schaeffer's production, which utilizes the entire auditorium to create the feel of an old Hollywood studio, continues through Feb. 13.

[Tickets range in price from $59-$85 and are available by calling Ticketmaster at (703) 573-SEAT (7328) or visiting www.signature-theatre.org.]

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

Florence Lacey, D.B. Bonds and Ed Dixon
Florence Lacey, D.B. Bonds and Ed Dixon Photo by Scott Suchman
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