Betty Buckley's return to the stage of the Bottom Line this past Friday night (Feb. 13) was as electric as it gets. I caught the final sold-out show of Buckley's Valentine weekend gig, which was titled "Heart to Heart and a Little Triumph" and subtitled "The Valentine's Blues Concert."
Opening with an upbeat version of "Angel from Montgomery," Buckley then segued into the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic "Come Rain or Come Shine," which she sent soaring. The Tony winner greeted the audience and explained that her two favorite performing venues are Carnegie Hall and the Bottom Line. The latter allows her to explore a dream -- one she had as a young woman -- to be the next Janis Joplin. Buckley joked that her mother wanted her to be Julie Andrews while she hoped to emulate Joplin; during her generous two-hour set, Buckley imitated neither, but performed both theatre and pop/rock tunes thrillingly.
BB explained that the show was divided into two sections, those songs for people who have a beloved at their side and those songs "for the rest of us." She began the first section with an inspired medley of three songs: "You're Nearer," Camelot's "If Ever I Would Leave You" and "My Funny Valentine." One of the highlights of the evening followed, her superb rendition of The Baker's Wife "Meadowlark." As many times as I've heard Buckley sing this song, I am always amazed at the slight changes she makes in her performance that keep the song fresh and stirring. This version began with a drum solo by percussionist Jamey Haddad--Buckley laughed when she explained that the drum solo had started out small and has now "turned into an event"--and concluded with Buckley belting full force, "My beautiful young man and I."
The next offering was a pair of two Wizard of Oz songs, "If I Only Had a Brain" and a super version of the Garland classic, "Over the Rainbow." "Prestidigitation," an interesting song by Pippin composer Stephen Schwartz followed. Buckley explained that she had toyed with the idea of performing a Halloween concert this past October with this Schwartz song as the show's centerpiece, but she decided on a Valentine evening instead.
Buckley did fine work with two more standards, "Spring Is Here," which led into a forceful reading of Rodgers and Hart's "Falling in Love with Love." For me, the highlight of the evening came next, two songs from her recent critically-acclaimed Broadway musical, Triumph of Love. First up was an upbeat tune, "If I Cannot Love," which was actually cut from the musical, and then "Serenity," which Buckley sang as beautifully as is possible. Kenny Werner and the band performed a solo version of a new composition by Werner, entitled "You Make Me Sing." That new tune was joined with Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Waters of March," which brought Buckley back centerstage. What I noticed most on this song was Buckley's flawless diction, which enhanced this Jobim standard. Buckley's superb version of Sunset Boulevard's "With One Look" followed, and then she sang the hell out of "Over You," the torchy tune from Tender Mercies. She concluded the set with her award-winning anthem, Cats' "Memory." Buckley returned to the stage for three thrilling encores: "Boulder to Birmingham," "As If We Never Said Goodbye" and a roof-raising "Piece of My Heart." The audience screamed with delight throughout the final song: It was a perfect ending to a perfect evening of song.
I know many of you (myself included) have been waiting anxiously for some "front Paige" news the past few months, and this week I have a heavy dose that should satisfy the legion of EP fans out there.
The award-winning actress, who has triumphed in London, on Broadway and around the world, will return to the London stage as Celimene in Sir Peter Hall's new production of The Misanthrope, Moliere's classic play. The repertory company production will begin previews on March 13 and officially open on March 26 at London's Piccadilly Theatre and will mark Paige's stage debut in a non-singing dramatic role. Paige, who has been chosen to join Hall's first commercial repertory company performing in London's West End, has worked with the acclaimed director before. In fact, Hall directed one of her biggest stage triumphs, Piaf, which she may still bring to these shores at some future date. But, for now, Paige says she is "thrilled to be taking on a dramatic role and be a part of this distinguished company." Tickets to this production may be purchased by calling 011-44-171-287-0464. If you live in the London area or plan to be visiting Britain at some time during the run, be sure to catch Paige in action. She is one of the most exciting performers to ever grace the stage.
In April Paige will take part in the celebration of the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber at the Royal Albert Hall. Paige has triumphed in three Lloyd Webber musicals--Evita, Cats and Sunset Boulevard--and she will perform numbers from both Evita and Cats at the 50th birthday celebration of the award-winning composer on April 7. Antonio Banderas, who portrayed Che in the film of Evita, is scheduled to perform songs from the musical with Paige.
