There were few scores from the eighties that were as exciting as the one penned by ABBA's Benny Anderson and Björn Ulvaeus (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics). Who could resist a show with such great tunes as "Nobody's Side," "Heaven Help My Heart," "I Know Him So Well," "Pity the Child," "You and I," and "Anthem"? Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to witness Elaine Paige's work on the London stage — although her recording on the original London cast album is the Florence by which all others are measured — I was lucky enough to catch Judy Kuhn's thrilling performance on Broadway and Alice Ripley's phenomenally belty vocals in the 1998 Chess concert. In fact, Ripley's performance of "Someone Else's Story," which featured a striking key change in the last verse, remains one of this diva lover's favorite vocal moments.
On Sept. 22 we'll be treated to another all-star Chess concert, the third benefit concert for the Actors' Fund of America, following the triumphant mountings of Dreamgirls — with Lillias White, Audra McDonald and Heather Headley — and last year's Funny Girl, with a rotating roster of Fannys. Julia Murney, who made a splash with the Off Broadway Wild Party but who has yet to make her Broadway debut, will be the latest singer-actress to take on the role of Florence. And, after hearing her no-holds-barred rendition of "People" at the aforementioned Funny Girl evening, I can hardly wait to hear this talent perform the Chess show-stoppers.
According to Seth Rudetsky, the mastermind behind the Actors' Fund concerts, the evening will also include Adam Pascal as the American, Josh Groban as the Russian, Raul Esparza as the Arbiter, Norm Lewis as Molokov, Jonathan Dokuchitz as Walter and Lara Fabian as Svetlana. Rudetsky described the latter as "a fuller-voiced version of Celine Dion." The starry company boasts a host of stage talents, including Meredith Aikins, Yassmine Alers, Albert Altovilla, Kim Alvarez, Farah Alvin, Carrie Ellen Austin, David Barrus, Kristine Bendul, Stephen Bienskie, John Bolton, Jerad Bortz, Kevin Bott, Stacey Lynn Brass, Rachel Bress, Ed Carlo, Lou I. Castro, Lanene Charters, Katherine Lynne Condit, Tim Cross, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Justin Daniel, Ryan Dietz, John Treacy Egan, Markeisha Ensley, Mary Faber, Phil Fabry, Barrett Foa, Susan Fulginiti, Laurie Gamache, Julie Garnyé, Tanesha Gary-Stickney, Chris Ghelfi, Brian M. Golub, Sue Goodman, Ann Harada, Nina Hennessey, Stephen Alexander Horst, Mary Ann Hu, Cristin Hubbard, William Hubert, Adam Hunter, Jessica Jackson, Gerti James, Natalie Joy Johnson, Naomi Kakuk, Raissa Katona, Damian Keenan, Trent Armand Kendal, Michael Klimzak, Audrey Klinger, Lynette Knapp, David Ladd, Anika Larsen, Jason S. Little, Kristoffer Lowe, David McKeown, Naomi Naughton, Darius Nichols, Terri O'Neill, Amanda Ryan Paige, Max Pearlman, David Petrolle, William Ryall, Charlie Schwartz, Nicole Ruth Snelson, Doug Storm, Eileen Tepper, Shelley Thomas, Grant Turner, Richard E. Waits, Jessica Walker, Nyjah Moore Westbrooks, Jason Weston, Schele Williams, Gustavo Wons, Wysandria Woolsey, Matt Zarley, Kristine Zbornik and Christopher Zelno.
Tickets for the Sept. 22 Chess concert (7:30 PM) at the New Amsterdam Theatre are available by calling (212) 221-7300, ext. 133. For more information, go to www.actorsfund.org. KAREN MASON
It's a busy time for Karen Mason, who has just added three shows at the Supper Club's King Kong Room. Mason — who was most recently on Broadway as Tanya in the megahit Mamma Mia! — had actually added four shows, but then she landed a role on TV's "Law & Order: SVU." Mason will play a librarian named Ms. Giddeon on an upcoming episode of entitled "Serendipity." Stay tuned for a broadcast date.
