DIVA TALK: Chatting with Toxic Avenger's Nancy Opel Plus News of Menzel, Holliday, Stritch

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Toxic Avenger's Nancy Opel Plus News of Menzel, Holliday, Stritch News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Nancy Opel
Nancy Opel

NANCY OPEL
There is always reason to rejoice when Nancy Opel — a Tony Award nominee for her comical performance (and superb high belting) in Urinetown — is back on the New York stage. And, this season audiences have even more reasons to be happy since Opel is playing not one, but three characters in the new Joe DiPietro-David Bryan musical The Toxic Avenger at Off-Broadway's New World Stages: Mayor Babs Belgoody, Ma Ferd and a Nun. And, Opel even gets the chance to duet with herself in a show-stopping number titled "Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore." Earlier this week I had the chance to chat with the down-to-earth Opel about her stellar career, which boasts roles in several David Ives plays as well as the original Broadway casts of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Evita and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George. Opel also spoke about her latest show, which reunites the Drama Desk nominee (for Polish Joke) with her Urinetown director, John Rando; that interview follows:

Question: How did these roles in Toxic Avenger originally come about? I know you did the show at George Street Playhouse first.
Opel: I did do it at George Street first. About two years ago now, I did a reading, and I believe it may have been one of the first readings of the show for Joe [DiPietro] and David [Bryan]. Joe is the one who requested that I do this particular reading. And I said, "Joe DiPietro? Sure! I'll do a show for Joe DiPietro." [Laughs.] I kind of came in cold. I hadn't read it before we did the reading. It was basically the show we've got now, doing the Nun and doing the two roles of the Ma — Melvin Ferd's mom — and the evil Mayor of the town. In the middle of this reading we were doing, we had a weekend, and Joe and David came back after the day or two of the weekend and said, "Nancy, we thought since you were playing these two roles and they sort of never meet... we thought that they should actually meet. And then if they meet, maybe they should actually have a fight." And I went, "Alright." And they go, "Yeah, so we wrote this song!" [Laughs.] So there was this song "Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore" in which the nemeses meet and they fight with each other, which is spectacular. I think it's really fun. I don't mean that I'm spectacular — well, you'd have to judge that. [Laughs.] It's just really unbelievably fun. It was sort of tough, a little bit of a brainteaser to put together the number. I had to work it through in my head as to what I needed to do physically to change from one character to the other the most seamlessly. John [Rando] said, "What are you thinking? What are your thoughts?" And I said, "You know what? By tomorrow, I think I'll be able to tell you and the guys exactly what this should be. And if we can just do it by the numbers, I think we've got it." As per my usual working with John Rando, I always feel like he welcomes my ideas. I love working with him because it's a real natural collaborative process. I feel like he's always open to input, which is wonderful from a director.

Question: What was the audience response like when you did it at the George Street?
Opel: I have to say, even before that — when I learned the number in half an hour and then performed it in this little reading — people sort of went crazy. I was just standing there. I had just learned it. I did both parts just standing there, and people were whooping and yelling. [Laughs.] And I thought, "Wow! I got something here, I guess." You never really know until you do it out loud for somebody. It just so happened my brother happened to be at that reading. He lives in Kansas City, so you know how coincidental that was. He goes, "Nancy, you know what? It's funny, it's just funny." At the George Street, I have to say it was the same. I was a little concerned because, generally speaking, subscriber audiences are older and perhaps more conservative. Once again, I have to say that they all really surprised me. They flipped out over the show. Everybody does.

Question: Did the show change much between George Street and Off-Broadway?
Opel: For me there was a significant change. When we opened at George Street, the character of the Mayor, who enters very early in the show… [the creators] said that they thought there should be a song. So we had a tiny little intro for the song that I did out there, but then they totally fleshed it out before we came to New York. So it was literally just a couple of lines, and then it turned into a number now called "Jersey Girl."

