DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Shameland's Florence Lacey Plus Drowsy on Disc and Gypsy News

News   DIVA TALK: Catching Up with Shameland's Florence Lacey Plus Drowsy on Disc and Gypsy News News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Florence Lacey in (top to bottom) Les Mis
Florence Lacey in (top to bottom) Les Mis Photo by Joan Marcus (Les Miz), Martha Swope (Evita)

FLORENCE LACEY
With Evita once again making headlines — the London revival recently opened to critical hosannas at the Adelphi Theatre — it seems only appropriate that Florence Lacey, the woman who holds the title for longest-running Eva and is also one of the finest singing actresses to play the part, is about to return to the stage.

Lacey, whose Broadway credits also boast Les Misérables, The Grand Tour as well as both the 1978 and 1995 productions of Hello, Dolly!, is set to make her Fringe Festival debut in Trouble in Shameland, which begins its limited engagement at the Actor's Playhouse Aug. 11. Lacey has been cast as Virginia Carlson, mother of Michael Carlson (Brad Standley), in the Bryan Putnam musical. "I'm playing a lot of mothers and grandmothers these days," Lacey says with a laugh, "and it's turning out to be a lot of fun. I'm getting nice things to sing and dramatic roles." In fact, Lacey recently played Carolee Carmello's mother in the world-premiere production of Kathie Lee Gifford's Saving Aimee and portrayed Edgar Allan Poe's mom in the Signature Theatre's acclaimed mounting of Nevermore this past winter.

Lacey explains that her invitation to play Virginia in Trouble in Shameland came via e-mail: "I said, 'Okay, e-mail me the script [and] let's see what it's like.' I read the role, and I thought, 'I have to do this. This is really terrific!' And that was before I even heard the score. The role is just so interesting and intricate."

Shameland — which incorporates puppetry, black-light theatre and video — concerns the aftereffects of a child who accidentally kills himself playing with a gun. "It's about [the older brother] who deals with his survivor guilt . . . by drawing and writing," says Lacey. "He goes into this creative world and creates these characters that he vicariously experiences life through. He's trying to find himself and doing it through art. And [as his mother], I'm also going through a lot of guilt because I didn't secure the gun. It's about a son and a mother's different journeys of guilt and shame, thus Shameland, and 'Shameland' is the [title of the] graphic novel that he is writing."

About her director, who also happens to have penned the musical's book and score, Lacey says, "[Bryan is] terrific. He's very creative — a very imaginative guy. It's very hard to put together a project like this with so little rehearsal time. I'm so impressed with him." Putnam is equally taken with his star. "Honestly, Flo is a writer and director's dream," says the composer. "She brings to Virginia a wealth of experience and insight and a static electricity that's perfect for this show. [I've] described Virginia as 'at once a pillow and a dragon,' and Flo understands and portrays that duality beautifully. She has already brought so much to the table. I am thrilled to see what comes next. And on top of all of that, she's a sincere and wonderful person to just talk with." Putnam also raves about Lacey's singing voice, a magnificently rangy alto that can be amazingly powerful and strikingly beautiful. If you've never had the privilege of hearing Lacey, try and hunt down a copy of her highlights recording of Evita — you'll be astounded by her vocal work as Eva, a role she played thousands of times in the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical. "I stopped counting after 3,000 [performances]," she says with a big laugh. "It's got to be close to 4,000, I think. Twelve years of my life in that part! It was six years steady, and then six years with hiatuses. I'd go out for three months or six months and then have a little break."

When asked how she was able to maintain her enthusiasm for the role, Lacey says, "All I'd have to do is remind myself that this opportunity was not going to last forever, and that this was definitely my role of a lifetime. . . . I also used to carry around biographies of [Evita] and even tapes of her speaking and lots of photographs. I had trunks that would travel with me — we called them the archives. If anybody wanted to know anything or was in need of any stimulation, all they had to do was come to me, and I'd throw something at them to get them riled up again about Evita."

And what did Lacey think of Alan Parker's "Evita" film? "I loved Antonio Banderas — I thought he was wonderful. I felt bad because I thought Madonna could have done it, but they lowered the keys and it took so much of the passion away. She only had to hit those notes once, [so] I think she could have done it, and it would have had the fire that [it needed]. If you heard tapes of Evita speaking — even though I didn't understand one word of her language — you could understand why the role was written in the range it was. It needed to be that huge range — belting very high — because that's the way she sounded. When she came to her last radio broadcast and her voice was really destroyed, it added to the vulnerability of the character. I think everything not being pushed to its emotional, physical, vocal limit, you lost some of who Evita was and what she was about. . . . I was so excited by the beginning of the movie. It was visually so beautiful, and then it lost me somewhere through it, and I honestly believe it's just because she wasn't reaching the passion. She wasn't getting to the hysteria of whipping these people up into a frenzy of believing in Peron."