Getting back to Mason's new cabaret act, which made its NYC debut last month. I've heard raves about the program, which the singer-actress has entitled, appropriately, "The Winner Takes It All." I recently received a copy of the song list, which I thought you would enjoy perusing:
"All That Jazz" (John Kander/Fred Ebb)
"42nd Street"/"Let Yourself Go" (Harry Warren/Al Dubin)/(Irving Berlin)
"A Whole New World" (Alan Menken/Tim Rice)
"Watch What Happens"/"I Will Wait for You" (Michel Legrand/Jacques Demy; English lyrics by Norman Gimbel)
"Murder, He Says" (Jimmy McHugh/Frank Loesser)
"Star!" (James Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn)
"Secret Love" (Sammy Fain/Paul Frances Webster)
"People" (Jule Styne/Bob Merrill)
"Get Happy" (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler)
"Happy Just to Dance with You" (Paul McCartney/John Lennon)
"Maybe This Time" (John Kander/Fred Ebb)
"Pick Yourself Up" (Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields)
"Almost Paradise" (Howard Eric Carmen/Dean Pitchford)
"The Winner Takes it All" (Benny Andersson/Bjorn Ulvaeus)
"Let's Face the Music and Dance" (Irving Berlin)
Mason's additional evenings at the King Kong Room are scheduled for Sept. 15 and Oct. 13 and 20. Show time is 7 PM. Her act was conceived by Barry Kleinbort and features musical direction by Christopher Denny, who also accompanies the former Sunset Boulevard standby-to-the stars on piano.
There is a $25 cover and a $15 food-drink minimum for all shows. The King Kong Room is located in Manhattan at 240 West 47th Street. For reservations, call (212) 921-1904.
FOR THE RECORD: "Broadway's Greatest Gifts: Carols for a Cure"
I received word from actress-producer Lynn Pinto this week regarding the latest benefit CD for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, "Broadway's Greatest Gifts: Carols for a Cure." The fifth annual recording for the worthy organization will feature nearly 20 tracks from the casts of most of this season's Broadway musicals.
Last year, Pinto — an operatically trained singer who made her Broadway debut in the Rebecca Luker revival of The Sound of Music — explained the genesis of Rock-It Records and her annual Christmas CDs, which began during her Sound of Music run. "We started by putting together a CD of the nuns of The Sound of Music. It started as a gift for our families for Christmas; then I started doing research into duplicating CDs, and we were able to sell them as a fundraiser [for BC/EFA]. That was our first release for Broadway Cares," Pinto continued. "We just sold it at the theatres, and it was really successful. Broadway Cares has been very happy with [the annual recordings], and we have a blast doing them, and it's become, six months out of the year, a full-time job."
She recently told me about this year's recordings, which were conducted over a three-day period last week. "The recording went great," said Pinto, "and there are some really magical moments on it. Some of the highlights include lead vocals by Antonio Banderas, Jon Secada, Harvey Fierstein and Hugh Jackman." The track line-up follows:
Aida: "I'll Stay Strong" from The Alchemist
Beauty and the Beast "This Christmas Day"
Big River: "Silent Night"
The Boy from Oz: "Wrapped Up Nice"
Cabaret: "O Tannenbaum"
Chicago: "Jingle Bells"
Gypsy: "Sing Out!"
Hairspray: "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel"
The Lion King: "Angelo Rosenbaum"
Mamma Mia!: "Lullaby" ("Coventry Carol," "What Child is This" & "Away in a Manger")
Nine: "Los Peces En El Rio"
The Phantom of the Opera: "Joy to the World"
The Producers: "Too Fat to Fit"
Rent: "O Holy Night"
Taboo: "Ave Maria"
Thoroughly Modern Millie: "The Coming of Christmastime"
42nd Street: "The Holiday Hop"
(Tracks byLittle Shop of Horrors and Avenue Q cast members will be recorded shortly. According to Pinto, the latter will record "a comedic original with pieces of traditional holiday tunes mixed in and performed by John Tartaglia and Gary Adler.")