Nancy Opel in The Toxic Avenger
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: Do you have a preference between the two characters?
Opel: [Laughs.] Listen, don't tell Melvin's mother, but it's more fun to be mean. It always is. Evil characters are far more fascinating to play, although [the mother] is lovely and, in her own way, equally as problematic within the structure of the show. [Laughs.] But it's kind of fun to be actively evil. Question: How do you find singing the rock score?
Opel: Well, I've never really done a rock thing before. It's one of those things [where] you sort of get in the thing and then you go, "Oh, you want me to do that? Well, alright." So mostly what I did was, I just said to David Bryan, "Listen, sing to me into an MP3 what you want this to sound like and send it to me, and I'll practice that." To be honest with you, it's sheer imitation. I probably shouldn't say that, should I? I should probably say that I thought of every brilliant note all by myself! [Laughs.] Obviously, there's some stuff that I did on my own, but the essential shape of stuff and the feel is really what I wanted to get, and then I went from there. It's fun, but it's really unbelievably challenging. I do all kinds of crazy switch-off, flip-octave — it's nuts. And it's only because Chris Jahnke, who did a lot of the vocal arrangements, would go, "Okay, Nancy, here's what I want you to do…" Just crazy stuff. I'd go, "Chris, this is really hard to do," and he says, "I know, but you can do it." [Laughs.] So that's where some of the wild stuff that I do [came from]. Let me put it this way — I have to take care of myself to do this job, which is totally okay because I sort of do that anyway.

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show? Is it the song where you switch back and forth?
Opel: At the moment, because we still haven't quite settled into a routine, it's absolutely one of my favorite moments. Although I do have another moment, and I don't know if I should give it away. Oh well, other people have talked about it. I think one of my other favorite moments is when I kiss the guitar player. [Laughs.] Don't tell him that, he'll get conceited!

Nancy Opel in The Toxic Avenger
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: You talked a little bit about working with John Rando. Tell me how he works as a director since you also worked with him in Urinetown
Opel: You know what? I love to work with him because he's one of those people who has a plan and is pretty specific about what he wants to do with the show, but he's also very open to whatever you bring. He's not the kind of person that crunches an idea before you try it. I don't think I've ever heard him say, "Well . . . maybe." Maybe on a handful of occasions he'll sort of laugh and go, "No, I don't think so." I don't know that he's ever done it to me, but for the most part, if you have an idea, he'll kind of laugh about it — obviously, we've done a lot of comedies together — and go, "Well, you know what? Try it, try it, let's try it." There have been times when I've come up with an idea, and I've tried it and it maybe wasn't completely successful and he goes, "You know what? There's a grain of a really good idea here, so try it again." He won't give you that one begrudging time and, if it doesn't work, that's the end of it. That's what I like about it. I feel like you can work with John and he's very — I know it seems funny because a director has to be a judging machine in a way — but he's very non-judgmental when you're trying stuff. He knows that you're putting your ego on the line when you come up with new ideas or you try something new. There's a sensitive relationship between the artist and the material. There's nothing worse than for somebody to come, and they don't mean to, but a lot of times a director will crunch you on something that you're trying, and then you kind of feel either sad or angry or embarrassed and you don't want to do it again. And, John just doesn't do that. He's the most nurturing, generous director. Question: I'd think that would make you feel safer to try something new.
Opel: That's the thing. He makes the rehearsal room feel very safe. That's really important for trying to come up with something other than either compromised or careful or conservative work.

Question: Now, going back just a few years. You made your Broadway debut in the show that got me hooked on theatre, Evita.
Opel: Yeah, that was a few years ago! [Laughs.] It was actually… well you may not have seen it 30 years ago…

Question: No, I did. I saw you twice.
Opel: Oh, my God. We opened it 30 years ago. 30 years ago as of September 2009.

Question: What was it like being the matinee Eva?
Opel: Luckily, I had a chance to sort of dip my toe into Broadway before I started doing the matinees. I started after the first year, so I was the ripe old age of 23. . . .so I had a year to get my feet wet. Not only was it my first Broadway show, I had never done anything in New York. I was literally fresh out of school. I had made hometown connections in Kansas City that got me my Equity card in Connecticut the summer before, so I had my Equity card. And then suddenly all of these auditions — I had seven auditions for [Evita]! They kept on bringing me back. I heard back channel that they just wanted to see if I could do it again. [Laughs.] I was just a kid, and they wanted to see if I was consistent or just lucky, I guess. I remember my very last audition, Hal Prince jumped onto the stage, and he put his arm around me and he said, "How old are you darling?" And I said, "I'm 22," and he said, "That's about what I was thinking. Great job." And he jumped back off the stage, and I thought, "Oh, well I'm cooked. I'm dead." But I went on to have a lovely, lovely job for four years.

Question: Did he direct you when you became the matinee Eva?
Opel: No, not directly, as is typically the way. If you're a cover or a second cover, you get put into the show by the stage manager. However, I was lucky enough to be in on everything from the beginning, and I was also lucky enough to be allowed, whenever I was available, to watch the rehearsals of all the principals. So I felt like I was as much ground floor in there as you could be. So I did get a chance, at least indirectly, to hear what Hal was saying vis-à-vis the character and the show.

