DIVA TALK: Carmello & Mason, Plus Chita In Chicago?

DIVA TALK: Carmello & Mason, Plus Chita In Chicago? Hello, diva lovers! As we head into the holiday weekend, I wanted to wish you all a wonderful holiday. May 1999 bring much joy, plenty of diva sightings as well as some "early morning madness and magic in the making." Here are a few diva tidbits . . . enjoy!

Hello, diva lovers! As we head into the holiday weekend, I wanted to wish you all a wonderful holiday. May 1999 bring much joy, plenty of diva sightings as well as some "early morning madness and magic in the making." Here are a few diva tidbits . . . enjoy!

CAROLEE CARMELLO
I've enjoyed Carolee Carmello's performances over the past decade both on and Off-Broadway, where she has often demonstrated her comedic abilities (in Falsettos as one of the "lesbians next door") and vocal prowess (in the two-person, Off-Broadway musical john and jen). However, with her leading role in Parade, Carmello has taken that great leap to divadom and musical theatre star. Providing one of the core performances of this new Hal Prince musical, Carmello brings an emotional honesty to her work that is completely stirring. In fact, whenever she takes the stage in this wonderful and haunting musical at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, your eyes are riveted on her every move, as a warmth and sincerity spread out over the audience. Just watch her performance during the trial that concludes Act I. Although she utters not a word in this sequence, her silence speaks volumes. The Obie Award winning actress (Hello Again) also possesses a powerful voice that she controls with exquisite precision. There is virtually no break in her voice as she moves from chest to head tones, and her belt range is expansive. Carmello is particularly effective in her first act solo, "You Don't Know This Man," as well as her second act duet, "All the Wasted Time," with her doomed husband. I thought you would be interested to read what some of the New York critics had to say about Carmello's performance.


Fintan O'Toole in Daily News: ". . .On this large canvas, Parade zooms in on the odd, fragile and ultimately very moving relationship of Lucille and Leo Frank, perfectly played by Carolee Carmello and Brent Carver. Crucially, they are not conceived as Jewish martyrs. Carmello and Carver create rich and fascinating portraits of people with complex motivations. . ."
Michael Kuchwara for AP: "Carmello possesses a rich, dramatic voice and tremulous smile that is immediately ingratiating. In Parade, she triumphs, creating a vulnerable character whose strength in supporting her husband never wavers. . ."
Ben Brantley in The New York Times: ". . .Ms. Carmello nonetheless creates a vital and affecting portrait of a sheltered woman thrust out into a harsh and dangerous world. Made up and dressed to look a bit like Eleanor Roosevelt (the period-appropriate costumes are by Judith Dolan), the actress' very accent and vocal inflections bespeak both a heritage of Southern Jewish gentility and a fluttery primness that never quite conceals a yearning for a more fully lived life . . . there is something infinitely touching about the valiant hope that Ms. Carmello projects."
Donald Lyons in New York Post: "Parade, a musical about a terrible injustice, rises beyond simple agitprop in the depiction of its central characters, Leo and Lucille Frank, who are beautifully played by Brent Carver and Carolee Carmello . . ."

KAREN MASON
On Sunday night I attended Karen Mason's Christmas concert at the new Laurie Beechman Theatre in the West Bank Cafe, and what a wonderful way to end the weekend it was. Trimmed down, spruced up and highly energized, Karen Mason walked on the stage of the new cabaret space to tumultuous applause from the jam-packed audience. It was Mason's third and final holiday concert, and the former acclaimed Sunset Boulevard standby to the stars performed an evening of mostly Christmas tunes, which began with an upbeat medley of Jerry Herman's "We Need a Little Christmas" and "It's Today" with a sprinkling of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "What the World Needs Now." Mason was in fine voice and spirit, almost giddy at times, announcing that after a seven year engagement, she and songwriter Paul Rolnick would be married next year. A song by Rolnick entitled "Once Upon a Dream" was one of the highlights of the evening as was a heartfelt rendition of Joni Mitchell's "River," which in Mason's hands was a wistful reflection of a lost love. The first half of the evening also included such wintertime/holiday songs as "Sleigh Ride" (an addition of "this time I'm sleighing/I'm sleighing for good!" was a welcome tribute to Norma D), Mel Torme's "Christmas Song" and a list of presents to avoid in "Not This Christmas" -- no chia pets, fruit cakes or "anything Titanic" -- a comical tune by Brian Lasser and Barry Kleinbort. The most poignant moment of Act One was a beautifully shaded medley of Harnick and Bock's "Now I Have Everything" and Kander and Ebb's "Married."

