DIVA TALK: Betty, Bette & a Bevy of Benefits Plus Skinner & Ripley (Again!)

DIVA TALK: Betty, Bette & a Bevy of Benefits Plus Skinner & Ripley (Again!) CD OF THE WEEK:
Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner's "Unsuspecting Hearts"
Okay, so for the past few weeks I've been anxiously awaiting a review copy of Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley's second duets album, "Unsuspecting Hearts." Yesterday, when it still hadn't arrived and I knew the recording was already in stores, I decided I'd go buy it at lunch time. And, just as I was about to leave the office, the UPS man arrived, and there it was! I've been listening to this beautiful work since then, and as much as I liked their first Varese Sarabande offering, "Duets," I think this disc is even more enjoyable. If the first overmixed the voices a bit, this recording allows each singing actress to display her unique vocal talents, and reminds the listener how well their voices and styles complement each other, first displayed in the much-too-short-lived Broadway musical Side Show.

CD OF THE WEEK:
Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner's "Unsuspecting Hearts"
Okay, so for the past few weeks I've been anxiously awaiting a review copy of Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley's second duets album, "Unsuspecting Hearts." Yesterday, when it still hadn't arrived and I knew the recording was already in stores, I decided I'd go buy it at lunch time. And, just as I was about to leave the office, the UPS man arrived, and there it was! I've been listening to this beautiful work since then, and as much as I liked their first Varèse Sarabande offering, "Duets," I think this disc is even more enjoyable. If the first overmixed the voices a bit, this recording allows each singing actress to display her unique vocal talents, and reminds the listener how well their voices and styles complement each other, first displayed in the much-too-short-lived Broadway musical Side Show.


Carrie fans will rejoice in the duo's rendition of "Unsuspecting Hearts," the only recording to date of this cult musical classic. Ripley and Skinner build the song slowly, and when they unleash the power of their belts during the song's final stanzas, it's enthralling. Perhaps they'll consider recording some of the mother-daughter duets on their next release. Some of the other highlights include an upbeat, bouncy medley of "Friendship" and "Friends to the End," where the gals get to have a bit of fun while singing about their obvious mutual admiration society; a gorgeous reading of Stephen Sondheim's "Pretty Women"; a forceful combination of "The Last Duet" and "Enough Is Enough"; and heartfelt versions of both Martin Guerre's "Live with Somebody You Love" and one of my all-time favorites, "Old Friend," from I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It On the Road.


This follow-up to "Duets" also gives Skinner and Ripley the opportunity to shine in solo moments. Side Show enthusiasts will be excited to hear Ripley's second act solo, which was cut prior to the Broadway production. It's not as rich a melody as some of Krieger's other work from that musical; however, "She's Gone" does have a driving force, and Ripley delivers it with a frightening intensity. It also allows the actress a chance to demonstrate the range of her piercing belt, and the final few lines are thrilling. Listen to the way she attacks the lines, "She has places to go. She's going on. She's moving on. She's not breaking down. She's not put-upon. She won't sigh. She won't cry. She won't die. She knows why. She's gooooooooonnnnnnne." The former Sunset Boulevard star also displays her upper register in The Music Man's "My White Knight" and debuts a song filled with much passion and yearning -- "Losing Track of Time" -- from a new musical titled Summer of '42. Skinner, too, impresses on her own: She gets to show off her penchant for comedy in "The Alto's Lament," and if her otherwise striking version of "I Don't Know How To Love Him" takes just a tad too much liberty with some of the song's rhythms and melody, her take on Stephen Sondheim's "The Miller's Son" is honest, emotionally rich and, well, just perfect.


There's also a hidden track at the very end of the recording that I won't reveal. That, the 15 listed tracks, liner notes written by the two stars themselves and a generous dose of photos -- you'll love the center spread -- make this a must-have recording for diva fans and/or a perfect holiday present for the diva lover on your list.

BETTY BUCKLEY
Although Betty Buckley recently concluded her acclaimed run in the Hartford Stage Company's production of Camino Real, I thought you would enjoy reading some of her many splendid reviews, which were recently sent to me from the Hartford press office. And, as I reported earlier this week, Buckley will once again offer a six-week intensive acting course at T. Schreiber Studios in New York City. Classes begin November 1. For more information, you may call (212) 741-0209 or (212) 712-2756 . . . Here are the Camino reviews:


David Patrick Stearns in USA Today:
". . .There are also Buckley (Camille) and (Casanova), whose characters are quite substantial, portrayed in their waning years and perhaps the most purely poetic embodiments of themes Williams dealt with again and again: the loneliness and sexual rejection that come with aging, as well as how once-grand human beings cope with the end of the line.


