DIVA TALK: Can't Help Lovin' Dat Music Man

News   DIVA TALK: Can't Help Lovin' Dat Music Man BETTY BUCKLEY
Earlier this week I received a nice note from Betty Buckley, who is currently in California performing a host of concerts. Thursday night she thrilled audiences at the Poway Center in Poway, California, and this weekend brings concerts in Cerritos (May 5 & 6 at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts), Glendora (May 7 at the Haugh Performing Arts Center) and Malibu (May 8 at Pepperdine University). Buckley also belted out the National Anthem this past Wednesday at a Padres Game, and fans of BB can greet the star in person on Thursday, May 11 at a CD signing at the Beverly Hills Rizzoli Bookstore (9501 Wilshire Boulevard) at 6 PM. Ms. B will also read excerpts from the Grammy-nominated “The Diaries of Adam & Eve”; call (310) 278-2247 for more information . . . And, one final item: Don’t forget to set your VCRs this Sunday, May 7 when BB is featured on the “CBS Sunday Morning News,” hosted by Charles Osgood. The news program runs from 9 AM to 10:30 AM.

BETTY BUCKLEY
Earlier this week I received a nice note from Betty Buckley, who is currently in California performing a host of concerts. Thursday night she thrilled audiences at the Poway Center in Poway, California, and this weekend brings concerts in Cerritos (May 5 & 6 at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts), Glendora (May 7 at the Haugh Performing Arts Center) and Malibu (May 8 at Pepperdine University). Buckley also belted out the National Anthem this past Wednesday at a Padres Game, and fans of BB can greet the star in person on Thursday, May 11 at a CD signing at the Beverly Hills Rizzoli Bookstore (9501 Wilshire Boulevard) at 6 PM. Ms. B will also read excerpts from the Grammy-nominated “The Diaries of Adam & Eve”; call (310) 278-2247 for more information . . . And, one final item: Don’t forget to set your VCRs this Sunday, May 7 when BB is featured on the “CBS Sunday Morning News,” hosted by Charles Osgood. The news program runs from 9 AM to 10:30 AM.

 

REBECCA LUKER & THE MUSIC MAN:
Every once in a great while my enthusiasm for the theatre begins to wane, and then, thankfully, some production comes along that reenergizes my passion. The last time this happened was toward the end of the 1996-97 season. I had seen a slew of shows open during a short period, all of which left me rather cold. Then I attended Maury Yeston’s Titanic, and as soon as his lush music and the show’s spectacular 15-minute opening began, I was swept away. The same could be said about the current revival of Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. From the moment the onstage brass band began playing an exuberant version of “76 Trombones,” I was hooked.

I must admit I’ve never seen the show onstage or even on screen, and it affected me in a way I hadn’t expected. I knew I enjoyed several of the songs from the score, but I hadn’t anticipated the emotional aspect of the show. I was completely moved by the end of the first act, which focuses on Marian’s (Rebecca Luker) change of heart toward Prof. Harold Hill (Craig Bierko) when her heretofore-soft-spoken brother lets loose a torrent of words at the arrival of his cornet. It’s one of those moments that musical theatre does best: the force of the music, the expressions of the actors and the sentiment expressed all combine to a thrilling effect. Another such moment occurred toward the end of the second act when Rebecca Luker began singing one of the show’s most beautiful tunes, “Till There Was You.” I’ve heard this song numerous times in concert and cabaret settings, but it never had such an emotional impact as it did in the context of the show: The song illustrates how Hill’s antics have opened up the heart of this formerly cold, emotionally shut-down librarian. “There were birds in the skies, but I never heard them singing. . .”

As described, I was completely enchanted by the performances of the show’s two leads, Bierko and Luker. Bierko reminded me of a cross between Dick Van Dyke and Jim Carrey, a sort of goofy but lovable oaf who unknowingly revitalizes an entire town with his shenanigans, only to be affected as deeply himself. Luker, too, was impressive. In fact, it’s been a joy to watch this performer grow as an actress over the past decade. One of the first performances I caught when I moved to New York was Luker’s turn as opera diva Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera. Since that time I have watched her turns in The Secret Garden, Show Boat, Encores! The Boys from Syracuse and, most recently, the revival of The Sound of Music. The radiant actress, however, has never offered as focused a performance as she has in Music Man. Her character growth is beautifully acted, and when she opens her voice to sing, it’s magical. When she reaches the climactic high notes of her songs, it’s as if a hundred singing birds pour out of her mouth -- her rich, creamy, vibrato-filled tones are beautiful. Credit, of course, must also go to Susan Stroman whose direction and choreography keep the show moving along despite its nearly three-hour length. Be sure to catch Music Man at the Neil Simon Theatre. Trust me, you can’t help lovin’ dat Man. Thought you would enjoy reading a few of Rebecca Luker’s reviews, which follow:

Chesley Plemmons in The Danbury News-Times:
“[Bierko’s] co-star is the luminous Rebecca Luker as Marian, the librarian. Luker has garnered raves from audiences and critics for recent performances in ‘The Sound of Music’ and "’Show Boat,’ and she is no less enchanting here. She possesses a strong yet sweet soprano that lends a shimmer to her moonlit ballads.”

