It’s surprising that Betty Buckley has not performed the songs of William Finn prior to the Off-Broadway revue Elegies: A Song Cycle, since both Buckley and Finn’s work is rife with humanity. Finn’s songs in Elegies paint portraits of lives now ended, and Buckley — and the rest of the five-person company — bring the stories to touching life. If the women in the cast, Buckley and Carolee Carmello, offer the more moving performances, the trio of men — Michael Rupert, Keith Byron Kirk and appealing newcomer Christian Borle — are also top-notch singers and actors.
Although one might expect an evening of Elegies to be overwhelmingly dark, there are many lighter moments in the 90-minute intermissionless musical. Finn’s sense of humor — evidenced in his most famous theatrical piece, Falsettos — is sometimes bizarre but often funny and witty and is on display in Elegies.
In “Mark’s All Male Thanksgiving,” delivered tenderly by Rupert, Finn writes, “Every Thanksgiving Mark made his all-male Thanksgiving dinner, where men cooked the turkey and men made the cranberry sauce — without nuts — ‘cause men don’t like nuts. But the stuffing was manly, the fingerbowls ditto and ditto the pureed sweet yams. Very manly when Mark made his all-male Thanksgiving.”
In a remembrance of “Passovers” past, Carolee Carmello sings, “And we’d fight to be the first out of the car, having come this far. Having come so far for this feast, this feast of no yeast. And the matzoh balls are so hard when you cut them, they just fly. Why? Passover.” Finn has a knack for making the audience laugh, then suddenly switching gears to a serious moment that makes the song even more touching. After Carmello jokes about the many idiosyncrasies of her family, she sings, “Uncle Bernie passed over. Uncle Harvey passed over. Nanna Ida passed over and my mother, my mother passed over.” Many of the songs are odes to friends (producer Joseph Papp, composer Jack Eric Williams) now gone, and that fact adds an unexpected poignancy to the lyrics. The songs often refer to those times in life that only later, upon reflection, do we realize how beautiful they were and are now, unfortunately, gone forever. Musically, Finn’s tunes are as catchy as ever: In “Joe Papp” (“Joe Papp never took crap”) the men join Keith Byron Kirk for a rousing tribute to the former Public Theater founder. Several other of the songs are simply beautiful and cry out for a cast recording.
As for Buckley — who is in terrific voice — she portrays an array of characters, some humorous, some heartbreaking and illuminates each with a dazzling intensity. In “Only One,” the Tony Award winner appears in the guise of a strict, disciplined and dying English professor who needs “only one” student who understands what she is teaching. Buckley’s “Infinite Joy” is the show-stopper of the evening, and her building of the song to a belty finale — “Life has infinite joys, has infinite joys, life has infinite, infinite jooooyyyyyyy” — is thrilling. She and Carmello also duet on “Dear Reader,” but it is her duet with Borle on “14 Dwight Ave., Natick, Massachusetts” that provides one of the most heartfelt moments of the evening. The song chronicles one last drive through the town where Buckley and Borle’s characters spent a good portion of their lives.
Other highlights of the musical, which ends its all-too-short run this weekend, include “Monica & Mark,” about a friend (Monica) made while visiting a mutual friend dying from AIDS (Mark); the subsequent song, “Anytime (I Am There),” sung by Monica (Carmello), “the mother,” who herself is dying of cancer; Borle’s emotional “When the Earth Stopped Turning”; Kirk’s touching “Goodbye,” which segues into Carmello’s lush tones on the haunting “Boom Boom”; and the penultimate tune, “Looking Up,” delivered with passion by Buckley.
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Devoted theatregoers face a quandary March 31. The evening offers three very exciting options: the first preview of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters (I’ll be at this one), the one-night-only Mack and Mabel all-star concert and Blast from the Past, a benefit concert of Bubbling Brown Sugar at the John Houseman Theatre (450 West 42nd Street). The latter will feature original Sugar cast member Vivian Reed, who will offer a rendition of “God Bless the Child” at the event, which is a benefit for Amas Musical Theatre. Those taking part in the concert of the musical include Reed plus Ebony Jo-Ann, Chuck Cooper, Darius de Haas, Rob Evan, Carmen Ruby Floyd, Maurice Hines, Pam Isaacs, Liz Larsen, James Randolph, James Stovall, Maria Torres, Tamara Tunie and Tony Award winner Lillias White. Rajendra Ramoon Maharej will direct the evening with musical direction by David Alan Bunn.
