DIVA TALK: Chatting with Three Graces' Sara Gettelfinger Plus News of Greene and Menzel

DIVA TALK: Chatting with Three Graces' Sara Gettelfinger Plus News of Greene and Menzel News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Sara Gettelfinger
Sara Gettelfinger

SARA GETTELFINGER
For nearly a decade, the stunning, statuesque singing actress Sara Gettelfinger has been a mainstay on the Broadway scene, lending her many talents to such musicals as Seussical, The Boys from Syracuse, the Tony-winning revival of Nine and David Yazbek and Jeffrey Lane's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Gettelfinger, who was also part of the world-premiere cast of Grey Gardens at Playwrights Horizons, is now about to launch a whole new phase of her career as one of three vocalists in the new singing group, Three Graces. The trio — which features one singer from each of three worlds (opera, pop and Broadway) — will release their debut solo recording next month. Simply titled "Three Graces," the single CD is scheduled to arrive in stores March 4 on the Decca Records label. In addition to Broadway's Gettelfinger, Three Graces boasts the talents of opera's Joy Kabanuck and pop singer Kelly Levesque and features mostly original tunes penned by Walter Afanasieff, Desmond Child, Guy Roche and Mark Portmann. Last week I had a great time chatting with the good-humored Gettelfinger, who spoke about her theatrical outings as well as her latest venture as one of Three Graces; that interview follows.

Question: How did this new singing group come about for you? Did you audition?
Sara Gettelfinger: Basically, it was very strange. It first came into my path at a rather hectic time. I was finishing Grey Gardens at Playwrights Horizons and was getting ready to go back into Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Around that time, late spring or early summer, I got a call from my agent that Universal Records, under the care of Dave Novik, had come up with this concept of taking the sensibility of an Il Divo type of group but taking it up a notch to try and include one pop singer, one opera singer, and [they were] looking for their third member from the musical theatre world.

It was over the course of a few months that I went in and had meetings and various auditions, where I was bringing in the range of things that, especially nowadays, musical theatre encompasses: From the pop stuff à la Wicked to the more legit stuff à la Show Boat, but then still needing to bring in some examples of a more contemporary pop sound [and] show how far legit could I possibly go. There was sort of the element of, "What are you representing from your own genre?," and "What are your abilities to blend into the other two?" It was like I did everything but twirl a fire baton! [Laughs.]

It was really incredible timing. [There] was a series of [auditions], and then the last element was to meet and work in a room with the two other women that had been found: Kelly Levesque, who is a very accomplished pop singer, and Joy Kabanuck, who comes from the opera world. Ironically, it was the Thursday before Dirty Rotten Scoundrels closed that I first went into a studio with these two women. We just worked on a song for the day, and we really hit it off, and we sort of instantly knew that we had something really special in the sound that we could create together. It would be that following week, three days after Dirty Rotten Scoundrels closed, that I was offered to sign a record deal.

Question: Would you call Three Graces a girl group? What's the terminology you are trying to put out there?
Gettelfinger: Obviously, we are three young women. But I would say, as far as a sound goes, it's more of a "power woman" group. We do utilize harmony . . . [but] the producers that we worked with, the majority of their experience have been with larger voices like Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, even Barbra Streisand. We were put together with people that specialize in taking huge voices and finding a way to channel them and put them together in this combo. I would say it's less She-Bop Girl Group and more Power Woman Trio. [Laughs.] Question: Is anyone considered the lead singer, or do you all take turns, or is there no lead singing?
Gettelfinger: The thing that makes the group special is, of course, we have a signature sound with our harmonies, but within each song, each woman does get to shift into more of a leading role, and the listener [is able to] identify, "That is the pop singer, that is the opera singer, that is the singer with the theatrical background." It's a really lovely blend [where] it would not be the same group if one of us were missing. The whole thing that makes it special is that we are able to have a sound as a trio but, at the same time, exist as individuals.