Clifford A. Ridley in the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“And [Bierko] has a splendid foil in Luker, who sings Marian's arching melodies in a limpid soprano and persuasively metamorphoses from chilly skeptic to loving co-conspirator. She also has a fine way of saying ‘Ssssh’ -- an admonition, fortunately, that this ebullient production mostly ignores.”

Elysa Gardner in USA Today
: “The always enchanting Rebecca Luker is, predictably, an ideal Marian. Her lustrous soprano, with its bell-like tone and caressing vibrato, evokes the singing of Barbara Cook, the original Marian and one of the greatest vocalists ever to grace a Broadway stage. There also is a lovely, relaxed chemistry between Luker and Bierko, as Marian strips away Hill’s armor of cunning and deceit, and he, in turn, melts her chaste reserve.”

Michael Kuchwara for the Associated Press
: “No wonder Bierko's Hill attracts the attention of Marian the librarian, a part Rebecca Luker was born to play. Marian is the repressed spirit, set free by the beguiling cad. Luker sings the role beautifully, soaring through ‘Goodnight, My Someone,’ ‘My White Knight,’ ‘Will I Ever Tell You?’ and ‘Till There Was You’ with artful simplicity.”

 

ELAINE PAIGE
The leading lady of the British musical theatre opened this week in the much-anticipated revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. What follows are excerpts from yet another interview with the multi-talented actress/singer that appeared in The Guardian . . .

about singing Rodgers and Hammerstein vs. Andrew Lloyd Webber:
“I find it more difficult. It's more formal. I keep thinking I'm sounding like Julie Andrews -- I'm sure I'm not -- but one has to be more conscious of the vowel sounds and singing, as well as speaking, in Received English. And musically, it's much more lyrical. The tunes sweep about more. You know that a woman has a break in her voice -- you have a chest register and then you go over the break and you're up in the soprano or mezzo-soprano area, so one is having to negotiate that much more. And it's a quieter kind of singing, more controlled, not belting it out. There are moments where I feel I want to sing out, but in a different way. So it's all proving rather a challenge, really, but I'm enjoying it.”

about her first non-singing stage role in The Misanthrope:
“I did miss the music a bit -- but only in the wings, when I was waiting to go on. It seemed dreadfully quiet, rather unnerving. But the wonderful thing was that one didn't have to be quite so obsessive about one's health, and one's voice.”

about her agent approaching her to play Anna in The King and :
“So I thought: ‘Oh all right, just to keep him quiet, I will [think about the role],’ and I played the Broadway album and I had forgotten what a fantastic score it was. I mean, each song, one after the other -- you go, ‘Oh gosh, is that in it?’ ‘Oh, that's a good one!’ So I was sitting there thinking: ‘Crikey, this is a jolly good score,’ and then I read the play -- and I hate reading plays, it's so boring usually. But I started reading, and I got quicker and quicker because it was really holding my attention. It is the most wonderful story, and by the end I was in floods of tears, it's so sad. And I was rather shocked at my own response, and I thought: ‘I think I really would rather love to do this.’”

about her run in Piaf and having to leave the show early:
“Oh, it was awful, and I vowed to myself I would never, ever push myself to the edge that much again. It was really frightening. Because absolutely everything seemed to be impossible to deal with, just little things became major -- noise, if someone had a radio on, or even the sound of traffic, or being in someone's company for longer than 10 minutes -- I started to find it all too much. [One weekend she began crying] and I could not stop. There was no real reason to weep, but I was just so tired. And the nursing staff said, ‘We really think we should call your doctor,’ and he came out there to see me and said, ‘You're not going back. You're absolutely exhausted and you've got to stop, otherwise you will be seriously ill.’ So basically that was it. It was the most terrible, terrible time. I'm not a person that gives in. I consider myself to be quite a sturdy person; I'm not a quitter. So there was an awful guilt attached to it - but I knew he was right, because I couldn't walk I was so tired. I've never known an experience like that ever, before or since. And I don't intend to ever go there again. I learned then that I would have to re-evaluate things and balance my life better.”