Question: What was it like performing that role?
Opel: It was great. It was an amazing learning experience for me, especially that I had a chance to do the part so much and to just do any part that long. I don't necessarily know that four years is the greatest idea, but four years these days isn't that much. A lot of people have done things for tons longer than that. At the time it was crazy to stay in a show that long. People would leave after six months or whatever. I felt like I learned a lot. I learned a lot about audiences and the way they work. I learned a lot about interpersonal relationships with a cast. That was a big show — there were like 45 of us, I think. I think it's the biggest show I've ever done. It was an amazing opportunity to sort of cut your teeth on the Broadway scene. I learned so much, and I sort of grew up in the show.

Question: And then you also got to create roles in Sunday in the Park with George. . .
Opel: Back then there were tons of shows getting produced all the time — I mean, comparatively speaking. A lot of people would just get tired and leave. I made a deal with myself that I would stay in [Evita] until I felt a better opportunity came along, and that better opportunity was the workshop of Sunday in the Park with George.

Question: That's pretty amazing.
Opel: I know! Isn't it? When I was a kid, I dreamed, "I wanna work with Hal Prince and Steve Sondheim." I didn't know that it would be not together and in consecutive shows!

Question: Does anything stick out in your mind about that workshop?
Opel: It sure does. Evita was a New York premiere, but it was a show that was intact and that they were basically going to do the way they did in London, so the template had been formed. That was not the case with Sunday in the Park. There was a lot more fluidity in terms of structure. There was a lot of improv-ing. There was a lot of work that was done that was both invigorating and frustrating. So much material was tried and then thrown out. No matter what, even though you're kind of into experimentation — if you're an actor, you should be, in a way — but at a certain point I think that you feel anxiety if you can't sort of nail down what you think you're going to be doing in front of a lot of people very soon. [Laughs.] It was both thrilling and terrifying all at once. I remember going through all kinds of emotions with that. I think, at the end of it all, particularly by the time we opened on Broadway, I realized something that was very important. That is, although you take your work very, very seriously, you mustn't take it so seriously that it either makes you angry or bitter or mean. I think it can be easily turned into a sense where you're an actor and you stand in the back of the room with folded arms and you sort of dare the creative staff to fix the show. I don't ever want to be one of those people because that's a mentality that makes it almost impossible to turn things around.

Question: Was there anything that got cut from the show that you were surprised got cut?
Opel: I think that's always the case. When you play secondary or tertiary characters in a show, things are gonna get cut. Things get cut for everybody, but I imagine that some of us noticed our stuff quite a bit more because we had all of this back story that was appearing onstage and then suddenly it wasn't. That's hard to take, but what you have to do is take it for the team, you know?

Question: Do you remember the first time that the first-act ending was staged, what that felt like to be a part of? For an audience member, it's such a beautiful moment when the painting comes down.
Opel: I think the first time we ever even sang through the song, we knew it was something really special. Staging it was kind of weird because it was just like one big, weird, mazy promenade. You had to know where you were because the stage was not particularly big. Well, it was tiny at Playwrights, and it felt small at the Booth as well just because there were so many people on the stage trying to make patterns. It wasn't like, "Five, six, seven, eight!" Like I said, it was a tricky show. The staging and the content, everything about it was tricky. Not only that, but up until zero hour on Broadway, Steve was writing songs. Two songs in the second act came in pretty much at almost the last minute — at least that's my recollection. . . . There's stuff that came in really late. Really, really late was "Children and Art." Really late. I'm talking, we were in previews right before we were sort of freezing the show. "Children and Art" came in very late, and I believe "Lesson #8." Those two pieces that are in the second act came in very, very late. I felt like those are the things that really, really changed the second act. It was so transformative that it just seemed like a magic potion or something, but once you're that close, you can't see anything. You just have to trust.

Question: In more recent shows, there have been two times where you took over for people during previews: for Barbara Barrie in Fiddler and Elayne Boosler in Triumph of Love.
Opel: Elayne actually didn't make it to previews. I took over that role in rehearsal!

Question: What's it like stepping into a show a little later than the rest of the cast?
Opel: Well, once again, I was happy to be in the room for Triumph of Love the whole time. That also was a pretty good transition. I really enjoyed doing that show. Once again, that was a show that had so much really swell material. Trying to shape it was a little difficult. But, like I said, once you get to a point where you've been through the wars like that, you can sort of take it a little more easily.

