DIVA TALK: Chatting with Fame Becomes Me's Capathia Jenkins Plus News of Peters and Egan

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Fame Becomes Me's Capathia Jenkins Plus News of Peters and Egan News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Capathia Jenkins in Fame Becomes Me (with Brooks Ashmanskas, Mary Birdsong and Nicole Parker; with Marc Shaiman)
Capathia Jenkins in Fame Becomes Me (with Brooks Ashmanskas, Mary Birdsong and Nicole Parker; with Marc Shaiman) Photo by Paul Kolnik

CAPATHIA JENKINS

Ever since Capathia Jenkins first opened her mouth in the short-lived Burt Bacharach-Hal David revue The Look of Love — where she wrapped her rich, powerful, creamy tones around "I Say a Little Prayer," "Are You There (With Another Girl)," "Walk On By," "This Girl's in Love With You" and the title tune — I've been an admirer of her sensational vocals. The Brooklyn native also had the chance to display her many talents in the supremely touching Caroline, or Change, which cast the actress as a singing Washing Machine in the Tony-nominated Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesori musical. Jenkins is now back on Broadway in what may be her most high-profile role, as one of the Comedy All Stars in Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Although Jenkins is featured in the musical's opening number, it is her triumphant performance of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's "Stop the Show" that not only stops the show but brings the audience to an ecstatic frenzy as she belts such lyrics as "Yes, I have just one question/ Which I'll ask, if I may/ Why the hell did they name it/ the Great White Way?/ Cause if you want a hit/ learn what Sondheim doesn't know/ and let a big black lady stop the show!" It was unquestionably this diva lover's favorite moment of the often-riotous production and gave further evidence that Jenkins is a force to be reckoned with; in fact, composer Shaiman told me earlier this week, "[Capathia's] monumental professionalism and her good-natured backstage vibe could only be overshadowed by her spot-on pitch, amazing diction, pinpoint comedic timing, outrageous consistency and the very luscious sound of her voice, yet even those attributes would be hard pressed to compete with her profound goodness as a human being. Is it clear that I love and adore Capathia Jenkins? Oh, and she also sings the sh*! out of our song!" I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the good-natured Jenkins, who will also celebrate the release of her new CD — "Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen: South Side Stories" — with concerts at Joe's Pub Oct. 29, Nov. 5 and Nov. 12. That brief interview follows.

Question: How did the role in Fame Becomes Me come about for you?
Capathia Jenkins: Last March, March of 2005, I got a phone call from Marc Shaiman saying that he and Scott [Wittman] were working with Martin Short, and they had written this role for me, and he was confident that I had a sense of humor, and he wanted to send this song over and have me listen to it, and see what I thought. Then we did a reading and a workshop.

Q: When he first sent you the song, what were your thoughts?
Jenkins: Well, I gotta tell you, just prior to that, I had had a conversation with my agent about how I didn't want to do any more auditions for the big, black lady songs — the obligatory gospel number of the show. [Laughs.] I had just spoken to my agent about that, and then I listened to the first stanza and cracked up so hard. It was so making fun of the very thing I had just talked about. I was like, "Marc, sign me up. I will do this absolutely."

Q: What is it like working onstage with Martin Short?
Jenkins: It is such a party. You're always on your toes because you never know what he's gonna do or if he's gonna give you a look. He's famous for trying to make you laugh onstage. It's just so much fun, and then he's so generous. He likes to stand back and watch you do your thing. I just love this job. It's great. Q: The night I attended you certainly did stop the show with your song. Does that happen every night?
Jenkins: Yeah, it does! [Laughs.]

Q: What's it like getting out there each night and receiving that applause?
Jenkins: It's awesome. There are some nights where I've literally had people leap to their feet, and I'm just shaking. I'm shaking, I'm looking at Marty, he's looking at me. [Laughs.] It's an amazing, amazing feeling.

Q: How do you keep yourself occupied from the opening number until you come in at the end of the show? What are you doing backstage?
Jenkins: Reading mostly. I love to read. I'm in the middle of a Walter Mosley book. I'm sitting in my dressing room right now. I'm reading Walter Mosley's "RL's Dream." I have about 50 pages left of that, and I just learned how to do [the number puzzle] Su Doku. I am like a fanatic now! [Laughs.] I do that, and throughout the show I have some offstage singing. When Marty's in the attic, I'm down backstage left singing "la-las," and while they're doing the Fosse and the Tommy Tune [segment], I'm at stage right.

Q: Is it a close-knit cast because it's such a small company?
Jenkins: It really is. I have to say it's an awesome cast. . . . So much of [the show] is built around what each of us [can] do, and everybody sort of has a place within this company, and it's just great. And everybody feels free to create. You feel free to come in and try a joke. [Laughs.] Everybody goes, "No, no, that's not funny" or "That's really funny!" It really is an awesome cast, and we have great times together. Just recently we hooked up at Brooks [Ashmanskas]' house just to have a cast moment because with the opening, there [were] so many people around. It's just nice to sit back, have a glass of wine as the six of us — or the ten of us with understudies.