about Broadway living up to her expectations:
“And more! I thought: ‘Gosh, it really has been worth the wait.’ And I think had I gone with Evita, I probably wouldn't have been ready to deal with it. It was just the most perfect time to go with that particular show. . . I do love it over there -- I feel a different person when I'm in America. I love the energy, and it seems easier to gather people up at the last minute and say, ‘Let's go rollerblading in the park’ -- I had lots of friends that I could sort of play with over there. And there's a sense of freedom that somehow I don't seem to have here. I can't quite put it into words, but I think you're allowed to be whoever you want to be over there, and there isn't the class thing.”

about performing in long runs:
“When you asked how long I'd be doing The King and I, and I said a year, I thought, ‘Omigod, it sounds like a prison sentence’ -- you know it's going to encroach on your entire life. You go into a sort of athletic mode where you try and become superfit and stay that way, because what it really amounts to, doing this kind of work, is stamina. And so one becomes, or I become, anyway, slightly obsessive, particularly about my health, because you wouldn't want to read the letters people write when you're off and they're disappointed -- it's so awful, the guilt one feels for not being there. This is the difference between acting in a play and singing in a musical -- your voice becomes everything. The first thing you do in the morning is sing a few notes to see how you are -- the voice is a very fragile thing, and it alters with the weather. If it's a damp, wet day, the likelihood is one will not sing as well, though an air-conditioned, dry atmosphere is the worst. And, of course, you are terrified of catching colds. So you just become completely obsessive and end up living the life of a recluse, pretty much. And that's what becomes boring about it in the end -- to do that for 20 years.”

 

IN OTHER NEWS This weekend, Tony winners Patti LuPone and George Hearn are performing a concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at Avery Fisher Hall. Joining them are two other theatre favorites, Davis Gaines and three-time Tony winner Audra McDonald. McDonald, who is playing the Beggar Woman, will perform some music not in the original Broadway production, and, thankfully, the evenings will be recorded live and released on CD some time soon. Tommy Krasker is producing the live recording. By the way, I caught the Sweeney dress rehearsal Wednesday, and it was quite exciting as Hearn, LuPone and McDonald were in spectacular form. About her performance as Mrs. Lovett, La LuPone recently had this to say to Opera News: “The intervals. The range. I don't know whether Stephen [Sondheim] wanted to write it in those keys, or those are the keys that Angela Lansbury wanted to sing it in, but I don't know how she did it, eight shows a week. It's all over the place. Down, up, up, down. But this is one of the best and most exciting offers of my career. I am leaving musical theater and going into opera. I'm trading up!” . . . Sian Phillips, who was last on Broadway in Marlene, will make her American cabaret debut from June 7 through June 23 at New York’s FireBird Cafe. Ms. Phillips, who is coming to New York directly from cabaret and theatre performances in England and Israel, will perform her new act, "Falling in Love Again," Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 9 PM and Fridays at 9 and 11 PM. There is a $30 music charge and a $20 minimum; call The FireBird Cafe (363 W. 46th Street) at (212) 586-0244 . . . I was sorry to hear that Liza Minnelli has had to cancel her concert tour until further notice because of health problems. The star needs a second hip surgery operation, but hopefully she’ll return to the stage after she recovers. . . . Here’s more info regarding Audra McDonald’s upcoming Town Hall concert to benefit GMHC. The evening will feature songs from her critically acclaimed CDs, “How Glory Goes” and “Way Back to Paradise” (Nonesuch), as well as new and classic tunes culled from the Broadway catalogue. About the upcoming concert on Monday, June 12 GMHC executive director, Ana Oliveria, recently said, “We are so excited that Audra McDonald will be donating her amazing talent in support of GMHC. We are able to continue our work largely through the support of friends like Audra. This promises to be an exciting evening for a good cause.” And Ms McDonald explained, “I am very happy that this show will benefit GMHC, an organization that is doing so much for people with AIDS. It is important that we all do what we can to help fight this epidemic.” Tickets for the concert are priced at $35, $45, $60 and $75, and are available through Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100. Benefit level seating begins at $150: Tickets at $250, $500 and $1000 include a post-concert reception with Ms. McDonald at the historic Hudson Theater. All benefit level tickets can be purchased directly from GMHC Special Events at (212) 367-1514. . . Last week I reported that Lea Salonga will indeed star in the upcoming production of Miss Saigon at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. And, here are the dates: Previews begin Sept. 17, opening night is Sept. 29 and her last show is Dec. 21, 2000 . . . First came Alison Fraser’s new CD, “Men in My Life,” and now comes Sherie Rene Scott’s first solo recording, “Men I’ve Had.” Scott, who is currently belting her heart out in AIDA, will release her debut CD on May 23 on the Internet independent label Sh-K-Boom Records (www.sh-k-boom.com). The recording will feature songs by Pete Townshend, Elton John, Randy Newman as well as previously unrecorded songs by Kander and Ebb and the late Jonathan Larson. The album gives Scott the opportunity to pay tribute to the “Men She’s Had” (world-famous composers she’s worked with in her career). You can expect to hear such tunes as The Who’s “Squeezebox,” Randy Newman’s “Real Emotional Girl,” Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open The Door,” Jonathan Larson’s “Love Heals” and more.