Unlike Blanche DuBois, there are no real mad scenes for Camille, but there's plenty of acceptance amid the anguish, and vanquishing a foreboding future by embracing the joys of the moment. Buckley conveys it all with sexiness and dignity. Also, this former star of Sunset Boulevard has singing opportunities, thanks to Gromada's modest though effective musical settings of some of Williams' lesser monologues. . ."


Dennis Cashman in New Haven Register:
". . .Buckley gives a performance of exquisite sensibility, capturing Marguerite's vulnerability, her occasional petulant outbursts and her inner yearning for peace and fulfillment, to remind us that coarser-tongued Marguerite is also Verdi's enchanting operatic Violetta and must possess Garbo's mesmerizing cinematic allure."


Malcolm Johnson in The Hartford Courant:
"Michael Wilson has outdone himself in an anything-goes effort to overcome the curse of Camino Real, Tennessee Williams' feverish dream of an American boxer trapped in a raffish but deadly Latin American city populated by the likes of Jacques Casanova, Marguerite ("Camille") Gautier and Lord Byron. The opening production of Wilson's second season as artistic director at Hartford Stage combines operatic flourishes with total-theater exhibitions . . . And at last, Buckley makes her strongly-built entrance as Marguerite and buys her white camellia as she speaks with knowing irony of her salad days as Paris' most notorious courtesan. In Woolard's period costumes, Buckley looks both voluptuous and faded, like a flower that has lost its bloom."


Shirley Matthews in Connecticut Post:
". . .The real scene stealer, predictably, is Betty Buckley, as Marguerite Gautier, the heroine of Dumas' 'Camille' and the prototype of the hooker with the heart of gold. She carries her faded grandeur with her like a cape of stones. You can almost feel the heaviness of her heart, yet she is a gallant spirit that still rises to the soupcon of passion that friend Casanova offers. She is both elegant and tragic, and your heart breaks for her as she, in one of the most memorable scenes, frantically tries to buy a ticket on a vessel that supposedly is leaving this godforsaken place. The reservation desk whirls out of her reach, and crowds of people cut her off as she chases it in circles, until, finally, it is too late. The vessel leaves without her, and she is plunged into even more despair. 'Caged birds accept each other but flight is what they long for,' she says to Casanova. Fortunately, for the audience, Wilson allows her to sing in that incomparably strong and fully shaded voice. Buckley is not to be missed."


James V. Ruocco in Waterbury Republican-American:
". . .Getting Betty Buckley to play the role of the delusional Marguerite Gautier (ie, Camille) is yet another casting coup for the theater. It's a dynamic role that the actress/singer inhabits so convincingly, you immediately buy into her sad tale of woe and confusion in a world that might very well be purgatory. Better yet, you also get to hear her sing (what a voice!) two original songs, created from the dialogue of Williams' text. Come next season, if Wilson should do 'Sweet Bird of Youth,' Buckley would be perfect. . ."


Henry M. Keezing in The Herald:
". . .Perhaps the most deliciously entertaining moments come in the interplay between two of the three central characters. Veteran actors Betty Buckley and Rip Torn are marvelous together -- a sheer delight to watch for their timing, their professionalism, their ability to bring the story electrically alive. She plays the faded courtesan Marguerite Gautier and he is cast as Jacques Casanova, the great lover, now fallen on hard times. They battle, they woo, they connive, they even sing together -- a welcome addition to the play, given the beauty and range of Buckley's voice. And their affection for each other even transcends her desperation to board the only plane out, with or without him. . ."


Kristina Dorsey in The Day:
". . .Hartford Stage's production is worth seeing for Betty Buckley alone. Buckley is one of Broadway's great talents. She crooned 'Memory' in Cats and played Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, but those performances didn't hint at the delicate acting talent she displays in Camino Real. Her Camille mixes Old World grace and raw emotion. She balances a sense of disappointment in the world with an eternal hope for the future. Watching her Camille's growing panic as she desperately tries to catch one of the rare, always unscheduled flights out of Camino Real is devastating.


Hartford Stage has set some of Williams' writing to music, and to hear Buckley sing two delicate pieces in a small theater like this is worth the price of admission. . ."