Q: Is there any talk of an audio recording of the show?
Jenkins: I haven't heard any talk yet — we'll see. I hope so! [Laughs.]

Q: You were also part of Caroline, or Change, a show I really loved. What was it like being part of that musical?
Jenkins: That was amazing. I was involved with that from down at the Public Theater. When we did the first workshop, [composer] Jeanine [Tesori] had only written the first act. And, so, just coming back and having the second act and knowing she had written stuff for our particular voices was just an honor. And to sit there and pick Tony Kushner's brain and George Wolfe's. We would be like, "Oh my God!" [Laughs.] Tony was telling us stories from his childhood, growing up down there in Louisiana. It was some of the best times creatively that I've ever had — and with geniuses — Tony Kushner and George Wolfe, Jeanine Tesori. I had a great time, which is one of the reasons why when we closed on Broadway so many of us went out to L.A. and did it there and in San Francisco. We were like, "We want to do this thing until the wheels fall off" because we loved the piece so much.

Q: Going back a bit, where were you born and raised?
Jenkins: I was born and raised in Brooklyn.

Q: When did you start performing?
Jenkins: Professionally, I would say I started performing [when I was] about 20. I had just left Temple University, and I [was] on the train going back from New York to Philly, [and] I found this audition in the paper for a revue in Bermuda. And, I went in and auditioned and got it. And, from there, I just started working with that producer doing resort kind of shows. I did that for a couple years, and then my first bus-and-truck was Dreamgirls.

Q: What role did you play?
Jenkins: I played Effie. It was a bus-and-truck [tour], and it was fantastic. I had the best time.

Q: Did you always sing?
Jenkins: Yes, I always sang. My mom said I [was] four years old with a brush in the mirror in the bathroom. The brush is my mic, and I would be singing church songs, and when I was about eight years old, I had a music teacher who suggested to my mom that I get professional singing lessons. She thought that I had some kind of talent. And I started studying. I studied classically from about eight years old to 18. I studied classically all my life, and when I left high school, I [thought], "I don't think I want to go to Juilliard. I don't want to do that." I always grew up in the church, too, so I had that element buzzing around in my head.

Q: Was your family supportive of your going into the performing arts?
Jenkins: Absolutely. So supportive. My mom supports all of us, and she didn't know what she was getting into [with me]! [Laughs.] She taught me some great life lessons: "You've got to follow your dreams. You've got to go for it." I would call and go, "Say a little prayer for me, I'm auditioning for this." She'd say, "Okay, I'm going to pray for you." She's just been so supportive, and my siblings, my dad, are just like, "Go, got 'em!" They just all rally around me, so that's been a godsend, I have to say.

Q: What was their reaction to your current work in Fame Becomes Me?
Jenkins: Opening night I had so much family here, and they were just all so proud. My brothers, in particular, love Martin Short. My sister said they were hitting each other and cracking up. Everybody's just so proud.

Q: You also have a show coming up at Joe's Pub. Tell me about that.
Jenkins: I've been working with this composer Louis Rosen. David Loud, my musical director on The Look of Love, recommended me to Louie for his recording project of Langston Hughes poems that he had set music to. And, during that, we got to know each other. . . When it was over, he said, "I think I'd like to write for you." And people have said that to me before, and it's very flattering. . . . A couple months went by, and he called and said, "Listen, I've started sketching some Maya Angelou songs. Would you please come and listen to them?" She's one of my favorite poets, so we just started a partnership from there. We premiered our Angelou stuff at Joe's Pub last March. So, now, we have this new piece called "South Side Stories." They're songs based on Louie growing up on the south side of Chicago. What's so awesome is I've somehow become his muse, so he writes specifically for my voice and my sensibility, and the songs are soulful and jazzy, emotional, and they have beautiful melodies. We're just really excited about going back to Joe's Pub for three performances, and we also are releasing our first CD of "South Side Stories." The CD will come out right along with that first performance — Oct. 29 — and it will officially be released Oct. 30. I'm just really excited about it, I'm really thrilled.

Q: Is it a solo show or will there be other singers at Joe's Pub?
Jenkins: It's a solo show, [but] Louie will actually perform as well. He will perform, he'll play guitar, he'll play piano, he'll sing a little bit. David Loud is going to play piano. We have a great bass player, Dave Phillips, who's going to join us. He's on the CD as well. The last time we played Joe's Pub it was piano and voice, but we're adding guitar, bass and maybe a few little percussion hits here and there. We're excited about broadening our live performance. We did premiere "South Side Stories" at Steppenwolf last December, and we got lovely reviews in the Tribune and the Sun-Times, so our greatest joy in life would be to get good reviews in New York!

