Ann Harada may be a diminutive diva, but there is nothing small about her talent.
Harada, who plays Christmas Eve in the hit new musical Avenue Q, ventured into the Broadway Spotlight Feb. 2 and was a resounding success. The sold-out evening at the Ars Nova Theater began as a film screen descended displaying a reworking of the recent Nine: The Musical logo, which read Ann: The Musical. Harada's backup male trio — Everett Bradley, Alexander Gemignani and Michael Heitzman — performed the vocal overture from the Maury Yeston musical, and offered as much vintage Nine choreography as possible with their three cabaret stools. Then, Harada — dressed in a black pantsuit — burst onto the stage and delivered a zesty version of one of Ethel Merman's signature tunes, "Gee, But It's Good to Be Here," belting the Happy Hunting song with finesse.
Harada boasts big, expressive eyes and a winning smile that is completely ingratiating. She was also in great voice for the hour-long concert; in fact, Harada possesses exquisite vocal control throughout her wide range. I was particularly impressed with her rich, smoky lower register, which she employed to great effect midway through her program in a jazzy version of "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)."
Harada followed her upbeat opening with a medley of two William Finn songs, "I Feel So Much Spring" and In Trousers' "Love Me for What I Am." She credits the all-Asian production of Finn's Falsettoland (the heartfelt AIDS extended-family saga told against the backdrop of an impending Bar Mitzvah) with changing her career — "the true miracle of Judaism," she quipped. And, Harada has an undeniable affinity for Finn's work; I found her rendition of Trina's "Love Me for What I Am" the highlight of the evening, both funny and deeply moving. Anyone who has seen Avenue Q knows that Harada has a gift for comedy with sensational timing. She demonstrated that knack in three songs: Phoebe Kreutz's "I Broke Up (With You First)," Heisler and Goldrich's terrific "Last Song," and "One Monkey Don't Stop No Show"; the latter was a tribute to Bette Midler, "the only role model for a misfit belter growing up in Hawaii."
Also a wonderful storyteller, Harada described the night she went on — with no rehearsal — as Gertrude McFuzz in Seussical as well as the somewhat surreal period she spent as Liza Minnelli's stand-in (not stand-by) in Minnelli on Minnelli. Those two tales led to Ahrens and Flaherty's "Notice Me Horton" and a particularly exciting rendition of Lerner and Lane's "What Did I Have?" that Harada built to an exciting full-voiced finale.
Although she didn't offer anything from Avenue Q, Harada did perform one song by those talented Q composers, Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez — a duet with Everett Bradley on "Without You" from "Kermit, Prince of Denmark." The lovely tune made me want to hear more from that Marx/Lopez score. Another highlight: a duet with the big-voiced Alexander Gemignani on Andrew Lippa's "Maybe I Like It This Way" and "What Is It About Her?"
Harada concluded her show with Amanda Green's "When You Know Me Better" and encored with a rousing "When Will I See You Again." To help celebrate her birthday the actress asked the audience to stay and mingle for the next hour; drinks, she said, "are on me," and — proving she was truly the hostess with the mostess — provided cupcakes (baked by her mom) for everyone in attendance. Let's hope this is only the first of many cabaret evenings from the multi-talented Ann Harada.
Next up in the series: Celia Keenan Bolger on March 1. Avenue Q's John Tartaglia performs April 5, and hopefully his Q co-star, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, will get her chance to shine in the Broadway Spotlight soon.
Christine Andreas is currently bringing her glorious voice to the famed Café Carlyle. Simply titled The Carlyle Set, Andreas' show features a mix of standards and newer tunes by such composers as Rodgers and Hart, Bock and Harnick, Cy Coleman and the Bergmans. Her album of the same name is also available on the Fynsworth Alley label. About performing at the Carlyle, the three-time Tony Award nominee recently said, "The moment I step on that little stage, I have a sensation that I've had only a few times in my life — at the Palace Theatre and on stage at Carnegie Hall. What I sense is a positive expectation from a crowd who feel they are someplace special and that they will be well entertained. I feel it coming from the stage as I'm making my entrance, and it makes the room the warmest place to be."
Backed by Kenny Ascher on piano, Kenny Hitchcock on reeds, Ray Marchica on drums and Dick Sarpola on bass, Andreas will play the Carlyle through Feb. 28. Her act features musical supervision by Martin Silvestri and musical direction and arrangements by Lee Musiker. Andreas' song list follows:
"He Loves Me" (Bock/Harnick)
"What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life" (Legrand/A. & M. Bergman)
"My Funny Valentine" (Rodgers/Hart)
"It’s Got To Be Love" (Rodgers/Hart)
"To Keep My Love Alive" (Rodgers/Hart)
"The Best Is Yet To Come" (Coleman/Leigh)
"What If We Went To Italy" (M. Chapin Carpenter)
"I Love Paris" (Cole Porter)
"La Vie En Rose" (Louiguy/Piaf)
"In a Sentimental Mood" (M. Kurtz/ D. Ellington/I. Mills)
"Show Me" (Lerner/Loewe)
"How Insensitive" (N. Gimbel/A.C. Jobim/C.M. de Marcus Vinicius)
"I’m A Fool to Want You" (J. Herron/F. Sinatra/J. Wolf)
"At The Ballet" (Hamlisch/Kleban)
"Listen Here" (Dave Frishberg)
The Carlyle Hotel is located at Madison Avenue and 76th Street; call (212) 570-7189 for reservations.
