DIVA TALK: Chatting with Chicago's Adriane Lenox Plus News of LuPone, Menzel and Rivera

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Chicago's Adriane Lenox Plus News of LuPone, Menzel and Rivera
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Adriane Lenox
Adriane Lenox

ADRIANE LENOX
Singer-actress Adriane Lenox was last on Broadway playing Doubt's Mrs. Muller, the mother of the young boy at the center of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play. Lenox, who won a Best Supporting Actress Tony for Doubt, which marked her non-musical debut on Broadway, was also seen in the national tour of the drama. The celebrated performer is now back on the New York stage in the long-running revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb's Chicago, playing a much different different kind of "Mama," prison warden Matron Morton, the role created in this Tony-winning revival by Marcia Lewis. Lenox, who will be seen in the new "Alvin and the Chipmunks" film this December, has also appeared on Broadway in Ain't Misbehavin'; Dreamgirls; How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; The Gershwins' Fascinating Rhythm; Kiss Me, Kate; and Caroline, or Change. Last week I had the pleasure of chatting with the down-to-earth Lenox, who boasts a thrillingly powerful Broadway belt.

Question: How was your experience touring in Doubt?
Lenox: We had a nice time. I just did Los Angeles, the one week in San Diego, and I finished up in San Francisco. [I just did] the West Coast part of [the tour].

Question: How did audiences in that part of the country react to the show?
Lenox: They were very responsive, particularly in L.A. We were very, very well-received.

Question: Did you get a chance to screen test for the movie?
Lenox: No, I think they're just going for [film actors] . . . Meryl Streep is doing [the role created onstage by Cherry Jones] … and Philip Seymour Hoffman [is playing the part created by Brian F. O'Byrne]. Those are the only two that I know. I don't know who is doing the other characters.

Question: What are your thoughts about the play? Do you think the priest was guilty or innocent of the charges made by Sister Aloysius?
Lenox: Well, as the title of the show indicates, it's doubtful what actually happened. There are so many different things that people say. Somebody said to me, "Well, [the sister] made it so difficult for [the priest], [and] that's why he left. She made it so difficult for him, and he couldn't do his work. It's difficult to continue in that kind of environment, so he left because of that." And other people would say, "Oh, he left because he was guilty!" It's a toss-up as far as Mrs. Muller was concerned. I think Mrs. Muller was taking her chances as long as she could get her kid through that particular school — [it] was going to be a great step for her son to move to the next level. She was taking her chances. Question: Was that a difficult role to play? You didn't have that much stage time, but you had to make it count.
Lenox: No, it wasn't difficult. To come in at that particular time of the play, which was so near the end, I guess, was a bit of a challenge — to come in and be very present. But you just go on and you do your work. You listen and you respond and you try to be as truthful as possible.

Question: Getting to Chicago, how did the role of Mama Morton come about?
Lenox: I was just at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I was doing Blithe Spirit there. It was our last week — it must have been a Wednesday or Thursday — and I got a call from my agent wanting to know if I wanted to go in [to Chicago]. I already had something to do at La Jolla, a piece that I had been working on. I had been turning down other things — I had gotten other offers during the summer — and I said, "No, I'm going to do [La Jolla]." But this came about, and I was like, "Well, I don't know…" So my agent said, "Let me just talk to the people and see what it entails." So I'm just there for a couple of months until they get a name kind of person to come in for the part.

Question: How long of a rehearsal process did you have for Chicago?
Lenox: I just did it in a week. I had a week to rehearse.

Question: What was your first performance like?
Lenox: It was good. It was very fun. I was very excited, and [everyone was] very helpful, and it was just fine.

Question: How would you describe Mama Morton?
Lenox: [Laughs.] Well, she's obviously a bit of a tough cookie to have to deal with all of these different kinds of personalities. She's a bit of a wheeler dealer — using her position with her friendship or partnership with Billy Flynn to make things happen with some of these women. She worked with Velma, getting her together with Flynn… She has her ways of making a little extra money on the side... I didn't have much time to go into a whole background [for her]… I only had a week to figure out all of these different things. I noticed, though, in the script they [refer to her as] "Mrs. Morton." Now I don't know if they're calling her "Mrs. Morton" because she's married or just as a way of respect. . . . I was at home, and I said, "I don't know, should the matron be married?" and I was trying to get my ring off my finger. [Laughs.] My wedding ring is so tight on my finger. I couldn't get it off, so I said, "Well, Mrs. Morton, she's just gonna have to be married!" But, of course, they say "Mrs. Morton" at one point, so it's fine.