Rosalind Friedman for WMNR/Fine Arts Radio:
" . . .The word that comes to mind when describing Betty Buckley in this role is soignee. Translated from the French, it means: elegant, sophisticated, polished. Buckley sweeps onto the stage with her consummate experience and distinctively throaty voice and you wish she could send everyone else home and just sing . . ."

ANDREA MARCOVICCI
One of cabaret's leading ladies, Andrea Marcovicci, will return to the Algonquin's Oak Room on Nov. 16 for her twelfth straight season, playing there through Friday, Dec. 24. Marcovicci's new show is entitled "Our Songs," and the talented chanteuse had this to say about her latest act: "With the Millennium fast approaching, I thought I would deal with the Baby-Boomers memories for a change. Since we've always been the "me" generation, we're not thinking globally, we're thinking about turning 50. In other words, the songs that make us cry for a change and the ones that take us back. The same scrutiny that I've always devoted to Rodgers & Hart, Berlin, Kern and Coward, I'll be applying to Peter, Paul & Mary; the Beatles; Joni Mitchell; Paul Simon; Billy Joel; Don Maclean; Judy Collins; Peter Allen; Jimmy Webb; John Denver; and Jim Croce."


Performances of "Our Songs. . .1965-1985" are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 9 PM, with dinner arrival at 7 PM (dinner is required at the 9 PM show). There is a $15 minimum and $45 cover charge. For her late show -- 11 PM Friday and Saturday evenings -- Marcovicci will perform songs of the 40's, a return to the world of music that this popular cabaret artist loves, including such nostalgic tunes as "We'll Meet Again," "Moonlight Serenade" and "As Times Goes By." Musical director Shelly Markham will join Marcovicci for both shows. For reservations, call the Algonquin (59 West 44th Street) at (212) 840-6800.

BETTE MIDLER
I wasn't able to attend Bette Midler's Madison Square Garden concerts this past week, but I thought you would enjoy reading quotes from several New York reviewers. And, here they are:


Stephen Holden in The New York Times:
". . .as Midler has aged, the elements of her phenomenal talent have solidified and deepened without any sacrifice of the joyous playfulness that is a hallmark of her concerts. Maturity for Ms. Midler has meant cultivating a once unruly voice so she can project all the notes she hears in her head with a brassy, emotional authority. And in the more serious musical moments on Monday, she delivered one powerfully, deeply felt performance after another. High on the list were a ringing 'I Think It's Going to Rain Today,' tinged with a waifish pathos; a sultry 'Do You Wanna Dance?' in which the star sounded like a dreamy teen-ager, and a huge, belted 'Stay With Me' directed as much at the audience as at an imaginary departing lover. For sheer tenderness nothing matched 'Lullaby in Blue,' a ballad from her recent album 'Bathhouse Betty' (Warner Brothers), in which a woman wonders about the child she gave away years ago. . ."


Letta Tayler in Newsday:
". . .The base humor continued through many of the songs. Midler's cover of Frank Sinatra's 'The Lady Is a Tramp' was embellished with numerous jokes too bawdy to reprint; Edith Piaf's 'Je Ne Regrette Rien (I Regret Nothing)' became a tongue-in-cheek 'I Regret Everything,' in which she pranced and strutted across the stage while singing in an over-the-top French accent. But Midler also knew when and how to play it straight. In her serious moments, her voice remains warm and supple, and she can still belt with integrity. 'Lullaby in Blue,' a ballad off her latest album about a woman yearning for the daughter she'd given up when she was a young, unwed mother, was rife with grief and bereft of bombast. . ."


Jim Farber in Daily News:
"Pop quiz: Which performer connects the following forms of song, dance and general merriment? Vaudeville, burlesque, Broadway musicals, Mexican love songs, native Hawaiian dances, German oompah music, girl group pop, disco, R&B and even something akin to rap. There's just one answer, at least in the realm of entertainers vital enough to sell out Madison Square Garden: Bette Midler, whose 'Divine Miss Millennium' tour filled the Garden Monday and Tuesday. . .In both her music and her jokes, Bette approaches a cliché the way a butcher eyes a side of meat. She did a gorgeous carving of 'My Way'-type songs, called 'I Regret Everything.' And she sent up celebrities' self-importance by comparing them to stars in the sky -- 'giant, swirling bodies of gas.' . . .No one entertains like Bette -- in this, or any, millennium."

