DIVA TALK: Betty & Bernadette Delight Critics

DIVA TALK: Betty & Bernadette Delight Critics BETTY BUCKLEY
Due to a throat infection, Betty Buckley was forced to miss a number of performances last week, including those for the New York press over the weekend. Luckily, The New York Times' critics had caught the show the week before, and Buckley received raves from both Alvin Klein (in the New Jersey section of the Times' Sunday paper) and Ben Brantley (in the Monday edition). And, I'm happy to report that Buckley is back in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of the classic Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents musical. . .Following are lengthy excerpts from the two Times reviews:

BETTY BUCKLEY
Due to a throat infection, Betty Buckley was forced to miss a number of performances last week, including those for the New York press over the weekend. Luckily, The New York Times' critics had caught the show the week before, and Buckley received raves from both Alvin Klein (in the New Jersey section of the Times' Sunday paper) and Ben Brantley (in the Monday edition). And, I'm happy to report that Buckley is back in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of the classic Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents musical. . .Following are lengthy excerpts from the two Times reviews:

Alvin Klein in The New York Times:

". . .Then Betty Buckley -- yes, here's Rose, a revelatory Rose -- makes the character's classic down-the-aisle entrance, and real good times are here to stay. For she will seize your heart, warm it and then break it.

Unlike the thwarted, presumably talentless Rose, as conceived by Arthur Laurents' fable, Ms. Buckley's Rose has a rightful claim to the stage. She establishes a performing presence, as opposed to simply a star's command, though she possesses that to spare.

It is the character that does indeed belong in the spotlight. From the first scene when Rose shoves other considerably lesser stage mothers off, during Uncle Jocko's auditions at the Vaudeville Theater in Seattle, one knows that Ms. Buckley is not only staking her daughter's claim to stardom, but her own. A multiple personality (never mind, a disorder) is instantly established and the star never stops clicking at all those obsessive levels, switching from one psychopathological aspect of a crazy lady to another. She is, by turns, irresistible, vulnerable and terrifying. There is no question that she can entice anyone into falling for anything. One thinks of Amanda Wingfield's prerequisites for success in The Glass Menagerie : 'Charm, vivacity -- and charm.'

If Herbie's attraction for Rose has always seemed sudden, a cue for the song 'Small World,' it is no longer a concession to musical comedy expediency. Ms. Buckley overturns a device into dramatic plausibility. Her allure is so palpably real, it is not hard to believe that a lonely man just wants to marry her on the spot, and Lenny Wolpe's splendidly affecting Herbie convinces us there is little to waste.

Not that Gypsy is rigged by convention. Few musical books deliver such urgency and no leading lady is drawn with the complexity or sheer theatricality of Rose. As Ms. Buckley appears to be driven and haunted by that very complexity, she socks the role's built-in theatricality through the roof.

By the time one bears witness to the shattering payoff, the character's unraveling in the great aria, 'Rose's Turn,' the woman's intensity has been so thoughtfully established, that feeling thoroughly spent is not an excessive reaction. Then you're spooked.

One might expect that Ms. Buckley won't miss a high point or a high note, or the chance to vamp, and she does not. It is the unexpected that astonishes. Although Gypsy has a fabulous score, 'Small World,' 'You'll Never Get Away from Me' and 'Together, Wherever We Go' -- pleasant, purposeful, and tuneful to be sure -- have never had a place in the pantheon of great musical theater songs. Even a killer number like 'Some People' is deepened by Ms. Buckley's mastery of legato.

Until now. Ms. Buckley's limpid phrasing, the caressing of consonants, the shaping of a line, assures her entitlement to sing lullabies to restless children and to grown-ups needing calm. Who knew that these songs were so meltingly beautiful? That a monster mother can be genuinely soothing authenticates her pathology.

. . .And, you think you've seen or heard Gypsy before?"

