Karen Akers has always been at her best when she’s singing story songs — does anyone sing Craig Carnelia’s “Picture in the Hall” more effectively? — which may be why her newest act, composed entirely of songs from the musical theatre, is so compelling. From beginning to end, Akers presents a baker’s dozen of theatre songs impeccably.
In fact, the only misstep of the act was the decision to begin her show with a downer-of-a-short-speech about the troubling times in which we live rather than with a song. But once she started singing — Lee Adams and Charles Strouse’s “But Alive” — it couldn’t have been a more enjoyable evening of cabaret. After joking that she had sung the aforementioned Applause tune in Lauren Bacall’s original key — Akers possesses a deep, rich, vibrato-filled contralto that conveys a wealth of emotion as it climbs the scale — the stunning singer-actress spoke about the singularity of musical theatre songs. Said Akers, “I’ve always felt they were different. They arise out of heightened circumstances. Theatre songs happen when characters are so overcome with emotion that speech can no longer contain what they feel, and they have no choice. They’ve got to sing. And emotions expressed in song are bound to be more intense, more profoundly felt, more theatrical.”
Akers next offered Jacques Brel’s “My Childhood,” which she originally performed during the 20th anniversary staging of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. It’s a beautiful, haunting song of a grim childhood almost shed by the first experience of love that Akers built skillfully. She followed with a gender-switched “If I Sing” — from Maltby and Shire’s Off-Broadway revue Closer Than Ever — that she dedicated to her mother who, unwittingly, gave the chanteuse a gift of music. We should all thank her.
The high point of Akers’ act was, perhaps, her triptych of tunes from Maury Yeston’s Nine, which is currently enjoying a revival at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. Akers starred as Luisa in the original Broadway production, and she offered her two solos, “My Husband Makes Movies” and “Be On Your Own.” And, no one performs them better. Her “Be On Your Own” was particularly belty and fierce, and I loved her diminuendo in the midst of “My Husband Makes Movies,” tenderly singing, “Guido Contini, Luisa Contini: number one genius and number one fan./ Guido Contini, Luisa Contini: daughter of well-to-do Florentine clan/ Long ago, 20 years ago/ Once the names were Guido Contini, Luisa Del Forno/ actress with dreams and a life of her own/ passionate, wild and in love in Livorno/ singing with Guido all night on the phone/ long ago someone else ago/ how he needs me so/ and he’ll be the last to know it.” Sandwiched between the two was “Unusual Way,” an Akers repertoire staple, that continues to impress. Other highlights of her 70-minute show included Stephen Sondheim’s ribald “I Never Do Anything Twice” and “Patterns,” Maltby and Shire’s ode to a housewife’s struggles to break free from the imprisoning repetitions of her daily life, which was cut from the Broadway production of Baby. Akers also employed a dramatic stage effect that worked beautifully — something I’ve never seen at the Algonquin, a long rectangle of a room the places the audiences on three sides of the singer. During the middle of the Baby tune, Akers — who had been facing the front of the room — walked around the microphone in a semi-circle, turned the mic around and sang the remainder of the song facing the other direction. It was done at a particularly poignant moment in the song and was brilliantly dramatic.
Akers, who needs to return to Broadway, ended her show with two songs from Chess, “I Know Him So Well” and a belty, heartfelt “Anthem.” Her encore, a medley of West Side Story’s “Somewhere” and “I Have a Love,” was sung in both English and French and was a proper end to an evening that shone a spotlight on the magic of Broadway.
Akers will hold fort at the Algonquin’s Oak Room through May 24. She plays Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 9 PM and Friday and Saturdays at 9 and 11:30 PM. There is a $50 cover for all shows plus a $20 minimum. Thursday shows and the early shows on Fridays and Saturdays require a $50 dinner minimum. The Algonquin Hotel is located in Manhattan at 59 West 44th Street. For reservations, call (212) 419 9331. Don’t miss your chance to see one of cabaret’s finest!