 

REMINDERS:
BETTY BUCKLEY
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
May 13 Benefit for the Huntington Theatre Company at the Boston University Theatre in Boston, MA (617) 266-0800
June 30 & July 1 John Drew Theatre (Guild Hall) in East Hampton, NY
July 24 Martin Theatre (Ravinia Festival) in Highland Park, IL
August 21-September 3 Donmar Warehouse in London, UK
September 16 Stranahan Theatre in Toledo, OH
October 6-7 Scottsdale Center for the Arts Theatre in Scottsdale, AZ
October 28 Univ. of Texas Cowan Fine & Perf. Arts Center in Tyler, TX

 

BARBARA COOK
I recently received a few new concert dates for theatre/cabaret legend Barbara Cook, which follow:
June 13 at the Playhouse Theatre, Hotel Dupont in Wilmington, Del. (302) 656-4401
September 14 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA (619) 748-0505
September 21 & 22 at the Sydney Opera House (in concert with David Campbell) in Sydney, Australia 011-61-2-9250-7777
September 28-October 1 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA (714) 556-2787

  LINDA EDER
Eder in concert:
May 20 at the Shubert Theatre in Chicago, IL (312) 977-1700
July 8 with Michael Feinstein & The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at the Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta, GA; (404) 733-4801
July 14 with Feinstein at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA; (206) 628-0888
July 15 with Feinstein at Schnitzer Hall in Portland, OR; (503) 274 6564
July 16 with Feinstein at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, CA; (415) 551-2000
August 5 at the Wildflower Music Festival in White Mills, PA
August 6 with Feinstein at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ; (732) 335-0400
August 8 with Feinstein at the Mann Performing Arts Center in Philadelphia, PA (215) 336-2000
August 9 with Feinstein at the Wolf Trap Filene Center in Vienna, VA; (703) 218-6500 or 1-800-955-5566
August 19 at the John Drew Theater of Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY (631) 324-4050

August 25 with Feinstein at The Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL; go to www.ravinia.org
August 26 Boys & Girls Club Fundraiser at The River Center w/ Michael Feinstein in Minneapolis, MN
September 26 at the Jones Hall w/Houston Symphony in Houston, TX; call (713) 224-7575
November 4 at the Westbury Music Fair in Long Island, NY; call (516) 334-0800
November 17 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ; call (732) 246-SHOW
November 18 at the State Theatre in Easton, PA; call (610) 252-3132

 

PATTI LUPONE
Several concert dates have been added to Patti LuPone’s ever-growing schedule. What follows are La LuPone’s confirmed concert appearances as of this week:
May 4-6 in Sweeney Todd at Avery Fisher Hall (Lincoln Center) New York, NY; (212) 875-5656
May 12 at the Union County Arts Center in Rahway, NJ; (732) 499-0441
May 13 at the Staller Center for the Arts in Stonybrook, NY; (516) 632 ARTS
June 8-11 at Theatrefest/Memorial Auditorium at Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, NJ; (973) 655-5112

 

KAREN MASON
Now through May 14 Davenport’s Cabaret in Chicago; call 773-278 1830
May 26-27 Mason opens the Cabaret series at the Berkshire Theatre Festival
June 1-4 Theatre concert at the new Metropolis Theatre in Arlington Heights, IL; call (847) 577-2121
June 5 Opening night of the San Francisco Cabaret Convention
June 7 The Plush Room in San Francisco; call 415-885-2800
Sept. 5 - Oct. 14 Arci’s Place, 450 Park Avenue, New York, NY; call (212) 532-4370.

 

AUDRA McDONALD

Scheduled concert dates for McDonald follow:
May 4-6 in Sweeney Todd at Avery Fisher Hall (Lincoln Center) New York, NY; (212) 875-5656
May 12 at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater in Boston, MA
May 14 at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C.

 

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