Ben Brantley in The New York Times:

"What may be the scariest song in musicals doesn't come from Jekyll and Hyde, Phantom of the Opera or even the bloody Sweeney Todd. It has an infectiously upbeat tune you surely know and gets played a lot as an optimistic anthem at pageants and conventions. In the coantext of its show, though, it's a shocker, and when Betty Buckley sings it in a production of the 1959 musical Gypsy, now at the Paper Mill Playhouse here, you'll find it impossible not to recoil and feel, at least fleetingly, stone cold.

The song is 'Everything's Coming Up Roses' . . .I didn't see Merman in the part, but from the cast recording, you sense the steamroller strength she brought to the song. Steamroller strength was always Merman's forte. Ms. Buckley, known for her nuanced interpretations in Sunset Boulevard and Triumph of Love, is not by nature a steamroller performer. But she is, on her own terms, comparably powerful. In her hands, Rose seems at the show's beginning more a garden-variety stage mother and actress manquee, a wistful but often affectionate nag, than Merman's elemental force of nature. But Ms. Buckley knows how to husband her resources for maximum effect. When she reaches the end of the first act, a dark, sweeping current seems to tear her surface. As she sings, her lean, serpentine body turns ramrod stiff and her voice takes on a new visceral charge. When at one point she scratches the air frantically with her hands, you feel you've witnessed something you shouldn't have been allowed to see. You knew that this Rose was a hungry, determined woman, but you had no idea that she was this sick.

. . .It is, of course, Ms. Buckley who makes the production essential viewing for Gypsy aficionados. Her eclectic career has embraced portrayals of mothers as different as the wholesome Abby on the television series 'Eight Is Enough' and the spooky religious fanatic of the ill-fated musical Carrie. In Rose she somehow makes use of elements from each, creating a portrait in which a rabid egotism surfaces only by degrees and even, it sometimes seems, against her character's will.

More than Angela Lansbury and Tyne Daly, both excellent in earlier Broadway revivals, she is a Rose in a state of warping evolution, and in her appearance in the grown-up Gypsy's dressing room, she is perceptibly and disturbingly coarsened. . .as anyone who remembers her singing 'Memory' in Cats can testify, her strong, supple voice is infused with a bottomless longing, which Ms. Buckley plies here in everything from an especially poignant version of 'Small World' to a dazzlingly executed version of the climactic 'Rose's Turn.' In this brilliant musical breakdown, Ms. Buckley harrowingly justifies Rose's claim that 'what I been holding down inside of me -- if I ever let it out, there wouldn't be signs big enough! There wouldn't be lights bright enough!"

BERNADETTE PETERS

If you were visiting London last week, you might have noticed a sense of excitement in the air, which was probably due to Bernadette Peters' eagerly-awaited concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Peters received numerous standing ovations from the sold-out audience, who jumped to their feet the moment the Tony-winning actress stepped onto the stage. Peters presented a program similar to her solo Carnegie Hall concert two years ago, which boasted a second half that was all Stephen Sondheim tunes. Some notables in the audience included Dame Judi Dench, director Jon Erman (who directed Peters in the TV movies "The Last Best Year " and "David"), costume designer William Ivey Long, choreographer Gillian Lynne, Chicago star Ruthie Henshall and the concert's director, Richard Jay-Alexander. I received a few e-mails from diva lovers who attended the Peters evening, and all agreed that our Song & Dance gal was in top form.


One concert attendee put it this way: "Bernadette was simply sensational! She has this wonderfully timeless quality in her voice and her appearance, and by the end of the concert I was convinced that she had taken the audience through a whole spectrum of human feelings and emotions." The London critics also agreed with that opinion, and I thought you would be interested to read some of their thoughts:

Clive Davis in The Times:
". . .Although [Peters] made a fleeting appearance in Cameron Mackintosh's birthday gala earlier this year, British audiences are not that familiar with her. But, she made up for lost time in this Festival Hall performance, broadly divided into knock-'em-dead show tunes (delivered in a dress to match) and an austere second half devoted to Stephen Sondheim, whose presence had already loomed large before the interval. . .By the end of the evening we were left in no doubt about her talents as an actress. The audience responded accordingly. . .Although there is an unmistakably tart edge in Peters' voice, she handled the transition between different registers with utter professionalism. The high point came again with Sondheim, as Peters belted out the life-affirming lyrics to Jule Styne's 'Some People.' With luck, it could become her answer to 'My Way.'"