A BEVY OF BENEFITS
There are several upcoming benefits in November and December that feature some of cabaret's finest. The list follows:


Tuesday, Nov. 2: A benefit concert for the Broadway Mall Association, which plants flowers, shrubs and trees along Broadway. The benefit, starring Tom Andersen, Claiborne Cary and Angela LaGreca will be held at Danny's Skylight Room (346 W. 46th Street) at 7 PM. There is a $30 cover and a two-drink minimum; call (212) 265-8133.


Thursday, Nov. 4: This 7 PM concert at 24 Fifth Avenue, Ballroom, New York, will benefit the Long Island Jewish Medical Center's Schein Voice and Laryngeal Center and will feature performances from Alix Korey, Karen Mason, Georga Osborne, Tom Andersen and Richard Skipper. There is a $75 charge for "The Amazing Singing Voice: A Celebration in Song," which includes dinner and the show; call (718) 470 8892.


Friday, Dec. 3: Julie Wilson, Mary Foster Conklin and Tom Andersen will sing to benefit "Teddycare," Ruby Rims' annual concert to collect teddy bears to distribute to hospitalized "kids of all ages." Admission is $10 plus a teddy bear, and the evening will be held at Judy's Chelsea, 169 Eighth Avenue, New York City. Call (212) 929-5410.

IN OTHER NEWS On Thursday, Dec. 21 at 8 PM, Tony winner Lillias White will join Vivian Cherry and Rod Dixon for Too Hot To Handel: The Gospel Messiah. The one-night-only concert at Avery Fisher Hall will also feature The Morgan State University Choir and the Concordia Orchestra. Tickets range from $16 to $50 and may be purchased by calling (212) 721-6500 . . . Tony winner Lauren Bacall will soon return to Broadway in Noel Coward's "Waiting in the Wings," and in December the legendary actress will be featured in a Playbill magazine interview by Robert Simonson. In the article, Bacall had this to say about the late Coward, who, years ago, invited Bacall to appear in a television version of his play, Blithe Spirit: "I was thrilled to be asked. And, of course, he was flummoxed by television. It was fascinating to me to see Noël Coward nervous. He told me, 'The first day of rehearsal you must be word perfect.' I, of course, learned every word. I was very anxious." . . . Toni Lamond, the actress/singer who starred in the original Australian productions of The Pajama Game, Oliver, Gypsy and Wildcat, will make her New York cabaret debut at the FireBird Café next month. Lamond's show, "Still a Gypsy," will utilize a wide variety of music, including standards, jazz and original tunes penned by the actress herself. Lamond's show dates are Nov. 21 and 28 (at 9 PM) and Nov. 24 and Dec. 1 (at 11 PM), and there is a $20 cover charge and a $15 food/drink minimum. About her N.Y. debut Lamond says, "I'm really looking forward to this appearance. I've dreamed of it my whole life, and am so jazzed that it's finally happening." FireBird Café is located at 363 West 46th Street; call (212) 586-0244 for reservations. REMINDERS


BETTY BUCKLEY
Betty Buckley and Ben Vereen will be the guest singers for an upcoming NBC ice-skating program on Nov. 28 (from 4-6 PM). The two Tony winners will take part in the "StarSkates on Broadway" program, which will be a broadcast of an event taped on Nov. 20.


A host of new concert dates have recently been announced for the multi talented actress and singer.
November 6 State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ
November 12 Grand Opera House in Wilmington, DE
November 14 Music Hall in Cincinnati, OH
December 13-14 St. Barth's Church in New York, NY
December 17 City Center in Coral Springs, FL
December 18 Atlantic University Aud. in Boca Raton, FL
December 31 Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT
February 5, 2000 Stillwell Theatre in Kennesaw, GA
February 6 Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Marin, CA
February 8-9 Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall in Las Vegas, NV
February 11 Center for the Arts at George Mason Univ. in Fairfax, VA
February 12 Palace Theatre in Louisville, KY
March 18 Folly Theatre in Kansas City, MO
March 19 Macomb Center for the Perf. Arts in Detroit, MI
April 24 Nancy Lee & Perry R. Bass Performance in Fort Worth, TX
April 26 Coronation 2000 in San Antonio, TX
May 4 Poway Center in Poway, CA
May 5-6 Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos, CA
May 7 Haugh Performing Arts Center in Glendora, CA
May 8 Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA


And, "Bravo Profiles: Betty Buckley," an insightful documentary that includes an interview with the Tony Award-winning actress as well as footage from Buckley's recent sold-out Bottom Line concert will air on Bravo November 1 at 10 PM.