Returning for the second half in a glamorous silvery gown, Mason offered a hilarious riff on the Xmas standard, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." That was followed by a medley of Victor Herbert's "Toyland" with the Peter Pan anthem "I Won't Grow Up." Another pleasant combo was the pairing of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things" with the little-heard Irving Berlin ballad "Count Your Blessings." Mason again turned comedic with Brian Lasser, Edward Dunne and Geoff Leon's "I Eat." The evening concluded with a set of holiday tunes, and the singing actress returned for an encore that wished those in attendance "The Sweetest Nights and the Finest Days." It certainly had been a very sweet night . . . For those of you who were unable to attend Mason's concerts, Sunday's show was taped for future release on CD. Stay tuned for details. What follows is a list of upcoming Mason appearances:


Jan. 2-11, 1999 "Broadway in Concert" in Sweden with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra (performing with Greg Edelman, Stephen Bogardus, Debbie Gravitte and Kim Crosby

March 12, 1999 at the Tilles Hall at Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y. 8 PM concert is sold out. Tickets for the 10 PM performance are $25. Call (516) 299-3100

QUOTABLE QUOTES:


Petula Clark discusses resuming the role of Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard's national tour with writer Sheryl Flatow (for an upcoming issue of Playbill):
"Before Norma, I had always played nice, sympathetic women. And suddenly I was confronted with having to dig out of my being -- hate, jealousy, fear, spitefulness -- a whole bag of stuff I had never had to deal with before. That's just not me. She's deluded and she lives in the past. Every evening I had to draw on all these things I'd kept far away from me, and it was difficult and wonderful and emotional and cathartic."


Director Susan Schulman discusses this new production of Sunset:
"The main difference is that this is set within a metaphor, and the metaphor is a sound stage of a movie studio. The whole show takes place inside this sound stage, where things like the house are created. So there's a fuzzy line between what's real and what's fantasy. And that, of course, is very much what's happening in Norma's mind. She can't differentiate. She's still playing scenes, she still sees herself up on the screen. I wanted very much to create a world where that kind of confusion can happen. I was very influenced by film noir. I was a big movie fan as a child, and I remember the way those movies were lit, I remember the art direction. When I spoke to my lighting designer about the feel the show should have, I said, 'Think Orson Welles films.'"

IN OTHER NEWS One of the most exciting diva items I heard recently is the very real possibility (in fact, it's almost a done deal) that Chita Rivera will open the Las Vegas production of Kander and Ebb's Chicago this coming March. What's even more exciting is it looks like Rivera will not play the role she originated on Broadway, Velma Kelly, but the Gwen Verdon role of Roxie Hart. Marcia Lewis, who currently stars in the New York production of this critically acclaimed revival, will also make the trek to Vegas to reprise her Tony-nominated work as Matron "Mama" Morton . . .
A few Maureen McGovern concert dates have been set for 1999 for this multi-talented singer: Feb. 4, 1999 at Carnegie Hall (a tribute to Alan & Marilyn Bergman), Feb. 5 and 6 at Lincoln Center (a tribute to Harold Arlen) and Feb. 20, 1999 with the Louisville Symphony in Louisville, KY . . .
The Boston Conservatory production of Side Show, which will open after the New Year, may reinstate "She's Gone," a song cut from that musical during its New York previews.

REMINDERS:

BETTY BUCKLEY
BB concert line-up:
Dec. 28 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 29 at the Kravis Center for the Perf Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 30 in Fort Lauderdale, FL
Dec. 31 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, FL
Jan. 14, 1999 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, CA
Jan. 16 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, DE
Feb. 6 at the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, CA
April 17 at the Lehman Center for the Perf. Arts in Bronx, NY
April 23 at the College of New Jersey in Erwing, NJ
May 3, 1999 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, Ill.


Buckley will also be honored with a "Life in the Theatre" Award by T. Schreiber Studios on Monday, Jan. 25, 1999 at the Players Club (16 Gramercy Park South). Buckley will not perform that evening as originally announced; instead, video footage from the upcoming BB documentary will be presented. Producer Roger Berlind will also be honored, and Edward Norton will serve as the evening's chairperson. Call (212) 741-0209 for tickets ($250).

PATTI LuPONE
LuPone will bring her acclaimed new concert act, "Matters of the Heart," to the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia Jan. 11 and 13, 1999. The new act, which premiered this past August in California, was conceived and directed by Scott Wittman, the same man responsible for her Broadway concert, Patti LuPone on Broadway. The new act is an evening of original and contemporary music and boasts an eclectic mix of songwriters, including works by Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter and Randy Newman. For ticket info and orders, go to www.tickettek.com.au/Sydney Festival Home Page or www.sydneyfestival.org.au. Trivia buffs will recall that Patti has performed in Australia on one other occasion when she received critical acclaim in the Australian production of Evita in the early eighties.

After her Sydney engagement, LuPone will bring the new act to the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert, California Jan. 29 and 30, 1999. Call the McCallum's box office at (760) 340-2787 for tickets. And, on March 5, 6, and 7, 1999 she will appear with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore. Tickets go on sale Jan. 4, 1999, but they may be purchased during the Symphony's early sale, Dec. 1-23, 1998; call (410) 783-8000.

Also, LuPone will join opera star Bryn Terfel for a concert version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd to be held at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall from May 4 to May 6 in the year 2000. The performers will be backed by the New York Philharmonic, and the event will celebrate Sondheim's 70th birthday.

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

by Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com

Diva Talk is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard, 1976 1998.