MORE GYPSY THOUGHTS
How exciting it was to read Ben Brantley’s rave Gypsy review in The New York Times last week! Wrote Brantley, “Bernadette Peters delivered the surprise coup of many a Broadway season. . . . Ms. Peters has created the most complex and compelling portrait of her long career, and she has done this in ways that deviate radically from the Merman blueprint.” A friend e-mailed me the review Thursday night, and I called at least five friends — including one dedicated diva lover in Spain — to share the good news. After a month of previews, I was thrilled that the Times and the majority of the theatre critics found Peters’ performance as luminous, moving and exhilarating as I had. I thought I’d reprint excerpts from some of the other Gypsy raves that were published this week. (Peters, who has been battling a respiratory infection all week, returns to the company Friday, May 9. And, the glittery opening night Gypsy audience included Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, Kate Winslet, Matthew Broderick, Talisa Soto, Megan Mullaly, Nathan Lane, Sigourney Weaver and Jim Simpson, Dame Maggie Smith, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Mia Farrow, Swoosie Kurtz, Paulino Rubio, Susan Lucci, Rosie O'Donnell, Victor Garber, Stephen Daldry, Lauren Bacall, Anthony Edwards and Jeannine Lobell, Rob Marshall, Ivana Trump and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.)
John Simon in New York Magazine:
“It remained for Peters to achieve the perfect blend of fanaticism and femininity, of monster and victim. Here for once is a demonic stage mother who can also convey sexiness, pathos, and charm. We understand now how she could enslave a man, make children her thralls, breach hearts and barriers, and steal restaurant flatware with puckish style. Also what made her what she is — desperate to attain vicariously through a daughter what her background prevented her from becoming herself.”
Cathleen McGuigan in Newsweek:
“Well, Peters succeeds big time — in part by bringing some unexpected dimensions to the mother of all stage mothers. Her Mama is tough as toe shoes but also a little sexy. Rose may not care much for passion — three husbands have left her — but she’s not above showing off a still-shapely figure if she thinks a man can help her daughters to stardom. And when Peters unleashes Mama’s big numbers — ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’ and ‘Rose’s Turn’ — you can see flashes of heartbreak beneath the steely hide.”
Hilton Als in The New Yorker:
“Peters's Rose is still a monster, but she's a human monster, vulnerable and occasionally decent, a woman who has been only partly corrupted by a corrupt world. Once you manage to shake your entrenched notions of how the role should be played, Peters's performance becomes a marvel, a startling reinvention of a musical warhorse. (And one that may have had something to do with her own background: Peters's mother was a first generation Sicilian-American who had been forbidden to perform, and she didn't want her daughter to be limited by the social conventions that had trapped her.) Peters's voice is one of the great instruments in the world of musical theatre — dulcet but full of attack, slightly mournful around the edges. With her bow-shaped mouth, her wide, round eyes, and her fair skin, she has the retro look of a gutsy Depression-era beauty like Carole Lombard. But she isn't hard. She loves to perform, yet you never get the impression that she'd kill for the opportunity. And, like many artists who are naturally gifted, she's as surprised by what she can do as we are. . . . What is more important to her is showing us a Rose whose self-interest is indistinguishable from her self-sacrifice-a kind of musical Mildred Pierce. And, by making Rose more complex, Peters seems to inspire a greater complexity in the characters around her. . .”
John Heilpern in the New York Observer:
“[Bernadette Peters] hurls herself into the killer role-stomping toward the footlights at one point as if about to charge at us with a verve that suggests she knows exactly where the neurotic ambition and vitality of Rose comes from. Ms. Peters, at the peak of her power in her mid-50's, has channeled everything she knows into giving the best reading of Rose I've seen. She leads the way of admired predecessors like Tyne Daly precisely because, in some mysterious alchemy, her monstrous stage mother compels both our amazement and pity.”