Question: Who chooses the material that you perform?
Gettelfinger: The majority of it is original. We were extremely fortunate in, as I said, working with an incredible team of producers. Because this was such a new concept, in addition to knowing that they would produce for us, many of them were writing for us. . . . It hasn't been done before where someone has had to write for these three types of voices together, let alone record them together. The majority of the album is original, and it was written specifically for us, and we even have two tracks that we wrote on the album. It's really exciting. I think many actors would say that there's just a completely different thrill when you get to create something in an original cast. It's a totally different level of creativity and opportunity when you get to build it from the ground up, and the material is actually built on you based on what your instrument brings to the table.

Three Graces

Question: Do you have a director?
Gettelfinger: The three of us kind of serve as each other's guides in keeping the balance. Our A&R director is Dave Novik, who, as I said, was the brains behind the operation in the first place. Question: How about when you perform onstage? Is he also the director?
Gettelfinger: No, as of now, the one director-choreographer that we have worked with is Gerry McIntyre, also a Broadway baby. [Laughs.] We're still in the stage where we're getting ready to go out on tour with Paul Pott. It's a really lovely thing because there's minimal staging, but when you're going out onstage with mics and a full orchestra, you don't really have the pressure of needing to add much blocking or a kick line at any point. [Laughs.] You come out in a fabulous gown and stand and sing, and that pretty much takes care of it.

Question: Tell me about the person you're touring with.
Gettelfinger: Paul Pott was the winner and newest Simon Cowell prodigy out of the U.K. He won "The X Factor."

Question: Will you be opening for him?
Gettelfinger: We are actually going to be special guests on his bill. We get to do two sets of our own as well as a duet with Paul. It's going to be a really exciting show. Our first show with Paul is March 1st, and that coincides with our record coming into stores, which is on March 4th.

Question: What is the length of the tour?
Gettelfinger: The tour is going to be a little over four weeks, and we will do the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Question: Where did the name for the group come from?
Gettelfinger: It's very funny how things seem to happen for a reason. Back in 2003 when I did the revival of Nine, David Leveaux, our director, and our brilliant set designer Scott Pask — the backdrop for our set was a beautiful mosaic of The Three Graces. It was really appropriate in that show as far as the celebration of women and the timelessness of the beauty of women. That was a very special production for me, and I thought, "That just might be what we need!" [Laughs.] It was kind of crazy how that came about, but that is where that seed was first planted five, six years ago.

Question: How do you enjoy singing in a trio?
Gettelfinger: It's truly been one of the most incredible and challenging experiences of my life, in the way that we have all had to work very hard. It was a huge sacrifice for each of us to walk away from solo careers to try and build this new creative endeavor. At the same time, even though it does take a lot of patience and hard work and care, you stop at moments and pinch yourself and realize that, at least for me, I'm standing and singing with two of the most incredible singers, let alone incredible women that I've ever had a chance to work with. Not only are we making something very special in this new sound, but — especially in being with two women that have worked so hard to pave their way in worlds that are different than mine — you are also given the benefit of growing in ways . . . that you would never have had if you had just stayed in your own niche.

Question: Do you have other bookings at this point? What is the group hoping for?
Gettelfinger: Right now we're gearing up to do the standard talk-show circuit, all of that type of thing. As I said, this tour is going to take us through March into April. We have some very exciting bookings in April, some of which are being somewhat kept under wraps. In April, we're going to get to do a very special concert with Kelly Clarkson. Lots of exciting things, but March is going to be really incredible, getting out to all of those different countries. Another side note — on the album we sing in four different languages [English, Italian, Spanish and French]. That, obviously, gives us an extra interest in more of a world market as opposed to just the States. Getting to go out on our first tour and having the album released not just in the United States, but in other countries, is going to be a pretty incredible experience.