BARBARA COOK
Here is Cook's upcoming concert schedule:


November 19 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; call (617) 482-2595 or (617) 482-3208
November 22 at The Plaza Hotel in New York, NY (gala dinner honoring Cook, Paul Taylor and Will Barnet with the 1999 Kitty Carlisle-Hart Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement)
December 1 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY (All-Star cast for The Noel Coward Centennial Gala); call (212) 980-3026 or (212) 247-7800
December 31 at The Academy of Music in Philadelphia, PA; call (215) 893 1956 or (215) 893-1999
January 27-30 at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, PA (with Marvin Hamlisch and the Pittsburgh Symphony); call (412) 392-4900

PATTI LuPONE
The multi-talented actress will make her solo Carnegie Hall debut on November 19. The GMHC benefit will feature an all-new act created for this special evening by LuPone and director Scott Wittman. Call the Carnegie Hall box office at (212) 247-7800. Tickets for the concert only range from $35-$75. Higher-priced tickets, some of which include a post party reception with the star, can be obtained by calling (212) 367-1514. Be sure to book your seats early for what promises to be a thrilling evening! . . .Tickets are also now on sale for the upcoming New York Philharmonic production of Sweeney Todd to be held at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall from May 4 to May 6 in the year 2000. Starring LuPone and opera singer Bryn Terfel, the event, which will be recorded, will celebrate Sondheim's 70th birthday. Tickets range from $75 to $250 and may be purchased by calling (212) 721-6500 . . .

KAREN MASON
Mason will join A Chorus Line composer Marvin Hamlisch for "A Cole Porter Celebration" at the Meyeroff Symphony Hall in Baltimore on October 28, 29, 30 and 31, where she will be backed by the Baltimore Symphony. Then, the woman who was just honored with a "True Cabaret Classic Award" at the Town Hall Cabaret Convention, will open a new cabaret, ARCI's Place, at 450 Park Avenue South. Mason will perform for a month at this new club, beginning November 3. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 9 pm, with Friday and Saturday shows at 8:30 and 11 pm There will be a $25 cover charge and a $15 minimum; for reservations, call (212) 532-4370. And, if all that weren't enough, Mason's newest CD, "Christmas! Christmas! Christmas"-- recorded live at the West Bank Cafe last December -- will be released by the end of this month.

MAUREEN McGOVERN
A host of Maureen McGovern appearances were recently announced for the multi-octave singer. The list follows:


November 8 Coffee Club Orchestra 10th Anniversary Bash at City Center in New York, NY
November 19 "Great American Songbook " at the Marsee Auditorium in El Camino, CA
November 26, 27, 28 with the Baltimore Symphony at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore, MD
December 1 "Tree of Life & Festival of Lights" in Los Angeles, CA
December 17 - 18 "Holiday Pops" at the Dayton Convention Center in Dayton, OH
December 30 - 31 "New Year's Eve Millennium Gala" with the Detroit Symphony at the Orchestra Hall in Detroit, MI

ELAINE PAIGE
What follows are some upcoming worldwide Paige concert dates:
October 30 and 31, 1999 at the Sun City Superbowl in South Africa
November 5, 1999 at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town, South Africa
January 21 and 22, 2000 with the Utah Symphony Orchestra at the Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah

BERNADETTE PETERS
The two-time Tony winner currently stars as the gun-toting Annie Oakley in the acclaimed revival of Annie Get Your Gun at the Marquis Theatre.

LINCOLN CENTER'S AMERICAN SONGBOOK
"Always: Celebrating 100 Years of American Song" is up next in this series and features such theatrical luminaries as Patti LuPone, Judy Kuhn, Howard McGillin, Alton White, cabaret's Mary Cleere Haran and Susanah McCorkle and more. This program is set for Dec. 3 and 4 at 8 p.m., also at Alice Tully Hall. Other titles in the series include "Who Wrote That Song," on March 23, 24 and 25 (cast to be announced) at the Kaplan Penthouse and "Round About: Dawn Upshaw," which features the gifted soprano singing the songs of Vernon Duke, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gershwin, Sondheim and more. Upshaw will perform on May 17, 19 and 20 at 8:30 p.m. at the John Jay College Auditorium . . . Call (212) 721-6500 for tickets.

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

-- By Andrew Gans