Q: Well, it sounds like you're pretty busy!
Jenkins: Yeah, I'm busy! [Laughs.] What's nice about being busy this time, I have to say, is I'm busy doing stuff I really want to do. Sometimes, as actors, singers . . . we're sort of drudging through trying to pay our rent, but I'm really having a great time.

[Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me plays the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street; call (212) 239-6200 for tickets. . . . "Capathia Jenkins and Louis Rosen: South Side Stories" will be presented at Joe's Pub Oct. 29, Nov. 5 and Nov. 12 at 7 PM. Tickets, priced $20 plus a two-drink minimum, are also available by calling (212) 239-6200. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Avenue.]

DIVA TIDBITS

Congratulations to Bernadette Peters, who will be honored with the first New York City Parks Citizen Award Sept. 25. The two-time Tony winner will be presented with the inaugural award at the NYC Parks Mounted Auxiliary Unit, Inc.'s tenth anniversary fund-raising gala at Central Park's Boathouse. The award, which will be presented yearly, is given to a New Yorker of note who "has raised awareness of the New York City Parks and the natural life of the City through [his or her] volunteer efforts." Peters is being recognized for the annual Broadway Barks fundraisers and her commitment to raise awareness of the plight of abandoned animals. Peters, according to a statement released by the NYC Parks Mounted Auxiliary Unit, "continues to focus her efforts on responsible pet ownership and education — helping to make our Parks safer for everyone." The Gala evening — including cocktails, buffet dinner, silent auction, raffle and the awards presentation — will be held from 6-9 PM at the Boathouse. Tickets, priced $75 (advance) and $90 (at the door), are available by visiting www.auxparksmtd.org.

Songs that span the entire holiday season — from Thanksgiving to Hanukkah and Christmas through New Year's Eve — are featured on Susan Egan's latest solo recording, "Winter Tracks." Due in stores Oct. 10 on the LML label, Egan's disc boasts tunes by Stephen Schwartz, Alan Menken, Ralph Blane, Hugh Martin, Cyndi Lauper, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, among others. Egan co-produced the recording with Christopher McGovern, who is represented on the CD with his song "The Turkey and the Stuffing." McGovern also orchestrated the recording's 13 tracks. "I really wanted to create an album that could both inspire festivity and also instill tranquility during a season that can be decidedly hectic," former Beauty and the Beast star Egan says in press notes. "I have always loved the holidays, but I especially treasure times spent preparing at home — wrapping gifts, cooking — with soothing music to accompany me. I hope this recording can provide those kinds of moments for people." Song titles include "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "The Turkey and the Stuffing," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "All Those Christmas Cliches," "Cold Enough to Snow," "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," "Little Colored Lights," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "We Are Lights"/"Shalom Alaychem," "Silent Night"/"Greensleeves," "At Christmas," "New Year's Baby (First Lullaby)" and "Peace on Earth"/"God Bless Us Everyone." For more information visit www.lmlmusic.com. Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth, most recently on Broadway as the golden-locked Glinda in the hit musical Wicked, will return to the New York stage in November for the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of The Apple Tree. Directed by Gary Griffin with choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, previews of the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical are scheduled to begin at Studio 54 Nov. 28 with an official opening Dec. 14. The limited engagement, featuring musical supervision by Rob Fisher, will play through March 11, 2007. No additional casting has been announced. Chenoweth, of course, starred in the City Center Encores! production of The Apple Tree in 2005, earning raves for her performance in the three-act musical. Her co-stars included Malcolm Gets and Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris.

Preliminary casting has been announced for the Actors' Fund of America's upcoming benefit concert of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The Oct. 16 7:30 PM concert at the August Wilson Theatre will feature Harry Groener as the Governor, Andrea McArdle as Doatsy Mae, Felicia Finley as Angel, Mary Faber as Shy, Richard Kind as Senator Wingwoah and "American Idol" finalist Constantine Maroulis as an Aggie soloist. The ensemble will include Michelle Kittrell, Amber Efe, J. Elaine Marcos, Rachelle Rak, Christina Norrup, Angie Schworer, Joyce Chittick, Jen Cody, Dennis Stowe, Bret Shuford, Jeff Lewis, Jason Patrick Sands, Will Taylor and Justin Greer. Mark S. Hoebee will direct the one-night-only event, which will feature choreography by Denis Jones, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, set design by Paul Weimer and costume design by Michael Growler. Seth Rudetsky will once again be the musical director as well as the artistic producer for the annual semi-staged concert. Steven Yuhasz and Tim Pinckney are the producers. For ticket information call (212) 221-7300, ext. 133 or visit www.actorsfund.org.

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

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