DIVA TALK- Buckley at the Bottom Line; LuPone Salutes Merman

DIVA TALK- Buckley at the Bottom Line; LuPone Salutes Merman BETTY BUCKLEY
Betty Buckley returns to the concert stage of the Bottom Line for a series of Valentine's Day concerts next month, where she will perform songs from Sunset Boulevard, Triumph of Love as well as a few new surprises. Her latest show is entitled "Heart to Heart" and may include guest artists from the cast of her most recent Broadway outing, Triumph of Love. Buckley, who recently concluded her run in the aforementioned critically hailed musical, will perform at the Greenwich Village night club on Feb. 13, 14 and 15. (The afternoon show on Feb. 15 will be a special "Songs By Request" performance for Betty's fans.)

BETTY BUCKLEY
Betty Buckley returns to the concert stage of the Bottom Line for a series of Valentine's Day concerts next month, where she will perform songs from Sunset Boulevard, Triumph of Love as well as a few new surprises. Her latest show is entitled "Heart to Heart" and may include guest artists from the cast of her most recent Broadway outing, Triumph of Love. Buckley, who recently concluded her run in the aforementioned critically hailed musical, will perform at the Greenwich Village night club on Feb. 13, 14 and 15. (The afternoon show on Feb. 15 will be a special "Songs By Request" performance for Betty's fans.)

Buckley's performances at the Bottom Line in the past decade have been enthusiastically greeted by fans and critics alike, and the Tony winner's last appearance at the famed cabaret was during her run in the New York production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. Be sure to catch Buckley in action in Feb. . As one reviewer stated, "Buckley in concert is an intoxicating blend of pop, jazz, blues and the Broadway of then and
now, embraced by an astonishing vocal instrument and enhanced by a savvy blend of acting and heart."

Show times are Friday, Feb. 13 at 7:30 and 10 pm, Saturday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 and 10 pm and Sunday, Feb. 15 at 4 and 8:30 pm. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased at the Bottom Line box office, which is located at 15 W. 4th Street. For more information call 212-228-6300.

Also, tickets to the May 8 concert, "New York Pops--An Evening with Betty Buckley," at Carnegie Hall are now available by calling Carnegie Charge at 212-247-7800.

TRIBUTE TO MERMAN with PATTI LuPONE and more. . .
Patti LuPone is just one of the sensational performers lined up for the upcoming tribute to the legendary Ethel Merman. Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin, Elaine Stritch and special guest Bette Midler will all take part in what promises to be an extraordinary evening saluting one of Broadway's finest performers ever. Entitled "Doin' What Comes Natur'lly," a song title from the Merman hit Annie Get Your Gun, the evening will benefit Gay Men's Health Crisis. Tickets range from $75-$1,500 and can be purchased by calling GMHC at 212-367-1111. There will also be benefit level seats priced at $500, $1000 and $1500; these seats will not only include tickets to the performance but also to the Merm-abilia Silent Auction and the post concert party with the event's performers.

"Doin' What Comes Natur'lly" will be held on Sunday, Feb. 1 at 7 PM at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street. GMHC "is the nation's oldest and largest AIDS organization, providing service to thousands of men, women and children with HIV and AIDS, and education and advocacy nationwide."

BERNADETTE PETERS
Bernadette Peters' Australian debut was met with tremendous success by audiences and critics. In fact, I heard from several Peters fans who witnessed her Australian concert, and they had nothing but raves for her debut Down Under.

James Waites in the Sydney Morning Herald had this to say about BP: "Bernadette Peters has a very special following. You only have to say words like Broadway, Carnegie Hall, Into the Woods, Follies, Dames at Sea and they go into raptures. . .She has a tremendous voice, one of the best in the musicals business. . .Her interpretations of Sondheim in particular are truly first class. . .The voice is pure, the range dazzling, the heartfelt nature of her delivery quite breathtaking. . .She has gone on, nowadays, a diva at the top of her career."

LIZ CALLAWAY
The current Grizabella in the Broadway production of Cats now has her own web page. Fans of the star of Baby and Miss Saigon may want to check it out at http://www.geocities.com/Broadway/Stage/9171/. Callaway will also take part in an upcoming workshop of the new David Friedman musical King Island Christmas. The workshop, which is by invitation only, will be held on Feb. 9 and 10 starring Callaway and Alvin Crawford plus a 24-member chorus. The libretto is by Deborah Baley Brevoort, based on the book by Jean Rogers, and the production will feature direction by Elizabeth Margid.

CLEO LAINE
A star of both the theatre stage and concert halls, Cleo Laine is currently celebrating her 70th year with a worldwide concert tour. Laine starred on Broadway in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and toured on the road as the Witch in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods. This March, Laine will take to the stage of the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theatre performing with her husband and musical partner, saxophonist John Dankworth. Laine, who was recently knighted by Queen Elizabeth, will perform on March 27 at 7:30 pm; call 202-467-4600 for tickets, which are priced at $27. About Ms. Laine, the Los Angeles Times once commented that hers is a musical experience "not unlike sitting by the fireside, admiring its beauty and being warmed by its glow."

RETURNING TO RENT
When I first saw Rent, it was just after the show had opened on Broadway, and I had a visceral reaction to the musical. Tears poured from my eyes throughout the Tony-winning musical, and I was moved not only by the story onstage but also by the tragic death of its young composer, Jonathan Larson. I thought most everyone in the cast was super, especially Adam Pascal's gut-wrenching performance as Roger and Idina Menzel's thrillingly-sung Maureen. Pascal's delivery of "One Song Glory" was about as emotionally raw as it gets, and Menzel's arrival onstage toward the end of the first act was enchanting.