(l.-r.) Gettelfinger, Kelly Levesque and Joy Kabanuck are the Three Graces

Question: I would think this is probably something that never even entered your mind as a possibility.
Gettelfinger: Without a doubt. I laugh about it all the time. Dirty Rotten was winding down, and I'm kind of thinking, "What's next?" If someone had told me five years ago, "Well, naturally, at 30, you'll leave the theatre for a bit and go on a quest to be an international pop star," I would not have believed them! [Laughs.] . . . . I have been very blessed to have some wonderful experiences in the Broadway community… and had many, many mentors who were just so supportive, and they said, "Things come into your path for a reason," and you're sort of left with, "I don't ever want to shortchange or put limits on what I can do creatively." Especially when it is coming at a time in my life when I can go and become more of a musician than I would have ever had the opportunity to become [and] see the world. Thankfully, because my shtick in the Broadway community isn't exactly playing the 4'11" blonde ingénue, my age clock isn't ticking as much. [Laughs.] So it was very nice to have many directors and mentors that said, "Honey, go do it, and you can come back."

Question: I take it you aren't doing any auditioning for theatre at the moment.
Gettelfinger: No. For the past year and a half, I've had some wonderful opportunities of shows and readings that have come my way, but even if it's sometimes pulling at my heartstrings, this is my new commitment for the time being. It has been my full-time job. I have managed to squeeze in shooting a television show or a little spot in a movie here or there, but it's not really conducive to go out of town with something for six months and then open a show.

Question: I think the last time we spoke, you were doing Grey Gardens Off-Broadway. Was it difficult not to do Grey Gardens on Broadway?
Gettelfinger: Again, it's just amazing how things sort of fall into place as they are meant to. That whole journey in Grey Gardens with Michael Grief and with the phenomenal Christine [Ebersole] and Mary Louise [Wilson] and John McMartin and Michael Potts — that company that we had at Playwrights, that was truly one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. At the time, as anybody in this business has experienced, when you find out that you're not going to continue on with it, of course it can be heartbreaking at the moment, but then it's really amazing to see how the path is going to unfold. You realize, "You know, I was supposed to do something completely different. Had it gone the other way, I would have never gone down this new road."

It was also wonderful because as that production on Broadway unfolded — as much as I loved being a part of the piece — I truly loved the piece itself. So, with Erin Davie coming in, [it was good] to see it turn into something new and something beautiful and something that ended up ultimately being so incredible for Christine and Mary Louise. Even not being a part of it in that stage, you can't feel anything but pride and happiness for the people that were involved. I think that it's one of those things where you're just reminded that, even in the moment, if it feels uncertain and you have questions about why things went the way they did, everything ends up happening as it should.

Question: Tell me a little bit more about the two women that are in this group with you.
Gettelfinger: Kelly Levesque is an incredibly accomplished pop singer. She has had three other record deals, one of which was on Warner Brothers. She had great success with a song called "Some Hearts" that was on the "America's Sweetheart" album. She's also a very accomplished songwriter. And, Joy Kabanuck, [who] had spent a lot of time in England performing and singing there, had come from the opera world. Her most recent New York credit, she was Mimi in Baz Luhrmann's La Boheme that was on Broadway. They are both, as I said, not only incredible women, but some of the most incredible singers that I've ever had the privilege of standing next to.

Question: What's the sound of the trio like for you — it must be pretty intense.
Gettelfinger: It's really great. . . . I don't know if you know that song where Celine Dion sang with Andrea Bocelli. They do "The Prayer." But it's sort of that power pop mixed with a classical type of sound that utilizes a full orchestra. I would say it's [like] if you could have a dream team of Renée Fleming, Linda Eder and Celine Dion — not that I'm comparing us to those specific voices [laughs] — but stylistically that's sort of the sound. It's very full, it's very grand, and especially with utilizing the other languages and having it be a full orchestra, it's sort of power pop meets the most classical, grandest sensibility. For more information visit www.threegracesmusic.com.