Thanks for all your mail concerning who should play Eva in the upcoming Evita revival. I think I received more e-mails about this casting than any other topic since I began writing this column. Here are just a few of your great suggestions.
Gregg Y. writes, "I think for Evita you need an upcoming star — who I would look at is Tricia Pauluccio, who is currently playing one of Tevye's daughters in the Fiddler revival. She is young, but she has the voice."
Jim L. writes, "I agree with a restaging. Hands down, Leah Hocking would sing it better than anyone."
Gary writes, "Please consider the voice and acting of Darcie Roberts as Eva; she is currently Millie in the touring company. I saw her do the role at Bass Hall Casa Manana, Texas. I was speechless — she was truly wonderful."
Jan N. writes, "Hands down, the only person who should be considered for that role at this point in time is Rachel York! Without a doubt she has the voice, the acting ability, the dancing, and the sheer star power to set the stage on fire as Eva Peron. Her vocal range and tremendous emotional interpretations in song make her stand head and shoulders above all of her contemporaries. When she is on stage, you can't take your eyes off her. She is magnetic. . . . Rachel York can play youth and maturity with equal aplomb. She is the right age for Eva, and she has the beauty, poise, charisma and intensity required for the role."
Tim J. writes, "Stephanie J. Block, who has yet to show her true potential, would be a great Eva!"
Robert S. writes, "If Evita is to be restaged on Broadway, the only answer for a truly great Eva is the divine Ms. [Kristin] Chenoweth. She's already perfected the classic LuPone pose —the rest will come naturally."
Alycia Y. writes, "For the role of Eva, I have to say my vote, without a doubt, goes to Caren Lyn Manuel. Caren just recently finished the European tour of Grease where she played Sandy (she also played her the year before) and was most recently on Broadway in Rent, where she was a swing, performing all the women ensemble roles — including Mimi and Maureen. She is a singer/songwriter with the most amazing voice I have ever heard in my life. She has her own album and has been in several national tours . . . [including] Eva Peron in the 2002 European tour of Evita."
Randy C. writes, "Regarding optimal casting for Evita, I would love to see Idina Menzel (Wicked) in the role. She caught me by complete surprise with her dramatic and vocal strengths. She would be great. But how about Sherie René Scott? She certainly has the range and the dramatic presence to pull it off."
Ed K. writes, "I totally agree with you that a new production of Evita should be reworked on. The original also had its problems. I was lucky enough to see both Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige in the role. Ms. Paige, though she originated the part, I found to be a little too reserved and lacked the Latin fire or the belting power of Ms. LuPone. I've seem a lot of Evitas though the years, but in my view, Patti LuPone was the greatest of them all. I think the best way about finding a new Evita, is getting a totally unknown actress who would be of the right age and would have the vocal and physical stamina for the part."
Sam. K. writes, "Just thinking that Linda Eder or Kristin Chenowethmight be able to pull off the part of Evita."
David P. writes, "I read your article on possible Eva Perons for the upcoming revival of Evita and here are my picks: 1. Audra McDonald — she's played the role in a regional production, and she's proven that she is one of the most versatile actresses and has one of the most versatile voices around, and she's definitely in an appropriate age range for it. 2. Linda Eder — I think it would be a good dramatic stretch for her. And hearing her sing 'Rainbow High' would be a dream come true! 3. Vicki Lewis — It would be nice to see her take on a heavier, more dramatic role like Eva Peron. And we know she's got steel belted vocal chords (just listen to her belt out 'Shoeless Joe' on the Damn Yankees recording). 4. Marin Mazzie —although she's a bit out of the age range required, I think she could still pull it off. She's proven her acting and singing abilities time and time again, and if you've ever heard her belt out 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina,' you know you've heard a definitive Eva."
Melissa G. writes, "I had the pleasure of seeing actress Felicia Finley, from Aida, in a recent version of Evita in Nyack, New York, and she was absolutely amazing. I believe that she would make an excellent Eva in Broadway's revival!"
Huling F. writes, "I was a little saddened by your omission of Julia Murney as a candidate for Evita. . . This woman truly has pipes of steel. She can belt anything at any time of the day. She also invests truth and honesty in every word she speaks or sings. . . I think she would be sheer perfection. She has the strength, vulnerability and quite obviously the vocal chops. And what a way for her to make her Broadway debut."
Jared C. writes, "How about Kathy Brier? I know for a fact that she can sing the crap out of the role. Maybe she's too small? I know people would think she's too heavy, but she isn't always heavy and can lose weight. There is also no doubt in my mind that she can handle the acting of the role. It's a tough one to cast. Kathy is a thought."