Fiddler was crazy. I literally had a day of rehearsal and a put-in, and that was it. Seriously, I rehearsed on Monday and went in Tuesday night. Had a put-in Tuesday and went in Tuesday night. I'd never done anything like that.

Question: What was that first performance like for you?
Opel: It was crazy. It was literally like I just had tunnel vision. Whoever I was doing something with, it felt like they were a million miles away from me, and I was sort of staring through them through this gigantic, weird tunnel. But I was oddly calm at the same time. It was just so improbable, I think it's sort of like my brain couldn't even believe I was doing it. [Laughs.] I had stuff written everywhere: on my hands, on note cards that were on the table in Golde's house. [Laughs.] It was crazy. The role was really basically a couple of scenes where, if you just got to where you need to go, you could get through the stuff. If it had been something like a show where you had scene after scene after scene, even with little stuff to do, it would have been harder. And also "Tradition" is all holding hands, so everybody pushes you the right way.

Nancy Opel in The Drowsy Chaperone
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: And then you were in the Gypsy revival at City Center. Was it a difficult decision not to continue with it to Broadway?
Opel: You know, I really didn't have a decision, honestly. There really wasn't a decision because we closed the City Center production, and there was a whisper of a Broadway transfer but never anything concrete. So what's a girl to do? At the same time I had auditioned for the Drowsy Chaperone tour — I think it was maybe our second day of rehearsal at the City Center Gypsy. Just about the second day of rehearsal, I auditioned for Drowsy Chaperone. I got an offer for Drowsy Chaperone, I rehearsed Drowsy Chaperone in town, and I left to do a couple of cities. I did Cleveland, I did Toronto. By the time I got to St. Louis, I got the Gypsy offer. The choice has been made for you. I was sorry that I wasn't there to be in it [on Broadway], because it was so wonderful to be in that production. It really, really was. It was so wonderful to be a part of it. I was sad that I couldn't be, but I had done that, and then I was doing something else. It's just the way it happened. You can't wring your hands over things like that. Question: I loved Drowsy when I saw it on Broadway. How was it received around the country? It's not a typical musical.
Opel: It isn't typical. And I'll tell you, I think, had I been the creators of Drowsy Chaperone, I might have called it something else. I'm serious. I think that when you write something and you go, "I can't think of anything else to call it. I think this is perfect…" I think that was right. I think that I might have thought the same thing. Except the problem is, The Drowsy Chaperone… first of all, people can't remember [the title], and then they don't know what to think once they've said it. I think that was part of the problem because literally everyone who came to see it said, "I didn't know what to expect, and I was so thoroughly and pleasantly surprised." But that's hard when you're on tour, when you only have a week and there is no recognition before your tour comes in. They go, "Drowsy Chaperone? What's that?" By the time some of their friends call them and tell them, "Well, I saw it Monday night and I loved it," we're basically out of town again. There were some places that were savvy, and they kind of knew what they were getting into, and there were some places not so much. They didn't know what to expect. Some places thoroughly surprised me. Orlando went absolutely crazy over the show. That kind of surprised me, pleasantly so. And there were other places where — it's not that we weren't well received — it just wasn't that well attended. But then you also have to figure that it has to do with economic conditions sometimes, too, wherever it is you're going.

Question: Did you like playing that role? I would think it would be such a good fit for you.
Opel: It was really fun. I had a great time. I had a lovely time with the company. I had a great time with the show. My costumes were the most glorious things I believe I've almost ever worn. If we have to talk about costumes, I would say my best costumes in my entire life were Drowsy Chaperone and Evita, which was also absolutely glorious. And, another show that basically no one ever saw: Teddy & Alice. Theoni Aldredge designed the clothes, and they were absolutely stunning.

Question: Do you have a favorite theatrical experience so far, or is it too difficult to pick?
Opel: It's kind of hard. It wouldn't be fair to any of the projects that I've done to say that I had something favorite. Honestly, there's other stuff, too. Some of my Off-Broadway stuff, some of my plays, some of the stuff I've done with David Ives I've enjoyed so much. All in the Timing was an amazing, fun, challenging evening. There was also another show of his, a group of plays that he called Mere Mortals. There was a show called Dr. Fritz, which was the craziest thing I've ever done because I literally flipped from one character to another, standing onstage. I literally turned into different people — one little play that was kind of a beautiful, weird play. I really cherish all my moments with David, because I've done a ton of his stuff, too.

