DIVA TALK: Akers at Rainbow & Stars; Australian Divas

DIVA TALK: Akers at Rainbow & Stars; Australian Divas Hello, diva lovers! I'm in Boston this week to catch Elaine Paige in concert with the Boston Pops. I will tell you all about it in next week's column, but for this week, here are a few other diva tidbits. Enjoy!!

Hello, diva lovers! I'm in Boston this week to catch Elaine Paige in concert with the Boston Pops. I will tell you all about it in next week's column, but for this week, here are a few other diva tidbits. Enjoy!!

KAREN AKERS
When I watch Karen Akers sing, I often get the feeling that I've stepped into some chic Paris nightclub; perhaps that's because Akers sings often in French (and in her new act in Italian--and English--as well) and the fact that there are few views in New York City as breathtaking as that from the Rainbow & Stars cabaret room, located on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center. Dressed to the nines in a floor-length, form-fitting black dress, Akers beguiled the audience late Friday night with an esoteric collection of songs that ranged from current Off-Broadway tunes to signature works of Edith Piaf. Most of Akers' act, entitled It's Time for a Love Song, revolved around songs that reflect on being separated from one's lover, a position the statuesque singer often finds herself in--living part time in Monaco and Washington and singing around the world as "the quintessential cabaret art singer."

Akers began the evening with a medley of Ira Gershwin and Harold Arlen's "Fun To Be Fooled" and then segued into two songs, both entitled "How Little We Know," one by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael and the other by Carolyn Leigh and Philip Springer. She then performed an ode to flying, a song by Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen, "Planes." Commenting that she is often separated from her husband because of work but hates the word "goodbye," Akers then launched into Johnny Mercer's "How Do You Say Auf Wiedersehen?" The first of three comic tunes followed, the witty "Torch Songs" from the Off-Broadway revue When Pigs Fly. Each of the three torch songs found Akers professing her love for unlikely suspects, like "Newt," "Strom" and "Rush." She followed the third "Torch Song" with another tune from When Pigs Fly, "Laughing Matters" that discusses the importance of humor in an age where reality can often be a bit scary.

One of the highlights of the act was a beautiful medley of "There's a Lull in My Life," "I Don't Want to Walk Without You Baby" and "My Melancholy Baby," which further explored the theme of Akers' act. I think my favorite tune of the night, was the little-heard "Chanson" from The Baker's Wife. We've all heard "Meadowlark" quite a few times, and it was a great pleasure to hear another tune from Stephen Schwartz' beautiful score. Akers concluded the show with a medley of "E L'amore Che Fa Amare?" and the act's title song, "It's Time for a Love Song," which asserts "It's time for a love song/it's time to remember/the songs that in days gone by/could warm the sky in December/it's time that a love song/returned from the past/and all the glory of passion/came back into fashion at last." As long as Akers sings them, it's always time for another love song.

Akers will hold court at R&S through tomorrow night, May 10. Call 212-632-5000 for information and reservations. ELAINE PAIGE
This past Wednesday evening, Elaine Paige made her U.S. concert debut with the Boston Pops. Next week, a full report on EP in Boston. . . And, for those of you anxiously awaiting the broadcast of her May 12 concert, the New York air date has been set: July 28. More information and more air dates when they become available.

BERNADETTE PETERS
Hope you were able to catch Bernadette Peters on "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" this past Monday morning. Peters spoke about her recent Carnegie Hall triumph, her status as a newlywed and her upcoming appearance on the NBC movie "The Odyssey," in which she plays Circe. Peters also treated the audience to her sultry version of Stephen Sondheim's "Sooner or Later" from Dick Tracy.

BP will also make an appearance on "Fox After Breakfast" this Thursday, May 15, and "The Odyssey" begins May 18 at 9 p.m. on NBC. This adaptation of Homer's classic also stars Armand Assante and Vanessa Williams.