Robert Osborne in The Hollywood Reporter:
“No question, [Bernadette Peters] is surprisingly effective as the legendary stage-mother-from-hell known as Mama Rose. Peters gives the role an entirely different take in comparison to the Roses done before onstage, screen and TV by the likes of Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Rosalind Russell and Bette Midler. Bernadette's ‘Rose’ is sexy, often kittenish, sometimes frighteningly fierce, always carrying an undercurrent of fury and wondrously complex. It's a brave performance as valid as it is un-Mermanish.”
PATTI FOR SALE!
Patti LuPone fans — and there are many — are in for a treat. Our Evita gal is trying to simplify her life and is putting much of her theatrical memorabilia up for grabs on ebay. A few items are currently on sale — an MGM Grand card, a Dance Educators of America Award, a dressing room hand mirror, a Long Island Hall of Fame Award, an “LBJ” movie jacket, a Tiffany Apple opening night gift and a Lladro Daisa 1979 Evita opening-night gift — with many more to come. LuPone’s official website reveals that fans will soon be able to bid on items from Anything Goes (red shoes and a signed magazine), “Driving Miss Daisy” (shoes worn in the film, a publicity hat and a signed film card), Evita (miscellaneous gifts, dressing room items and a signed Playbill), Master Class (signed Playbill, a watch, T-shirt and sweatshirt), Sunset Boulevard (show jackets plus a sweatshirt and a Norma doll). To bid on the many items, log on to www.ebay.com and search for ebay seller “divaspeak.” Each item listed features a note from La LuPone, which follow:
Patti's MGM Grand card: “Hi Dolls, Well here goes. I'm going to start with something small and simple to see if I can do this. Ah, the old MGM Grand Air. It was truly the only way to fly. Here is my old account card for someone out there. Any questions please ask, take a look at my other items, and good luck. Love Patti”
Dance Educators of America award: “Hi Dolls, This beauty was given to me a few years back. The inscription reads, ‘DEA Award Presented to Patti Lupone July 24, 1988 Dance Educators of America.’ She stands 9 inches high, and her base is 5 x 5 inches. Perhaps someone can give her a good home. Thanks for looking, check out my other items and good luck. Love Patti.”
Dressing room hand mirror: “Hi Dolls, I have had this a long time. Many a night I looked in this mirror before going on, but I can't keep everything. It measures 11 inches long, with the mirror face being over 6 inches wide, it has a beveled ring around it with no flaws; however, there is something inside that is rattling around. It has no effect on the mirror itself, but I have no idea what it could be. If the winning bidder would like this or any other item signed, just let me know. Any questions please ask. Check out my other items, and happy hunting. Patti”
Long Island Hall of Fame award: “Hi Dolls, About fifteen years ago I was presented with this wonderful award. It measures 6 inches high and approx. 7 inches across. There are 5 stars etched into the 1 inch thick glass. Below the stars is a treble clef with Long Island etched under that. The front plate reads, ‘Patti LuPone L. I.'s world class star of Broadway and London inducted into the L I Hall of Fame 9/23/88.’ It is heavy, so I will determine shipping after auction. Winning bidder can let me know if they would like it signed. Check out my other items, thanks and happy hunting. Patti.” LBJ Movie Jacket: “Hi Dolls, Back in 1986 I made a movie with Randy Quaid called ‘L.B.J.’ Well I have uncovered the show jacket given to only the principle actors, so there are only a handful out there. If you look closely you will see on the right front side they put a "y" at the end of my name instead of an "i". But I can fix that for the winning bidder by signing it. On the left front side is the expression "can do" which was basically Lyndon Johnson's theme in life. I noticed there is light fading in the front from the blue color to a light lavender where it snaps together, otherwise I rarely wore this. It has the full presidential seal on the back with ‘Louis Rudolph Films Fries Entertainment’ embroidered below. The tag says "L" but it seems like a medium. Thanks for looking, any questions, please ask. Check my other items and happy hunting. Patti”
Tiffany Apple—Opening Night Gift: “Hi Dolls, I received this wonderful Tiffany apple years ago as an opening night gift. It is a bit bigger than a baseball and in perfect condition, it is also surprisingly quite heavy. I must downsize!!! I'm spring cleaning dolls so there will be a lot more to come. All the way to my show costumes!!! I will start the bidding low, just give it a good home. Happy hunting, Patti.”