Robbie R. writes, "I think Emily Skinner can do no wrong, and her creamy belt would be fantastic in 'A New Argentina.' Lauren Kennedy, who isn't quite yet the musical theatre star she seems destined to be, would be fantastic in every phase of the role, as would Idina Menzel, Julia Murney and Sherie René Scott. . . even so I think that Evita should be cast with Sara Ramirez. Her thrilling vocals in A Class Act, her ethnicity, her stage presence, all point to the fact that she should be playing this role. And if she did, I predict another Evita with a little gold medallion."
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Tony Award winner Barbara Cook is again prepared to take Manhattan by storm, having dazzled audiences with her Tony-nominated Mostly Sondheim concert. Beginning March 19, Lincoln Center Theater will offer 12 performances of Cook's newest show, Barbara Cook's Broadway. The concerts, which will officially open March 28, will run through April 18 and will be performed Friday through Sunday on the set of King Lear at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. Wally Harper will again serve as Cook's musical director and arranger; Jon Burr will perform on bass. Barbara Cook's Broadway will take audiences on a tour of the Golden Years of Broadway. Cook will perform songs from — and reminisce about — this period of Broadway history. Tickets, priced at $60, will be available beginning Feb. 29 at the Lincoln Center Theater box office or by visiting Click here. Show times are March 19 at 8 PM, March 20 and 21 at 2 PM, March 26-28 at 8 PM, April 2 at 8 PM, April 3 and 4 at 2 PM, April 16 at 8 PM and April 17 and 18 at 2 PM. . . . The ninth annual Nothing Like a Dame concert to benefit The Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of the Actors' Fund of America will be held March 1 at the St. James Theatre. Presented by Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the 8 PM event will feature the talents of Kathy Brier, Zoe Caldwell, Kathleen Chalfant, Kate Clinton, Christine Ebersole, Tovah Feldshuh, Lauren Flanigan, Sutton Foster, Deidre Goodwin, Amanda Green, Julie Halston, Joan Hamburg, Heather Headley, Nancy Lemenager, Idina Menzel, Audra McDonald, Donna Murphy, Bebe Neuwirth, Phyllis Newman, Chita Rivera, Carole Shelley, Anna Vissi and Karen Ziemba. Additionally, attendees can expect to see the women (both human and hand-held) from Avenue Q, the gals of Movin' Out, Hairspray's Dynamites trio, the urchins of Little Shop of Horrors and the Radio of Caroline, Or Change. Gossip columnist Liz Smith will also be on hand for the festivities. Tickets for Nothing Like a Dame 2004 range from $50 to $5,000 and may be purchased by calling (212) 840-0770, ext. 268, or by going on-line to www.broadwaycares.org. . . . Karen Mason, who was most recently on Broadway as Tanya in the hit musical Mamma Mia!, will offer two shows at the Speakeasy this month. On Feb. 12 and 13 Mason will bring her newest cabaret act to the Chicago nightclub. The Feb. 12 evening begins at 9 PM and features a four-course chef-tasting dinner; the second evening, show only, commences at 10:30 PM. The Speakeasy is located at 1401 W. Devon in Chicago, IL. Tickets for Feb. 12 are priced at $65; the Feb. 13 show is $30. Call (777) 338-0600 for reservations or visit www.speakeasysupperclub.com. . . . A host of Broadway favorites will take part in the CooperArts series' one-night-only concert performance of Dream True. As previously announced, on March 8 the acclaimed series will offer the Ricky Ian Gordon-Tina Landau musical, which played Off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre in 1999. Heading the cast will be Brian d'Arcy James, Jason Danieley, Victoria Clark, Jessica Molaskey, Kelli O'Hara, Jeff McCarthy, Harrison Chad and Clark Thorell. Ted Sperling will be the musical director for the concert — featuring Jonathan Tunick's original orchestrations — which is scheduled for 7:30 PM. The concert will be held at the Great Hall at Cooper Union, located in Manhattan at Seventh Street and Third Avenue. Tickets are priced at $20 (general admission) and $15 (students and seniors, at the door only) and are available by logging on to www.ticketcentral.org.
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Feb. 7 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:
Feb. 12-15 in City Center Encores! Can-Can in New York, NY
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
March 17-21 at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT
March 29-April 1 at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill in Hollywood, CA
April 3 at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Chattanooga, TN
April 6-24 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
April 5-8 in Candide with the NY Philharmonic in New York, NY
Louise Pitre in Concert:
February 13 at the Capitol Theatre in Windsor, ON
February 28 at the Sanderson Performing Arts in Brantford, ON
February 29 at the Silverthorn C.I. Auditorium in Toronto, ON
November 4 at the Brock Centre for the Arts in St. Catherines, ON
November 5 at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts in Oakville, ON
November 6 at the Dr. J.M. Ennis Auditorium in Welland, ON
November 11 at the Heritage Theatre in Brampton, ON
November 12 at the Imperial Oil Centre in Sarnia, ON
November 17 at the Markham Theatre in Markham, ON
November 20 at the Stockey Centre in Parry Sound, ON
November 21 at The Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, ON
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!