Ellen Greene in "Pushing Daisies."
photo by ABC

DIVA TIDBITS
Had a great chat earlier this week with Ellen Greene, the singing actress who is as kindhearted as she is talented. Greene, who co-stars in the hit new ABC series "Pushing Daisies," is thrilled that she'll be heading back to work in June following the recent resolution of the Writers Strike. Greene has been busy the past few weeks traveling the country working for the Hillary Clinton campaign — "Daisies" producer Bruce Cohen, who is currently filming "Milk," brought her on board — an endeavor that she says has been truly rewarding and emotionally fulfilling. The Little Shop of Horrors star also said that a year ago she and her musical director spouse Christian Klikovits — the duo who made beautiful music on Greene's sensational debut solo recording, "In His Eyes" — downgraded their relationship to "best friends" but still plan to continue their musical partnership. In fact, Klikovits accompanied Greene on piano during her wonderful musical solo "Morning Is Broken" on the "Pushing Daisies" episode entitled "Sweet Smell of Success." "After an amazing Christmas the year before in Vienna with Christian and his family," Greene told me, "we came home and decided to be just best friends and collaborators." Greene said that she and Klikovits wanted some private time before announcing the news and didn't want to at all dampen the bright light surrounding "Daisies." Greene, I have to add, is currently in great spirits as she is preparing to celebrate her upcoming birthday on a Parisian adventure with "Daisies" creator Bryan Fuller, where they will be screening the "Pie-lette" of "Pushing Daisies" at the Sorbonne University and the French National Institute of Audio-visual. Then, she'll return to the States to continue her work for Clinton before production begins anew on "Daisies." Initial casting has been announced for the upcoming concert staging of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's Show Boat at Carnegie Hall. Directed by The Little Mermaid's Francesca Zambello, the June 10 benefit for Carnegie Hall will boast the talents of Jessica Bogart (Ellie May Chipley), Carolee Carmello (Julie LaVerne), Nathan Gunn (Gaylord Ravenal), Marilyn Horne (Old Lady on the Levee), Gavin Lee (Frank Schultz), Alvy Powell (Joe) and Celena Shafer (Magnolia Hawks); show time is 8 PM. Additional casting will be announced at a later date; for more information visit www.carnegiehall.org.

Four-time Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh, most recently on Broadway in Golda's Balcony, will make her debut at Feinstein's at Loews Regency March 4-15. Feldshuh has titled her newest concert act, Tovah in a Nutshell!, which will feature musical director Mathew Eisenstein on piano. In Nutshell!, Feldshuh, according to press notes, will sing "songs from Gershwin to Judy Collins and inhabit a gallery of hilarious characters, ages 8 to 80, ranging from Grandma Ada in the Bronx to socialite Muffy Brooke Asthma Alsop on Park Avenue." Side Show's Emily Skinner will also be part of the Feinstein's season. Skinner will perform Broadway, Her Way June 1 and 8 at the intimate nightspot. Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. For reservations call (212) 339-4095; visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com for more information.

Idina Menzel in Conversation at 92Y is the title of an upcoming evening at the famed Manhattan venue. The Feb. 26 interview with the Tony-winning Wicked star will begin at 8 PM. Glen Ballard, who produced Menzel's new CD, "I Stand," will chat with Menzel about her artistic journey. Following the discussion, Menzel will autograph copies of her new solo recording, which will be on sale at the 92nd Street Y, which is located in Manhattan at 1395 Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street. Tickets, priced $26, are available by calling (212) 415-5500 or by visiting www.92Y.org.

Mýa — the Grammy-winning singer known for such hits as "Case of the Ex," "Ghetto Superstar" and "Lady Marmalade" — will join the Tony-winning revival of John Kander and Fred Ebb's Chicago in May. The multi-platinum recording artist will begin performances as merry murderess Velma Kelly May 12 at the Ambassador Theatre and will stay with the long-running musical through July 13. Mýa's association with the razzle-dazzle world of Chicago dates back to 2003 when she played Mona in the Rob Marshall-directed film version of "Chicago." Chicago plays the Ambassador Theatre, located at 215 West 49th Street; for more information visit www.ChicagoTheMusical.com.

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