Returning to the show more than a year later--in order to watch the entirely new cast--I was again struck by the wonderful score and the vocal demands of singing it eight times a week. In fact, the performance I witnessed last Sunday included four understudys, two in the chorus as well as its two male leads, Roger (Jim Poulos substituting for Christian Anderson) and Mark (Richard H. Blake filling in for Norbert Leo Butz). Surprisingly, I found Blake's performance as Roger the best of all the leads and realized that even though Mark is the show's storyteller, it is Roger who is the central force of Rent, the one who is most changed by the events swirling around him.

All the new cast do fine in their roles, and the singing is as dynamic as ever. I will admit that visually the new cast may not be as perfectly suited to their roles as the originals, which were hand-picked by the late composer. I particularly missed the infectious smile of Jesse L. Martin's Tom Collins (although Michael McElroy's second act reprise of "I'll Cover You" is one of the high points of the evening, beautifully sung and acted) and the stunning presence of Idina Menzel's Maureen. When Menzel sang, "Ever since puberty/Everybody stares at me/Boys-girls/I can't help it baby," no one would dare argue the point. It's a bit more of stretch for Kristen Lee Kelly, although vocally Kelly's as thrilling as Menzel, and "Take Me or Leave Me" remains one of the show-stoppers. Other highlights included heartfelt renditions of "Another Day," "Will I [Lose My Dignity?]," "La Vie Boheme," "Seasons of Love" and "What You Own."

Rent continues to be an extraordinarily moving show that will have you laughing, crying and cheering by the end. The audience at the performance I attended responded enthusiastically throughout the show, and I noticed that the average age of those attending was at least 10 to 15 years younger than the average theatre-going audience. Not only has Rent opened the door to a whole new generation of theatregoers, but it also shatters stereotypes about AIDS and people living with the virus, as well as presenting storylines about a gay male couple, a lesbian couple and a straight couple. If you've yet to see the musical, now's as good a time as ever to be swept away by this production. As the final lyric asserts, "There's only now/there's only here/Give in to love or live in fear/ No other path/No other way/No day but today/No day but today."

IN OTHER NEWS
Last week, I mentioned that a one-night-only benefit performance of Annie Get Your Gun was in the works for Lincoln Center with one of our favorite divas. I can't say who it is, but it is definitely happening in March. I'll give you the full details as soon as I can, so stay tuned for more!! . . . Heard another bit of news this week that at this time is just a rumor, but if it comes true would be wonderful. Apparently, Ruthie Henshall, who currently stars in the London cast of Chicago and who was just nominated for an Olivier Award for her role in that show, may repeat her performance in the New York company some time in 1998. Stay tuned for more on this item as well . . . Judy Kuhn will be among the cast of this year's first Encores! presentation at City Center from Feb. 12-15. The star of Les Misérables, Chess, Sunset Boulevard and She Loves Me will join Lynn Redgrave, Jere Shea and Philip Bosco in the Gershwin classic Strike Up the Band.

ON A PERSONAL NOTE
I will be singing at Don't Tell Mama (343 West 46th Street) for my annual cabaret act on Feb. 14 (at 6 PM) and Feb. 19 (at 9 PM). The show is titled "Ordinary Miracles" and includes songs by David Friedman, Craig Carnelia, John Bucchino, the Bergmans, the Gershwins, Sondheim and more. If you come, please be sure to say hello after the show. Reservations can be made by calling 212-757-0788.

REMINDERS:
EARTHA KITT
The legendary Eartha Kitt continues at Cafe Carlyle on Madison and 76th Street through March 7. Performances are Tuesday through Saturdays at 8:45 and 10:45, and there is a $50 cover with no minimum.

PATTI LuPONE
La LuPone currently heads the cast of the new David Mamet trilogy, The Old Neighborhood, at the Booth Theatre. Tickets may be ordered by calling 212-239-6200. On Feb. 14, La LuPone will sing at the Kravitz Center in West Palm Beach, Florida (tickets available by calling 561-833-8300), and from Feb. 26 through March 1, she will perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. Tickets for the Pittsburgh concerts, which range from $30-$48, are now on sale by calling 412-392 4900.

BERNADETTE PETERS
BP's concert schedule follows:
Jan. 17 in Palm Beach, FL at Mar-A-Lago
Jan. 24 in Houston, TX at the George R. Brown Convention Center
Feb. 7 in Richmond, VA at The Mosque
Feb. 8 in Emporia, VA at the Emporia Elementary School
Feb. 11 & 12 in Boca Raton, FL at the Florida Atlantic Univ. Auditorium
Feb. 14 in Providence, RI at The Veterans Memorial Auditorium
Feb. 24 in Milwaukee, WI at The Bruce Hall
March 6 & 7 in Costa Mesa, CA at The Orange County Performing Arts Center
March 12 in Akron, OH at the E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall, Univ. of Akron
March 14 in New Brunswick, NJ at the NJ State Theatre
March 15 in Springfield, MA at Symphony Hall
March 27 & 28 in Dayton, OH at the Dayton Convention Center

ANNE RUNOLFSSON
Add Jan. 22 to Runolfsson's previous New York cabaret dates at Eighty Eight's in the West Village. Runolfsson is scheduled to sing at 10:30pm, and reservations can be made by calling 212-924-0088. The club is located at 228 West 10th Street; there is a $12 music charge plus a two drink minimum. Runolfsson will also sing in L.A. at the famed The Cinegrill from Feb. 10-14, 1998.

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

-- By Andrew Gans

e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com