For those of you who subscribe to HBO (and for those who don't, you might want to consider ordering the cable channel for a month), don't miss this weekend's "Angels in America" premiere. I had the chance to watch an advance copy of the made-for-television movie over the Thanksgiving holiday, and it's a phenomenal adaptation of Tony Kushner's epic plays. The six-hour program — directed by Mike Nichols — will be shown on two separate Sunday evenings: Millennium Approaches makes its debut Dec. 7 at 8 PM ET, and Perestroika follows on Dec. 14 at 8 PM. All of the performances are spectacular, including those by Meryl Streep, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Mary-Louise Parker, Jeffrey Wright, Patrick Wilson and Ben Shenkman. However, I was most moved by Justin Kirk's work in the role that won Stephen Spinella two Tonys. Kirk, who starred off and on Broadway in Love! Valour! Compassion!, portrays Prior Walter, the young gay man who is battling both the onset of AIDS and a lover who abandons him as an Angel appears, naming him a prophet. Kirk's performance will make you laugh and cry, and I was surprised by how potent Kushner's work still is a decade after its stage debut. Angels in America has lost none of its power; it is not to be missed.
CHILDREN OF EDEN
When oh when is Julia Murney going to make her Broadway debut? The multi-talented singer/actress, who is quickly becoming the Queen of the Benefit Concerts, again proved her abilities during this past week's Children of Eden concert. Murney portrayed Eve and Mama Noah in the all-star concert, which benefitted The National AIDS Fund and The York Theatre Company. Held at the cavernous Riverside Church on World AIDS Day, Murney astounded with several solos, including "The Spark of Creation"; the act one finale "Children of Eden"; and the gospel-tinged "Ain't It Good?" It was during the latter where Murney really let loose her silvery belt, ending with a breathtaking high note that elicited one of the evening's most thunderous ovations. Murney, of course, starred earlier in the season in the Actors' Fund's benefit Chess concert, but it was during this week's event where she also demonstrated her comedic knack, drawing most of the evening's few laughs.
Murney, however, wasn't the only actor to shine during the nearly three hour-long concert of the Stephen Schwartz musical. Featuring a 100-member chorus, the cast also boasted Norm Lewis as Father, Jonathan Dokuchitz as Adam/Noah, Laura Benanti as the Snake, Darius de Haas as Cain/Japheth, Max von Essen as Abel/Ham, John Tartaglia as Seth/Shem and Kate Shindle as Yonah. Other highlights: Darius de Haas, who benefitted from having starred in the Paper Mill production of Eden, dazzled with his thrilling vocals on "Lost in the Wilderness"; Norm Lewis scored on most everything his rich, vibrato-filled voice touched; Jonathan Dokuchitz impressed with his rangy tenor; and Kate Shindle did well with the touching second act ballad, "Stranger to the Rain"; Jai Rodriguez — of Zanna, Don't! and "Queer Eye" fame — also made his mark with "A World Without You," a song cut from the Children of Eden score.
Although there was glorious singing, I have to admit that I'm still not a huge fan of the show. There are several fine songs, but because everyone is so familiar with the stories being told — Genesis and Noah and the Ark — the piece is rarely compelling. Perhaps it would have been wiser for Schwartz and book writer John Caird to focus on lesser-known biblical tales or create a more clever way to tell these stories, one that makes them more dramatic and pulls you into the story the way great musicals can.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters — currently starring as Momma Rose in the hit revival of Gypsy — will appear on "The Today Show" Christmas Day. On Dec. 25 Peters is scheduled to sing a holiday classic on the NBC morning program. "The Today Show" airs in the metropolitan area on WNBC-TV Channel 4, 7-10 AM ET; check local listings. Speaking of Peters, the cast album of Gypsy was nominated this week for a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album; it will vie for the award in a field that includes the recordings of "Flower Drum Song," "Man of La Mancha," "Movin' Out" and "Nine—The Musical." . . . In other Grammy news, Aida Tony Award winner Heather Headley was nominated for Best New Artist in a field that includes Evanescence, 50 Cent, Fountains of Wayne and Sean Paul. Headley also received a second nom. for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for the song "I Wish I Wasn't" from her solo debut CD "This Is Who I Am" (RCA Records). Headley's competition in that category includes Ashanti, Erykah Badu, Beyoncé and Mary J. Blige. . . . And, those nominated in the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album category include Barbra Streisand ("The Movie Album"), Bette Midler ("Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook"), Rod Stewart ("As Time Goes By...The Great American Songbook: Volume II"), Tony Bennett & k.d. lang ("A Wonderful World") and the late Rosemary Clooney ("The Last Concert"). . . . How exciting that Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone has joined the cast of the Candide concerts May 5-8, 2004, at the New York Philharmonic! LuPone will play the Old Lady in the concerts, which will be directed by Lonny Price. Price, of course, has previously directed LuPone in concert versions of Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music and Passion. The remainder of the Candide cast comprises Wicked's Kristin Chenoweth as Cunegonde, Paul Groves as Candide and Sir Thomas Allen as Dr. Pangloss. Marin Aslop will conduct the Philharmonic. For more information about the New York Philharmonic, call (212) 875-5656 or visit