Question: Do you find you miss the singing when you're doing a non-musical?
Opel: No, I don't miss it, not because I don't like to sing. Luckily [with] most of my experiences in plays I've not felt the need to sing — because they're completely fulfilling as plays. You just do what you need to do and, whatever you need to bring — well you're never going to see me in a big dance role! But, barring that, you bring what you need. But in David's plays, to give an example, David's plays are very musical. They're very rhythmic, very musical. I think that musicianship comes into play.

Question: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Opel: At the moment, [Toxic Avenger] is what I'm doing. I have my coaching business on the side, which I love. I love working with clients. I also find that very gratifying. Question: Is it acting coaching?
Opel: Acting and vocals. Whatever anybody needs, they come and we work on stuff. Obviously, an incredible amount of audition material, and I love that. Also, I'm in the middle of working on a piece as a director of a little musical, a five-woman musical. . . . It's sort of about — and I use it loosely because, of course, it isn't about this. It always sounds simplistic. It's five women who are putting a child into first grade. The two women who are writing it are terrific, Pamela Lobley and Tina deVaron. I'm working on the show with them, and we've been working off and on for quite some time now, but me going out of town for a year slowed us down a little bit. But we're gearing up again, and it's also a lovely project, and I'm working in sort of a different vein, which is also quite enjoyable.

[The Toxic Avenger plays New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street. For tickets call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com. For more information visit www.TheToxicAvengerMusical.com.]

Idina Menzel

DIVA TIDBITS
Chess in Concert, the two-night, star-studded event that was presented at London's Royal Albert Hall May 12-13, 2008, will air on PBS stations around the country in June. According to a "Great Performances" spokesperson, the concert of the Benny Anderson-Tim Rice-Björn Ulvaeus musical will air on PBS stations beginning June 17 at 9 PM ET; check local listings. Chess in Concert was directed for telecast by David Horn and produced by Austin Shaw. A CD and DVD of the concert will also be available this summer. Chess in Concert boasted Tony Award winner Idina Menzel as Florence, Tony nominee Adam Pascal as Frederick Trumper with internationally acclaimed vocalist Josh Groban as Anatoly Sergievsky, London Wicked star Kerry Ellis as Svetlana, David Bedella as Molokov, Clarke Peters as Walter and Marti Pellow as The Arbiter. Symphony Space's free Wall to Wall Broadway: A Century of Musicals, a 12-hour celebration of the music of Broadway, will be presented May 16 beginning at 11 AM. Hosted and staged by Symphony Space artistic director and co-founder Isaiah Sheffer, the annual event will feature an array of works from Broadway — songs, overtures, dance music — performed by hundreds of well known and emerging artists. Among those currently scheduled to entertain are Ivy Austin, Kate Baldwin, D'Ambrose Boyd, Mary Brienza, Kevin Burdette, Liz Callaway, Charlotte d'Amboise, Gregg Edelman, Melissa Errico, Raul Esparza, Lisa Flanagan, Alexander Gemignani, Randy Graff, Debbie Gravitte, David Greene, Jonathan Hadary, Mary Cleere Haran, George S. Irving, Mark Kudisch, Emily Loesser, Jo Sullivan Loesser, Terrence Mann, Kathryn Markey, Rob Marx, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Donna Murphy, James Naughton, Kelli O'Hara, Leenya Rideout, Vale Rideout, Tony Roberts, Jeffrey Schecter, Martin Vidnovic, Thom Christopher Warren, Julie Wilson, B.D. Wong, Chip Zien and artistic director Sheffer, who will perform "Don Jose from Far Rockaway" from Wish You Were Here. Tony Award-winning musical director Paul Gemignani will conduct the orchestra for the "Broadway Classics" segment, which closes the marathon beginning at 8 PM. This year's event will also feature a chat with Tony winner Harold Prince; segments titled "Musicals That Inspired Me" and "Gems From Flops" hosted by musical theatre scholar and author Leonard Fleischer and president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization Theodore Chapin; and a chat with In the Heights' Lin-Manuel Miranda hosted by Sheldon Harnick. Young composers from the ASCAP and BMI Workshops will participate, and the current casts of Broadway's West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, Mary Poppins, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Shrek and South Pacific will also perform. Peter Norton Symphony Space is located in Manhattan at 2537 Broadway (at 95th Street). For more information visit www.symphonyspace.org.