Adriane Lenox as Mama Morton.
photo by The Publicity Office

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her?
Lenox: I like to tell the story about Kitty, [who] comes in and she shoots her husband because he's in bed with all these people. That's a fun little moment for me . . . [and], of course, the songs are great, the couple of things that I do: "When You're Good to Mama" and "Class." Question: Why do you think this revival has been so successful?
Lenox: I tell you, it's very entertaining. I think it's like a big cabaret act [where] people have tables . . . It has that kind of feel without [having that set up]. Of course . . . the stunt casting [helps because] those people bring their own following. Usher would bring his own following and the people from television, too. . . . But the show itself is fun on its own. When I got there the first night, Lisa Rinna and Harry Hamlin had already gone. And that first night Tom Wopat was supposed to be in, but he was out that night, so the standby was in. Brenda Braxton was on vacation, so her standby was in. So we didn't have any name people, and the audience enjoyed the show. So, to me, the people are going to enjoy the show regardless. You don't really need all of that, but I understand it's a business. But the show got a standing ovation [that night] — they laughed, they cheered without any name person at all.

Question: It's such a great score. It's one great number after the next.
Lenox: Exactly. And these are fabulous dancers and very, very talented people who are not names but just know how to do what they do and do it well. So the people really had an excellent time. I think it's basically, like you said, a great score and a good show.

Question: You go back and forth between plays and musicals. Do you have a preference?
Lenox: People ask me that a lot.… Although I'm enjoying doing Chicago, I had a great time doing Blithe Spirit. I kinda like the plays. I mean, it's just one less item to deal with. [Laughs.] You don't have to do the singing . . . so you can spend more time investigating [the character]. But I enjoy both, but I guess I'm leaning [toward plays]. I don't get that many offers to do plays because musical theatre is my background, but I certainly do like the plays and would love to do [more]… As I told somebody in another interview, I said, "I would love to be able to do another play on Broadway [and] not let Doubt be the only play I've ever done on Broadway."

Question: You were also Tonya Pinkins' standby in Caroline, or Change.
Lenox: Yes, when we did it on Broadway.

Question: Did you ever get the chance to go on?
Lenox: Yeah, I did it maybe four or five times. The night of the Tony Awards was the first time that I went on because she was at the Tonys and then a few more times that week, and that was it.

Question: What was performing that role like? It's such a demanding role.
Lenox: Everybody thought I did very well with it. It's a great part. If you can sing and act, you can do it. [Laughs.]

Question: Do you have a favorite theatrical experience so far?
Lenox: I just try to have a good time with whatever I'm doing. People say, "Oh, you look like you're having a good time." That's because that's what I'm doing — having a good time! [Laughs.]

Question: You also have a cabaret act that you put together recently?
Lenox: Last summer. I did it in June, and also I came back in August and did it up at the Triad on West 72nd Street.

Question: Tell me about the show.
Lenox: Well, it was called New School/Old School. My daughter is a singer and songwriter, so I had her open for me, and she did her material.

Question: How old is she?
Lenox: She's 20. I did a lot of different things: mostly R&B, some jazzy kind of things, blues, a patter song that I wrote about not being able to get a TV series [laughs], which went over very well! A lot of actors in the audience were like, "Yeah, I know that story. Can't get a TV series to save my life!" So it was fun. I kind of gave an idea of how I got to New York — my background and stuff like that.

Question: Are you involved in any other projects at the moment?
Lenox: Listen, I tell you, I had to turn down [a few things]… Everything came at the same time. The Women of Brewster Place, which is being done in Atlanta, that is one thing I had done earlier. In January we did a [workshop] at the Sundance Theatre Lab. We had worked on that for a couple of weeks, so I had gotten an offer to do that. But I said, "No, I'm going to do the one that I said I was going to do at La Jolla." And then two or three other things have come through, and I'm like, "I'm gonna do La Jolla, I'm gonna try to stick with La Jolla," and then Chicago came about and I was like, "Well, I guess I'm going to have to disappoint you all as well." I'd been holding on, trying to keep it, because I think it's a good project. But [Chicago] was just a nice opportunity. . . Like I said, it's only a couple of months, so we'll see what happens. I have an offer now to do another little thing, and I'm reading the script to see whether or not to do it after Chicago. So we'll see.

Question: Is that a Broadway show?
Lenox: No, it's a regional show. A play.