www.newyorkphilharmonic.org. . . . Another Tony winner, Debbie Gravitte, will return to Broadway this month. Gravitte will join the Broadway company of Chicago as Matron Mama Morton. The actress will begin her four-month stint in the Tony-winning Kander and Ebb revival Dec. 15. Gravitte replaces original Nine star Camille Saviola as the money hungry Matron. . . . Singer-actress Christine Andreas will return to the Prince Music Theater's Dec. 27-31. Andreas will offer three performances of her new cabaret program, which is titled Bewitched . . . Again! The evenings will feature tunes from her newest CD, "The Carlyle Set," as well as other songs hand-picked for this limited engagement. Cabaretgoers can expect to hear tunes by Rodgers and Hart, Michel Legrand, Burt Bacharach, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Dave Frishberg. Lee Musiker will lead a quartet of musicians. Andreas will perform Dec. 27 at 8 PM, Dec. 28 at 3 PM and Dec. 31 at 7 PM. Tickets range from $48 (Dec. 27 and 28) to $75 (Dec. 31, includes show, post-show reception, champagne toast, dessert). The Prince Music Theatre is located in Philadelphia at 1412 Chestnut Street. Call (215) 569-9700 for reservations or visit www.princemusictheater.org. . . . Dee Hoty, who recently joined the cast of the hit musical Mamma Mia!, will sit down for a chat with host Seth Rudetsky at the Dec. 11 edition of Seth's Broadway Chatterbox. The weekly live talkfest, which includes interviews and performances from Broadway stars, is held at 6 PM at the New York cabaret Don't Tell Mama. There is a $10 donation and a two drink minimum. The donation goes directly to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the nation's leading industry-based, not-for-profit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. Don't Tell Mama is located in New York City on West 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. Call (212) 757-0788 for reservations. . . . The 34th season of the famed Lyrics & Lyricists series kicks off Jan. 10-12, 2004, with John Pizzarelli’s Pentimento, Pizzarelli's theatrical adaptation of wife Jessica Molaskey's CD of the same name. The evening will feature classics like "We’re in the Money," "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" and "What’ll I Do" interspersed with dramatic readings that evoke the era in which the songs were composed. Molaskey says, "These songs sound so cheerful and upbeat, but when you listen again in the context of what was going on in those times, they sound more melancholy. They tell the story of a time when people tried to focus on the possibilities of what tomorrow might bring, even when lives were being turned upside down and people were facing widespread poverty." Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole will join Pizzarelli and Molaskey for the weekend of concerts. The show will also feature the talents of Bucky Pizzarelli on guitar, Martin Pizzarelli on bass, Johnny Frigo on violin, Ken Peplowski on clarinet, Ray Kennedy on bass and drummer Tony Tedesco. Author Frank McCourt will be on hand as well to read selections from his novel "Angela's Ashes." For more information, go to www.92y.org. . . And, the 2004 Nightlife Awards, which celebrate the best in New York cabaret, jazz and comedy, will be presented Jan. 12, 2004, at New York's Town Hall. Andrea Marcovicci will co-host the 7 PM event, which boasts "no acceptance speeches [but] more than 25 performances." Among those who will perform include Tony Award winner Betty Buckley and her musical director Kenny Werner, this year's Legend of Cabaret winners; Legend of Jazz winner Annie Ross; and Nightlife Hall of Fame Inductee Margaret Whiting. Others currently slated to present and/or perform include Polly Bergen, Jackie Hoffman, John Tartaglia, Sandy Duncan and Tammy Grimes. Many other artists are expected to join the roster as the event approaches. Tickets for the Nightlife Awards are priced at $25, $50 and $75 and are available by calling Ticket Master at (212) 307-4100. Town Hall is located in Manhattan at 123 West 23rd Street.
Coming soon: A chat with Wicked's Idina Menzel.
On a personal note: I will be performing my somewhat annual cabaret act Dec. 29 (9 PM) and 30 (6:30 PM) at Don't Tell Mama. I'm calling my new show "The Story Book," and it will feature Steve Saari on piano and songs by David Friedman, David Zippel, Maury Yeston, Stephen Schwartz, Bill Russell, Jacques Brel, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. There is an $8 cover and a two-drink minimum. If you're able to come, please stay and say hello afterward!
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Dec. 9-20 at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill in Los Angeles, CA
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Dec. 6 –7 in Baltimore, MD
Dec. 13 in Arlington, VA
Jan. 17, 2004 in Asheville, NC
Jan. 31 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 8 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
Feb. 13 with Jason Graae in Salt Lake City, UT
Feb. 14 with Jason Graae in Palm Springs, CA
Feb. 26-28 with Jason Graae in West Palm Beach, FL
Feb. 29 with Stephen Schwartz and Friends in Wilton, CT
April 23 with Jason Graae in Sutter Creek, CA
April 24-25 with Jason Graae in San Rafael, CA
May 1 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
Jan. 23, 2004 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jan. 24, 2004 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Louise Pitre in Concert:
Jan. 31, 2004-Feb. 8 in Sweeney Todd with the Calgary Opera Company at the Jubilee Auditorium in Canada
Feb. 13 at the Capitol Theatre in Windsor, Ontario
Feb. 28 at the Sanderson Performing Arts Centre in Brantford, Ontario
Feb. 29 at the Silverthorn C.I. Auditorium in Toronto, Ontario
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!