Lladro Daisa 1979—Evita Opening Night Gift: “Hi Dolls, I have too many things!!!!! This beautiful piece was given to me almost 25 years ago as an opening night gift for a show called Evita. She stands exactly one foot high, with her arms spread seven inches. On the underside reads, ‘Lladro hand painted in Spain daisa 1979.’ It is in perfect condition and will be packed accordingly. So I won't know shipping totals until winning bidders location is known. She has been with me a long time, please give her a good home. Any questions, please ask. Now let me go find some more items. Happy hunting, Patti.”
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Elaine Stritch will bring her Tony-winning one-woman show, Elaine Stritch at Liberty, to Toronto’s Elgin Theatre in June. The six-performance run (June 23-28) at the Elgin marks Stritch’s only Canadian date on her Liberty tour. Tickets for the Elgin run of Elaine Stritch at Liberty are priced at $79, $95 and $125 and are available by calling (416) 533-7710. . . . "Stars in the Alley," Broadway's annual live concert featuring current Broadway performers, is scheduled for 11:30 AM on June 4. Held in Shubert Alley between 44th and 45th Streets, the 50-minute concert will include appearances by a host of performers currently appearing on Broadway. An announcement of those taking part in the event is expected shortly. . . . Broadway singer-actress B.J. Crosby, pop singer Martha Wash and comedian Marga Gomez will unite for a one-night-only concert June 27. Part of New York City’s Gay Pride celebrations, “Divas with Pride” will be presented at the Symphony Space Theatre. Show time is 8 PM. Tickets for “Divas with Pride” are priced at $49 and $53 with limited Gold Circle seating available for $61; call (212) 864-5400. The Symphony Space Theatre is located in New York City at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street. For more information, visit www.symphonyspace.org. . . . Award-winning actress Rita Moreno will be honored with The Julie Harris Award for Lifetime Achievement at the annual Tony Awards Party. On June 8, Moreno — an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy and Tony award winner — will be presented with the Julie Harris Award on behalf of Hollywood’s theatrical community at the seventh annual Tony Awards Party. The annual celebration at the Skirbill Center benefits Aid for AIDS and The Actors’ Fund of America. The event begins at 3:30 PM with cocktails and a silent auction, followed by dinner and a live telecast of the 57th Annual Tony Awards at 5 PM. The awards presentation to Moreno begins at 8 PM; previous recipients of the Julie Harris Award include Gwen Verdon, Charles Durning, Tyne Daly, Lauren Bacall and Carol Channing. Tickets for the 2003 Tony Awards Party are priced at $185 and can be purchased by calling The Actors’ Fund Office at (323) 933-9266, ext. 54. The Skirbill Center is located in Los Angeles, CA, at 2701 North Sepulveda Boulevard. . . . Tony Award winners Audra McDonald and Kristin Chenoweth will be part of Placido Domingo & Friends Concert & Gala May 13. McDonald and Chenoweth will sing at the May 13 event, which begins at 7:30 PM at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The evening will also include performances by Renee Fleming, Juan Diego Florez, Denyce Graves, Maria Guleghina, Andrea Rost, Dolora Zajick and Domingo himself. The star-studded list of presenters includes Sidney Poitier, Hugh Jackman, Salma Hayek, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, William Friedkin, Anthony Hopkins and Garry Marshall. Tickets to Placido Domingo & Friends Concert & Gala are priced between $35-$250 and are available by calling (213) 365-3500. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is located in Los Angeles at 135 North Grand Avenue.
Betty Buckley in Concert:
May 31 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Now in The Look of Love at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre
May 16 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA
Barbara Cook in Concert:
June 5-22 at the Kennedy Center for the Perf. Arts in Washington, DC
Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Maureen McGovern in Concert
May 30 - 31 at the Palmer Events Center with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Austin, TX
June 7 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN
Christiane Noll in Concert
May 24 Williamsburg, VA with the Virginia Arts Festival
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!