NELL CARTER
Fans of Nell Carter, the Tony-winning Ain't Misbehavin' star, will get a chance to hear her sing live this Monday afternoon, May 12, on WQEW (1560 A.M.). The current Miss Hannigan in the Tony-nominated revival of Annie will be a guest on Stan Martin's cabaret show Monday at 4p.m. Other scheduled guests on Martin's show include cabaret singers Susannah McCorkle (5pm) and David Campbell (6pm).

DIVA SPOTLIGHT: MARIA MERCEDES
Last week we reported that when Sunset Boulevard concludes its run in Melbourne, Australia, and moves to Sydney (dates to be announced), Debra Byrne, the current and critically-acclaimed Norma Desmond, will not be traveling with the production. Most likely Maria Mercedes, who performs the role Monday and Tuesday evenings, will portray Norma D. Following is a profile of Mercedes, courtesy of Craig, our diva lover down under:

Possessor of a deep, rich and powerful voice, Maria's first big break was as Luisa Contini in the successful Australian production of Nine. In a cast of many fine divas, Maria stood out from them all with her acting and stunning singing, and she can be heard on the Australian cast recording (TER 1190).

Since then Mercedes has starred as Svetlana in Chess, in Forbidden Broadway, as Magenta in The Rocky Horror Show and in the Kander/Ebb revue 'And The World Goes 'Round. She was also one of several ladies who succeeded Debra Byrne as Grizabella in Cats. Maria has also done a lot of television (both dramatic and variety) and cabaret work.

Maria has said she has only seen Debra Byrne play Norma Desmond twice, then went into rehearsals to "put my own imprint on the character." She has taken some inspiration from Judy Garland in her portrayal, as "like Garland, there are so many layers to Norma. One minute she's strong and happy, the next she's ready to slash her wrists."

And, some reviews of Mercedes' performance as Norma:

Dina Ross in the Herald Sun wrote of Maria's performance: "If Byrne's
Desmond is flighty and brittle, an older woman clutching at her last chance of happiness, Mercedes' is a passionate fighter, desperate and dangerous. Her voice is warm and powerful, capable of bitter rasping and high-rise flights of fancy. Solos such as the wistful 'With One Look' and 'As If We Never Said Goodbye' were touched with a dreamy beauty. And there is an angry, hysterical edge to her Norma which fills the role with menace. Helen Thomson of The Age wrote: "While Byrne emphasizes Norma's
emotional fragility, both vocally and physically, Mercedes gives us a stronger character. Her voice is full-blooded, effortless, sometimes colored with chocolate tones that help make her a sexier character. She is still a woman driven by a will of steel, but her emotional needs are realistically conveyed. There is enough voluptuousness about her to make her love affair with herself a forgivable failing. Byrne's Norma is above all tragic, made more so by the emphasis on the gap between reality and illusion. Mercedes' character shows signs of a knowledge of Hollywood's absurdities. She also seems to enter more fully into the alter ego of Salome, the woman, who if she can't have her lover alive, will have him dead.'

One of our favorite quotes comes from Mercedes herself, when asked if Melbourne was big enough to handle two Norma Desmonds. Says Mercedes, "Well, if this town is big enough to handle three tenors, I think it can handle two Norma Desmonds." !!! REMINDERS:

PATTI LuPONE. . .
officially opened the West End production of Master Class on May 6. The production, at the Queens Theatre (Shaftesbury Avenue) plays Monday through Saturday at 8pm and Saturday at 3pm. Tickets range from £7.50 - £30.00; call the box office at 0171-494-5040 for further information.

FLORENCE LACEY. . .
will take part in a six-week tour of the music of Jerry Herman this summer. The tour dates follow (tickets can be booked beginning in June for most summer playhouses):

July 21-August 2 at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT
August 4-16 at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, ME
August 18-30 at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA

Next week...

Elaine Paige's U.S. concert debut with the Boston Pops PLUS Patti LuPone's reviews in the London Master Class.

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

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