Question: Would you like to do TV?
Lenox: Sure. I've done guest spots on shows, but to be a regular on something would be great. And it would really be great if I did something that [filmed] here in New York, but I don't mind being in L.A. I was in L.A. earlier this year. Once I had finished Doubt, my agent said, "Well, if you don't have anything to do in January during pilot season, come out." So I went out at the end of January, and I stayed through the end of March. I had never done it before. I had a very nice response. I got auditions . . . [and] I booked an episode of "Shark," and I shot a movie, so I did alright for the little time I was out there. I can't complain about it. But it was nice out there, and it was a very pleasant experience. So if I were to get a regular series out there, sure I would do it. It was lovely. Question: What was the movie that you did?
Lenox: The movie is Alvin and the Chipmunks, which is going to come out in December. I played the doctor. The chipmunks were not feeling well, so they had the doctor come in and check their little throats.

Question: Is it animated?
Lenox: It's computer generated, so everybody else is human, and the chipmunks are animated.

[Chicago plays the Ambassador Theatre, located in Manhattan at 219 West 49th Street; call (212) 239-6200 for tickets.]

DIVA TIDBITS
Tony Award winners Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, who co-starred in the original Broadway production of Evita, will again join forces for a concert entitled An Evening with Patti LuPone & Mandy Patinkin. The duo is scheduled to play the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia, PA, Oct. 23-29. LuPone and Patinkin will also entertain audiences at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA, Jan. 18 and 19, 2008. LuPone and Patinkin previously presented this concert in September 2002 at the Charles W. Eisemann Center in Richardson, TX. That evening featured duets from several musical theatre classics, including tunes from South Pacific, Carousel, Sunday in the Park with George, and, of course, Evita. The award-winning actor-singers also performed individually. Additional tour dates are expected. For tickets visit www.princemusictheater.org or www.mccallumtheatre.com.

The London debut of Chita Sings — an expanded version of Chita Rivera's acclaimed cabaret act at Feinstein's at the Regency — has been postponed. Tony Award winner Rivera had been scheduled to perform Chita Sings at the Wyndham's Theatre Sept. 10-22. The show was to be produced by Keith Turnipseed as part of the American Songbook in London series. In a statement released earlier this week, Rivera said, "I am very disappointed that my return to the West End in September has been postponed. I want all my fans in the U.K. to know that this was not my choice and beyond my control. I was so looking forward to returning to London, a city I adore, and I certainly hope that another date can be arranged in the near future. See you soon."

Carole Shelley, who created the role of Madame Morrible in the Broadway production of Wicked, will return to the New York cast at the Gershwin Theatre Aug. 28. Shelley will succeed Jayne Houdyshell, who plays her final performance Aug. 26.

In celebration of the upcoming centenary of the late Broadway star Ethel Merman, cabaret singer Klea Blackhurst will reprise her Merman tribute, Everything the Traffic Will Allow, this fall. Blackhurst, who received the 2002 Manhattan Association of Cabaret and Clubs Award for Best Female Vocalist for Traffic, will offer her Merman evening Oct. 14-15 at the famed Manhattan jazz club Birdland. The concert features such Merman signature tunes as "I Got Rhythm," "Blow Gabriel Blow" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses" as well as the lesser-known "Just a Moment Ago," "I've Still Got My Health" and "World Take Me Back." Show time is 7 PM. Blackhurst will also offer Traffic for New Orleans audiences Oct. 18-21 and Oct. 25-28 at Le Chat Noir. Visit www.cabaretlechatnoir.com for details. Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street. For ticket info call (212) 581-3080 or visit www.birdlandjazz.com.

Tony Award winner Idina Menzel and singer-songwriter Peter Cincotti will be Michael Buble's special guests at his upcoming concert at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Buble, the multi-platinum Grammy-nominated singer will perform at the Manhattan venue Sept. 17 at 8 PM (doors open at 7 PM). Menzel, the original Tony-winning star of Wicked, will premiere songs from her forthcoming CD. That Warner Bros. Records disc is being produced by Glen Ballard; a release date has yet to be announced. Singer Cincotti, also an acclaimed pianist, is scheduled to release a new CD in early 2008. Entitled "East of Angel Town," the recording will feature tunes penned by Cincotti. The upcoming evening, entitled "One Night with Lite," is being presented by the New York radio station 106.7 FM. For further information visit www.1067litefm.com/pages/onwl.html.

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

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"Diva Talk" will be on vacation next week; the next column will run Aug. 31.

Adriane Lenox and Brenda Braxton in <i>Chicago</i>.
Adriane Lenox and Brenda Braxton in Chicago. Photo by Bruce Glikas
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