As for future projects, Lacey says there's a chance of a European tour of Nevermore, and it looks like she will revisit her role in Saving Aimee when the musical plays the Signature Theatre in April 2007. But, for now, the multitalented actress is focusing on Trouble in Shameland, which she says is "very avant-garde . . . There are all these different realms that we go into through [the main character's imagination]. At one point I even become a dragon right in front [of the audience]."

[Trouble in Shameland will play the Actor's Playhouse, 100 Seventh Avenue South, Aug. 11 at 10 PM, Aug. 13 at 9:30 PM, Aug. 17 at 3 PM, Aug. 24 at 8 PM and Aug. 27 at 2:15 PM. For tickets call (212) 279-4488 or visit www.fringenyc.org.]

FOR THE RECORD: The Drowsy Chaperone
The Drowsy Chaperone, the hit new musical at the Marquis Theatre, is a show within a show, narrated by Man in Chair (Bob Martin), the musical theatre lover who describes — scene by scene — his favorite Broadway musical, which also happens to be titled The Drowsy Chaperone. The stars of the show — which won one of its five Tony Awards for Best Score (music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) — all get the chance to shine on the show’s original cast recording, which was recently released on the Ghostlight Records label.

Heading the cast is Tony Award winner Sutton Foster—of Thoroughly Modern Millie fame—as Janet Van De Graaff, the young starlet who vows to give up show business following her wedding to Robert Martin (played by Troy Britton Johnson). Foster lends her crystal-clear, powerful belt to one of the show’s best songs, “Show Off,” and also shines on her duet with co-star Johnson, “Accident Waiting to Happen.” Beth Leavel, the new Tony winner who plays the title role, also delivers the goods in the anthemic “As We Stumble Along,” belting the song with a purposefully overly dramatic force. Danny Burstein is also a standout, drawing laughs with his portrayal of film star Roman Bartelli and his delivery of “I Am Aldolpho.” And, Kecia Lewis-Evans (as Trix, the aviatrix) brings verve and an impressive sound to the musical's penultimate number, the catchy "I Do, I Do in the Sky."

DIVA TIDBITS
Defying Gravity: The Music of Stephen Schwartz is the title of an upcoming evening at Drew University's Concert Hall. Broadway favorites Liz Callaway and Debbie Gravitte as well as cabaret regular Scott Coulter will perform the music of Stephen Schwartz Oct. 7 at the New Jersey venue. Sam Davis will be featured at the piano. Drew University is located in Madison, NJ. For tickets and additional information call (973) 408-3917.

Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole, who will return to Broadway this fall in the new musical Grey Gardens, will offer a special concert to benefit the Actors' Fund of America Sept. 18 at 7:30 PM. The venue for the previously announced concert will be New World Stages, located in Manhattan at 340 West 50th Street. Tony-winning Hairspray composer Marc Shaiman will be the musical director for the one-night-only event. Tickets, priced $100, $250 and $500, are available by calling (212) 221-7300, ext. 133. For more information visit www.actorsfund.org.

Next weekend (Aug. 11-13) Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone will star in the Ravinia Festival's eagerly awaited production of Gypsy featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Paul Gemignani. She will be joined onstage in the classic Stephen Sondheim-Jule Styne-Arthur Laurents musical by Jack Willis as Herbie, Jessica Boevers as Louise, Jen Temen as June, Leo Ash Evens as Tulsa, Katie Rancourt as Baby Louise, Ashton Smalling as Baby June, Rengin Altay as Miss Cratchitt, Jane Blass as Mazeppa, Debra Watassek as Tessie Tura, Michael Weber as Uncle Jocko/Mr. Goldstone and Richard Henzel as Pop/Kringelein. And, Derin Altay, who succeeded LuPone in the original Broadway company of Evita, will play Electra. Lonny Price directs. . . . Sondheim will join Ravinia Festival president Welz Kauffman for a pre-concert discussion prior to the Aug. 11 concert staging of Gypsy.The pre-concert chat will be held in the Ravinia's Martin Theatre and will also be broadcast to the audiences on the lawn. The discussion is scheduled to begin at 6:45; free tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis to those attending that evening's performance of Gypsy. Visit www.ravinia.org for more information.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.