On June 7 and 8 EP will take part in the charity concert Hey Mr. Producer, which will celebrate the work of another legendary Brit, producer Cameron Mackintosh. The event will benefit both the Royal National Institute for the Blind and a few theatrical charities. More information to come soon on this star-studded event.
And, even more Paige news. . .The star of Evita, Chess, Anything Goes, Piaf and Sunset Boulevard will appear in concert at the Hampton Court Palace Festival on June 19. Tickets may be purchased by calling 011-171-344 4444. . . .Wow, Paige is one busy lady these days!
Another busy lady is Karen Mason: A host of Mason events are lined up during the next two months that I thought you would be interested to learn about. First, on February 14, 15 and 16 the acclaimed Norma Desmond standby in Sunset Boulevard will take part in the 92nd Street Y's "Lyrics and Lyricist" series celebrating the songs of Ira and George Gershwin. On February 23, Mason will be one of the many divas involved in "Nothing Like a Dame," the fundraiser for Phyllis Newman's Health Initiative at the Shubert Theatre. Mason will then make an on-line appearance on Playbill On-line on March 9 at 9pm, and later that week, on March 14, she will appear in concert at the Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Reservations for that concert can be made by calling 914-698-0098. A radio appearance on the Stan Martin Show (WQEW-AM 1560 AM) follows on March 16, and March 20 brings Mason centerstage at Carnegie Hall. Entitled "The Broadway Songbook with Karen Mason," the evening will feature Mason performing with Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops Orchestra. And, finally, on March 29 Mason will sing with the New York City Gay Men's Chorus at Avery Fisher Hall in a tribute to George Gershwin.
NOTHING LIKE A DAME
The third annual production of Nothing Like a Dame will take place this Monday, February 23 at the Shubert Theatre on West 44th Street. The event supports the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of the Actors' Fund of America, a program that is committed to the health concerns of women in the entertainment industry.
At this time, the final list of "dames" performing include Lucie Arnaz, Lauren Bacall, Laurie Beechman, Joy Behar, Broadway Gospel Choir, The Broadway Kids, Zoe Caldwell, Glenn Close, Jane Connell, Blythe Danner, Lea DeLaria, Elena Egerova, Joan Hamburg, Judy Kuhn, Nancy Lemenager, Marcia Lewis, Karen Mason, Rue McClanahan, Rita Moreno, Bebe Neuwirth, Phyllis Newman, Paula Newsome, Christiane Noll, Christine Pedi, Jane Powell, Lynn Redgrave, Kate Shindle (Miss American 1998), Liz Smith, Elaine Stritch, Mary Testa and female cast members from Chicago, The Lion King and virtually every Broadway show.
Tickets for Nothing Like a Dame begin at $40 and include seats priced at $100, $200, $500 and $1,000. The $1,000 seats also include a post-show cast party with the dames at John's Pizzeria Times Square. For more information and for tickets, call the DAME-LINE at 1-888-DAME TIX (1 888-326-3849).
IN OTHER NEWS
Our Evita gal, Patti LuPone, is now scheduled to tape an appearance on the "Charlie Rose Show" on March 18. Stay tuned for an air date to be announced soon. . .The wonderful star of the recent Australian production of Sunset Boulevard, Debra Byrne, will perform at the Crown Casino Showroom in Melbourne on March 28 at 8pm. . . .There is a possibility that the Tony-winning star of Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga, may be the next Belle in the Broadway company of Beauty and the Beast. At this time nothing is definite, but let's hope that this talented lady returns to Broadway soon . . .
Carter will return to the cabaret stage of the Cafe Carlyle (Madison Avenue at 76th Street) on March 10. Reservations can be made by calling 212-744-1600.
The legendary Eartha Kitt continues at Cafe Carlyle (212-744-1600) 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.
From February 26 through March 1, La LuPone will perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. Tickets for these concerts, which range from $30-$48, are now on sale by calling 412-392 4900.
BP's concert schedule follows:
February 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 New Brunswick, NJ at the NJ State Theatre
March 15 Springfield, MA at Symphony Hall
March 27 & 28 in Dayton, OH at the Dayton Convention Center
Julie Wilson is currently performing at Michael's Pub at 57 East 54th Street (between Madison and Park Avenues). Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. There is a $20 music charge Tuesday-Saturday, $25 Friday and Saturday and a $15 food or drink minimum for all performances. Call (212) 758-2272 or (212) 355-0243 for reservations.
I also wanted to say thank you to those of you who were able to catch one of my cabaret shows at Don't Tell Mama. It was great to meet some other diva lovers, and I really appreciate the support. Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!
-- By Andrew Gans
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