Tony Award winners Cynthia Nixon (Rabbit Hole) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) will announce the nominations for the 2009 Tony Awards May 5 beginning at 8:30 AM at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The nominations for the 63rd Annual Tony Awards will be broadcast live in Times Square on the Clear Channel Spectacolor HD Video Screen. Playbill.com will also post the full list of nominations as soon as it becomes available. The 2009 Tony Awards will be held at Radio City Music Hall June 7. CBS-TV will broadcast the event live. For more information visit www.tonyawards.com.

Tony Award winner Jennifer Holliday, who created the role of Effie in the original Broadway production of Dreamgirls, will join the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles for two concerts in June. The Tony-winning singer-actress will perform with the chorus at the Alex Theatre in an evening simply titled BROADWAY! The concerts are scheduled for June 27 at 3 and 8 PM and June 28 at 3 PM. Holliday will only be part of the June 27 at 8 PM and June 28 at 3 PM performances. The concert will feature both classic and recent musical theatre songs. Expect tunes from The Lion King, Young Frankenstein, Spring Awakening, Aida, The King and I, Zorba, Milk and Honey, South Pacific, Company, Passion, Follies, Steel Pier and Dreamgirls. Alex Theatre is located at 216 North Brand Blvd. in Glendale, CA. Tickets, priced $30, will go on sale May 1 by calling 818-243-ALEX (2539) or by visiting www.gmcla.org. Tickets, priced $100 (VIP), will be available by calling (323) 467-9741.

Several Broadway favorites will take part in "The Actors Fund Broadway Series" at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. The Monday-night concert series, which will raise funds for The Actors Fund, will kick off April 27 with recent Tale of Two Cities star James Barbour. Others scheduled for the series include Andréa Burns (May 4), the cast of [title of show] (Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen, Susan Blackwell and Heidi Blickenstaff on May 11), Julia Murney (May 18) and Norm Lewis (June 1). There is a $40 cover charge ($60 premium seats) and a $25 food-drink minimum. Feinstein's is located at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street in New York City. For ticket reservations and club information, call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com or TicketWeb.com.

Elaine Stritch

Tony and Emmy Award winner Elaine Stritch will star in the Paper Mill Playhouse's upcoming production of the Broadway musical The Full Monty, which is based on the film of the same name. Stritch will play the role of Jeanette Burmeister, which was originated on Broadway by the late Kathleen Freeman. No other casting has been announced. Directed by Mark S. Hoebee, musically directed by Tom Helm and choreographed by Denis Jones, Monty will play the New Jersey venue June 10-July 12. Paper Mill Playhouse is located at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, NJ. For tickets call (973) 376-4343 or visit www.papermill.org. Two-time Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole, who co-stars in the Broadway revival of Blithe Spirit, will return to the famed jazz club Birdland in May. On May 4, as part of the Broadway at Birdland series, Ebersole will present a Garage Band Fantasy. Show time is 7 PM. Ebersole will join forces with musical director/pianist Bette Sussman to "celebrate and re-live her favorite pop songs of all time, composed and performed by The Eagles, Joni Mitchell, Michael MacDonald, Sting, Susan Werner, and more," according to press notes. She will be backed by Zev Katz on bass, Clint DeGannon on drums, Larry Saltzman on guitar and Tabitha Fair on vocals. Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44 Street. There is a $40-$50 cover charge and a $10 food/drink minimum. For reservations call (212) 581-3080 or visit www.BirdlandJazz.com.

Jay Rogers, Lina Koutrakos, Eric Michael Gillett and Devin Richards will host the Cabaret Cares gala, which will be presented May 17 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. The evening, which will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Help Is On the Way Today, will feature the talents of Raissa Katona Bennett, Laura Osnes, Natalie Toro, Robert Fowler, Stacey Todd Holt, Sue Matsuki, Erin Shields, Tanya Holt, Tom Gamblin, David Colbert, Lorinda Lisitza and Susan Winter. David Shenton will be the concert's musical director. Cocktails will kick off the evening at 5 PM, followed by a buffet dinner at 6 PM and the show at 7 PM. Live and silent auctions will also be part of the festivities. The Laurie Beechman Theatre is located within the West Bank Cafe at 407 West 42nd Street. Tickets, priced $100, are available by calling (718) 672-6714 or (917) 589-6658 or by e-mailing jjmac249@aol.com.

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

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