The recording will be available at all Broadway shows during the annual Gypsy of the Year collection, Oct. 24-Dec. 8. The Rock-it Science Records release can also be ordered on-line at www.bcefa.org or by calling Broadway Cares at (212) 840-0770. Select stores will also carry the benefit CD.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Tony Award winner Betty Buckley has joined the Theatre Arts Department at the University of Texas at Arlington for the 2003-2004 academic year. Buckley will offer acting courses for undergraduate students at the University; Buckley's technique emphasizes the role of meditation and yoga in actor training. U.T. Arlington Theatre Arts Department Chair Kim LaFontaine said, "The training that Ms. Buckley imparts distinctly encourages the creative evolution of the mind and body, and promises to be among the most exciting experiences ever offered to our student majors. It is an honor and privilege to have an artist of Ms. Buckley's caliber working so closely with our department." As previously announced, the award-winning actress-singer will also offer master classes in Song Interpretation and Scene Study in September and October at New York's T. Schreiber Studio. Buckley, in fact, will offer two versions of her Song Interpretation classes: the first, an introductory course for students who have never studied with the Tony-winning actress, is scheduled for Monday evenings, Sept. 15-Oct. 20; the second, for students who have previously studied with Buckley, is scheduled for Wednesday evenings, Sept. 17-Oct. 22. The acting intensive classes will be held Thursday evenings, Sept. 18-Oct. 23. . . . Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's Tony Award winning musical Evita will replace the previously announced The Mancini Project at the Helen Hayes Theatre Company this fall. Evita — which made stars of its Broadway (Patti LuPone) and London (Elaine Paige) leading ladies — will play the Nyack Theatre Oct. 18-Nov. 2. The Mancini Project, a new musical employing the songs of the late Henry Mancini and featuring a book by Rupert Holmes, was postponed due to Holmes' busy schedule. The Tony-winning composer/writer is currently enjoying a big hit with his first novel for Random House, "Where the Truth Lies." An extended book tour has left him less time to work on Mancini. Former Aida star Felicia Finley will star as Eva Peron in the Helen Hayes production, which was seen this past summer at the Ogunquit Playhouse. Also in the cast are David Brummel as Juan Peron and Frank Baiocchi as Che. With special permission, a few verses of "The Lady's Got Potential" — heard on the original Julie Covington recording and in the Madonna film — as well as additional verses of "Another Suitcase in Another Hall" for Eva will be part of this production. The Helen Hayes Theatre Company is located at 117 Main Street in Nyack, NY; call (845) 358-6333 for information. For more information, go to www.hhtco.org. . . . The Broadway Spotlight Series — which presents concert evenings with stars of the Broadway stage — returns Sept. 8. Melissa van der Scafe, who currently stars in the acclaimed revival of Big River at the American Airlines Theatre, will take centerstage at the Ars Nova Theater Sept. 8 at 8 PM. Van der Scafe will offer several alternative pop tunes from her new recording "Urban Peasant." The singer-actress will be backed by Big River's pianist Eric Svejcar, who will also perform some of his original work. Drew McVety, who portrays Judge Thatcher and Harvey Wilkes in Big River, will also accompany van der Scafe on violin. Other cast members from the musical will sign some of the evening's songs. The Ars Nova Theater is located in Manhattan at 511 West 54th Street. Tickets are priced at $12; doors open at 7:30 PM. Call (212) 868-4444 for tickets or go to www.SmartTix.com. . . . ABC-TV will present a new television movie based on the life of Lena Horne next year. The New York Post reported earlier this week that Grammy Award winner Janet Jackson will portray the legendary star of stage and screen in the new biopic. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — of "Chicago" film fame — will produce the movie, which will feature Jackson singing the tunes Horne made famous. The telefilm will be based on "Lena," the autobiography written by Horne with contributions by Time Magazine's Richard Shickel. . . . Singer-actress Ann Morrison will sit down for a chat with host Seth Rudetsky at the Sept. 11 edition of Seth’s Broadway Chatterbox. The weekly live talkfest, which includes interviews and performances from Broadway stars, is held at 6 PM at the New York cabaret Don't Tell Mama. There is a $10 donation and a two-drink minimum. The donation goes directly to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the nation's leading industry-based, not-for profit AIDS fundraising and grant-making organization. Morrison starred as Marry Flynn in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. She can be heard on that musical's cast recording, and she also reprised her role in the 2002 Merrily anniversary concert that featured most of the original cast. Don't Tell Mama is located in New York City on West 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. Call (212) 757-0788 for reservations. . . . And, finally, two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters will take a scheduled vacation from the hit revival of Gypsy at the end of the month. Peters will vacation from the musical Sept. 29-Oct. 4. During her absence, her standby, Maureen Moore, will play the role of Momma Rose. Speaking of Gypsy, the wonderful new cast recording of the musical — starring Peters, Tammy Blanchard and John Dossett — entered the Billboard charts at 175, the only cast recording currently in the Top 200!
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Oct. 11 with the Binghamton Philharmonic Pops in Binghamton, NY
Oct. 20 at the 14th Annual New York Cabaret Convention in New York, NY
Jan. 31, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
May 1, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Barbara Cook in Concert: Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Jan. 23, 2004 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jan. 24, 2004 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Karen Mason in Concert:
Oct. 4 with the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra at the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, IL
Oct. 18 at the Emelin Theater in NY
Nov. 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!