David Benedict in The Independent (Weekend Review):

" . . .All she did was walk on stage, and the crowd went, well, nuts. Standing ovations tend to happen at the end of a performance, but this audience was simply dying to tell the diva how much they loved her for her knockout performances on the original cast albums of Mack and Mabel, Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods. . .Like Judi Dench, she uses the roughness and the haunting crack in the voice to truly emotional effect. . .The best material was in the second half which was devoted to Sondheim. . . At full pelt she is quite something. 'Being Alive' was unadorned and stunning. Best of all was a driven 'Some People' from Gypsy which set the place on fire: no messing, just singing."

Peters has three remaining concert dates (all other concert dates have been postponed) before rehearsals begin for the Irving Berlin classic, Annie Get Your Gun, which will commence performances at the Marquis Theatre on Feb. 2, 1999.

Oct. 16 & 17 at the Rialto Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia
Oct. 23 at the Topeka Performing Arts Center in Topeka, Kansas


LINDA EDER
Two seasons ago Linda Eder made her long-awaited Broadway debut in the still-running Frank Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse musical Jekyll & Hyde, and since that time she has become one of the theatre's busiest women. She left her role as Lucy in Jekyll on Aug. 30, and she is already starring in a new, Broadway-bound musical, The Civil War (now at Houston's Alley Theatre), which was also penned by composer Wildhorn, who is now her husband. In addition to her role in this ambitious ensemble piece, Eder has also planned numerous concert engagements around the country before The Civil War hits New Haven Connecticut in February 1999 and then Broadway's St. James Theatre in March 1999. Additionally, "Something to Believe In," a track from Eder's Atlantic debut album, has become the WB Network's theme song for the next two years. What follows is Eder's concert schedule at this time:

Oct. 2-3 at the Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN
Oct. 9 at the Palace Theatre in Cleveland, OH
Oct. 27 at the Smothers Theatre in Malibu, CA
Oct. 29-31 at the Orange Country Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
Nov. 13 at the Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT
Nov. 20 at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in York, PA
Nov. 21 at the Southern Theatre in Columbus, OH
Dec. 8-9 at the FAU Auditorium in Boca Raton, FL


MAUREEN McGOVERN
I spent a good deal of the week listening to Maureen McGovern's latest solo recording, titled "The Pleasure of His Company." McGovern's second piano and-voice album with pianist Mike Renzi (in 1986 the duo recorded "Another Woman in Love") finds the singer in a contemplative mode. Her pure-toned voice is as entrancing as ever, and she employs soft shadings to create some lovely renditions of classic tunes like "My Ship," "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and "The Nearness of You." Two of the highlights of the disc are her interpretation of the little-heard "Once Upon a Time," a beautiful song from All American, and a floating, lullaby-like take on "How Are Things In Glocca Morra?" She also scores with two relatively new songs, Jeff Harris's "Bring Back My Dreamer" and Alan and Marilyn Bergman's "And I'll Be There." For those belting fans out there, McGovern does let loose on the aforementioned "Bring Back My Dreamer." "The Pleasure of His Company " is available on the Sterling Records label, which also produced McGovern's "Out of This World: McGovern Sings Arlen " and "The Music Never Ends: The Lyrics of Alan & Marilyn Bergman."