The party following Blast from the Past will be held at the West Bank Café, which is located in New York at 407 West 42nd Street. Tickets are priced between $100 (show only) and $200 (show and party). Cocktails and silent auction begin at 6:15 PM with the concert at 7 PM. Call (212) 563-2565 for reservations.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Dame Edna Everage, the wacky, lovable creation of writer-actor Barry Humphries, has extended her latest tour, A Night with Dame Edna: The Family Tour. Edna, beloved the world over (of course), will bring her new show to the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis, IN from Nov. 4-9, 2003, and then to the Louisville Palace in Louisville, KY Feb. 3-8, 2004. Other tour dates are pending. . . . Thoroughly Modern Millie Tony winner and Michigan native Sutton Foster — who just extended her Broadway concert through Nov. 2 — will take part in a one-night-only fundraiser for The Mason Street Warehouse, a new professional theatre company that will open summer 2003. The May 4 benefit will take place in the new 199-seat theatre, located in downtown Saugatuck, MI. Tickets for the benefit are priced between $37.50 and $75 and are available by calling (269) 857-4898 or (888) 585-3737. The Mason Street Warehouse is located at 400 Culver Street. By the way, the premiere season at the Mason Street Warehouse will include I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (July 2-13), Dirty Blonde (July 16-27) and Our Sinatra (Aug. 6-17) . . . . A host of Broadway favorites will take part in an April 7 concert to benefit the New York City chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The annual “Cabaret Night” at the Hudson Theatre at the Millennium Hotel will feature the talents of former Renters Jesse L. Martin and Daphne Rubin-Vega as well as Hairspray’s Kerry Butler, Little Shop of Horror’s Billy Porter and recent Oklahoma! star Patrick Wilson. The buffet dinner and auction will begin at 6 PM with the cabaret show at 8 PM. Tickets for the dinner and show are priced at $175 with special priority seating available for $200. The Hudson Theatre at the Millennium Hotel is located at 145 West 44th Street. Call (212) 463-7787, ext. 3016 for information or visit www.msnyc.org. . . . The legendary Barbara Cook will return to the Kennedy Center this summer with a new concert. Cook, who received a 2002 Tony nomination for her most recent program, Mostly Sondheim, will offer Barbara Cook in Concert June 5-15 at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theatre. For more information, visit www.kennedy-center.org. . . . Transgendered actress Alexandra Billings will bring her acclaimed show Before I Disappear to New York’s Grand Theater at the Producer’s Club (358 West 44th Street) April 23-27. Subtitled “From Boyhood to Womanhood,” the evening chronicles Billings’ dramatic life and features book and score by Billings with additional lyrics by Chrisanne Blankenship. The April 23 performance will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Call (212) 868-5252 for tickets. . . . And, finally, it’s a busy time for Phyllis Newman, who recently hosted her annual Nothing Like a Dame benefit. On April 6, Tony winner Newman will host Timeless Divas, a series dedicated to women over 40 in the worlds of cabaret, theatre and songwriting. The evening at the Triad Theatre (158 West 72nd Street) will feature performances by Heather Mac Rae, Baby Jane Dexter and Marta Sanders; songwriters Gretchen Cryer, Nancy Ford and Carol Hall; and two original "Marvelettes," Denise Morgan and Wanda Houston. Shari Upbin will direct the evening, which will feature musical direction by Tracy Stark. Call (212) 362 2590 for reservations. On April 21, Newman will be a part of the “Cocktail Hour” version of “Food for Thought” when she and Dick Latessa read Triangle, a play written by her late husband, Adolph Green, and his writing partner Betty Comden. The 6 PM evening at the National Arts Club (15 Gramercy Park South) will also feature a reading of the play Of Father and Sons. Tickets for "Cocktail Hour" readings are priced at $45, which also includes a wine-and-cheese reception. Reservations may be made by calling (212) 362 2560. On May 31, Newman will narrate a Family Concert at Carnegie Hall’s Isaac Stern Auditorium. The 2 PM performance features Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops; go to www.carnegie-hall.org for more information. And, if all that weren’t enough, Newman will also narrate “Peter and The Wolf” at a children’s program for the Music Festival of the Hamptons at noon on July 20.
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Through March 30 Elegies at Lincoln Center in NY, NY
May 31 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA
Liz Callaway in Concert:
May 16 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA
Barbara Cook in Concert:
March 28 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
March 28-29 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 30 at the Ham Auditorium at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Maureen McGovern in Concert
April 12-13 at Center Stage—Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, CA
April 14-19 at Founder's Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
May 30 - 31 at the Palmer Events Center with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Austin, TX
June 7 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN
Christiane Noll in Concert
April 5 Springfield, MA with Springfield Symphony
April 9 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
April 21 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
May 24 Williamsburg, VA with the Virginia Arts Festival
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!