IN OTHER NEWS
Shirley Bassey will perform in concert at Davies Symphony Hall (San Francisco, CA) on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 8 PM. Call (415) 864 6000 for ticket information . . . Alison Jiear has performed in the London companies of Smokey Joe's Cafe, The Hot Mikado, Grease and Les Miserables, and on Oct. 7, the big-voiced singer will make her New York cabaret debut at Eighty-Eights in the West Village. Call (212) 924-0088 for more information . . . Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner's "Duets " album will be released Oct. 20 by Varese Sarabande, the same day that Petula Clark's new CD will be available on that same label . . . Be sure to set your VCRs next Wednesday night to catch Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell celebrate the George Gershwin centenary (on PBS; check local listings) . . . Rumor has it that Helen Schneider, the star of the recent German production of Sunset Boulevard, will appear there in a new production of Evita next year. . . Luba Mason, who replaced Linda Eder in Jekyll & Hyde, has been added to the line-up of ladies performing at the Dramatists Guild benefit "Making a Difference-The Songs of Bob Ost " at Sam's Restaurant in New York City on October 4. For more info, call Barry Moss at Hughes Moss Casting (212) 307-6690 . . . And, finally, our Evita gal, Patti LuPone continues to film Spike Lee's newest film, "Summer of Sam." A few concert dates for La LuPone are in the process of being booked, and one may take the Tony winner to Australia. Other projects are in the works, so stay tuned for more info.

A FINAL NOTE:
San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum (PALM) is presenting "'S Wonderful: A Celebration of George Gershwin," an exhibition that runs through Dec. 23, 1998. The exhibit, which is open to the public free of charge, traces Gershwin's career through photos, sheet music, letters and other memorabilia, and was curated by Sheryl Flatow, a frequent contributor to Playbill. PALM is located at 399 Grove Street. For further information call (415) 255-4800.

REMINDERS:

LAURIE BEECHMAN
It was announced last week that the tribute concert honoring the late Laurie (Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) Beechman will be held at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia on Monday, November 30. Entitled "Let the Memory Live Again: A Musical Celebration for Laurie Beechman," the concert will benefit Gilda's Club, where Beechman found support during her struggles with ovarian cancer. Those already scheduled to perform include Patti LaBelle, Sam Harris, Christiane Noll, Douglas Sills and more. Call (202) 226 1780 for more information or visit Congressman Fox's web site (http://www.house.gov/fox).

BETTY BUCKLEY
Betty Buckley and Deborah Gibson currently star in Gypsy at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey through Oct. 25. Tickets range from $25-$55 and $10 student tickets may be available 15 minutes prior to curtain. For tickets and more information, call (973) 376-4343...

Concert line-up:
Oct. 30-Nov. 1, 1998 at the Bottom Line, in New York, NY
Nov. 6 in at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona, PA
Dec. 28 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 29 at the Kravis Center for the Perf Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 30 in Fort Lauderdale, FL
Dec. 31 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, FL
Jan. 14, 1999 in Irvine, CA
Jan. 16, 1999 at the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, CA
April 17, 1999 at the Lehman Center for the Perf. Arts in Bronx, NY
April 23 at the College of New Jersey in Erwing, NJ
May 3 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, IL
DIVAS UNITE
A host of divas will perform during "My Favorite Broadway--The Leading Ladies, " the one-night musical extravaganza hosted by Julie Andrews at Carnegie Hall on Sept. 28. The festivities will be taped for the "Great Performances" series on PBS, and a CD and video cassette will also be made available for sale. Tickets range in price from $50 to $250 and may be purchased by calling Carnegie Charge at (212) 247-7800.

KAREN MASON
On Sept. 26, the former Sunset Boulevard standby-to-the-stars will perform at the Bay Street Theatre (516) 725-9500; tix are $25). An appearance at the upcoming Cabaret Convention brings Mason to New York's Town Hall on Oct. 13. Mason will teach a master class at UCLA on Oct. 14, and then she will sing in concert at that University on Oct. 17, a concert that is being presented by Michael Kerker and ASCAP. And, from Nov. 4-14, Mason will open Davenports, a new cabaret space in her home town of Chicago.

RAINBOW & STARS
Cybill Shepherd Now through Sept. 19.
Kathie Lee Gifford Oct. 6-Oct. 10.
David Campbell Oct. 13 - Oct. 31.
Ann Hampton Callaway Nov. 3-14
Karen Akers Nov. 17-Dec. 5

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

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