DIVA TALK: Dames Shine at the St. James; Greene Charms at Joe’s Pub

DIVA TALK: Dames Shine at the St. James; Greene Charms at Joe’s Pub Hello, diva lovers! I can’t remember the last time two of my very favorite gals were set to open in two theatrical productions in such close proximity.
Bebe Neuwirth as Dr. Lilith Crane on
Bebe Neuwirth as Dr. Lilith Crane on "Frasier." (Photo by Paramount Photo)

Next week, I’ll get to see Betty Buckley in Elegies, the new William Finn song cycle at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Can’t wait to hear Ms. B interpret Finn’s material, the first time the two celebrated artists have worked together. And, on Monday, March 31 I’ll be attending the first preview of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters under the direction of former Donmar Warehouse artistic director Sam Mendes. I’m counting the days (24 to go) until I hear BP belt out the classic Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim score. (By the way, that production officially opens at the Shubert Theatre on May 1.) Ah, if only every month could be as exciting as this one!

ELLEN GREENE

On Sunday, Feb. 23 I had the pleasure of attending Ellen Greene’s 7:30 PM concert at the Public Theater’s Joe’s Pub, and it was one of the most entrancing cabaret performances I’ve witnessed in a long time. This was the first I’d seen the singer-actress perform live, and the former Little Shop of Horrors star definitely wears her heart on her sleeve. Her emotional nakedness and fragility comes across in most every number she performs: With tears streaming from her eyes in just about every song, I was completely captivated by her repertoire, which included a mix of pop and theatre tunes. Highlights of her generous set included her two Little Shop songs — compelling versions of “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly Seymour” — Tori Amos’ haunting “Winter,” Peter Allen’s “Pretty Pretty,” a vocally rich “Someone To Watch Over Me” and the Three Penny Opera revenge song, “Pirate Jenny.” Greene announced that she is currently looking for backers for a solo recording, and one can only hope this multi-talented performer will also return to the stage. She’s been away far too long.

NOTHING LIKE A DAME 2003

Congratulations to Phyllis Newman for another successful evening to benefit the worthy Actor’s Fund organization. If thrilling vocal power was somewhat less evident at the eighth annual Nothing Like a Dame concert than in previous years, the evening at the St. James Theatre was still a crowd-pleaser nonetheless. Highlights of the two-act concert to benefit the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative (“That’s very hard to say,” Edie Falco joked to the sold-out crowd) included “A New Girl in Town,” a song cut from the hit musical Hairspray and sung by that show’s Dynamites: Kamilah Martin, Judine Richard and Shayna Steele (the trio, introduced by Marissa Jaret Winokur, who spoke about her complete recovery from uterine/cervical cancer, also offered the show-stopping “Welcome to the Sixties”); two excerpts from Russell Simon’s Def Poetry Jam (the moving “Full Figure Potential” by Georgia Me and the high-energy “In the Cocina” by Mayda del Valle); Cady Huffman’s belty tones on “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries”; Mario Cantone, who elicited fits of laughter with his rants about Iraq, Osama Bin Laden, the New York subways and Liza Minnelli’s “comeback”; the young, energetic dancers from the David Sanders Dance Dynamics DRA Studio who rocked to Fat Boy Slim from the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack; and the ageless Bebe Neuwirth, who brought the audience to its feet with her rendition of Chicago’s “All That Jazz.” The evening also boasted a tribute to the late Adolph Green, featuring Newman, Judy Kaye and Mary Bond Davis; Harvey Fierstein’s rendition of “I Am What I Am”; Liz Smith and Ann Richards dueting on “I’m an Old Cowhand”; The Producers’ “I Wanna Be a Producer”; Jessica Comeau’s rendition of La Boheme’s “Musetta’s Waltz”; Kate Mulgrew’s impersonation of Katharine Hepburn and her run-in with Stephen Sondheim; Rosie Perez’s selection from The Vagina Monologues; and Amanda Green’s solo on “On My Perfect Day.” For more information about the Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative, call (212) 221-7300.

CAROL CHANNING

Legendary musical theatre actress Carol Channing may be walking down the aisle for the third time!

The star of Broadway's Hello, Dolly! and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes recently announced her engagement to her childhood sweetheart, Harry Kullijian. It’s been a very busy year for the Tony winner, who also published her memoirs — “Just Lucky I Guess: A Memoir of Sorts” — this past fall on the Simon & Schuster label.

In a letter written to friends, Channing recently had this to say about her latest foray into love: “Harry Kullijian and I have known each other for 70 years. We were childhood sweethearts in San Francisco, then went our separate ways. Harry, who had been trying to reach me for 60 years, read about himself in my memoirs . . . After a mutual friend read the book, he called Harry and said, ‘I know her. Here, call her, I have her number.’ Since our spouses have both passed away, we were able to get together again, renew our love, and would like to announce our engagement. Harry is a successful businessman and has become a tremendous source of help in making business decisions about career opportunities that my recently released book has also brought my way. There are no immediate plans for a wedding date, but this is the happiest moment of my life.”

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Betty Buckley will star in a new film entitled “Mummy An’ the Armadillo.” The former Sunset Boulevard star will play Let in the new film, which was written and directed by J.S. Cardone. Others in the motion picture include Jonathan Schaech as Jesse, Brad Renfro as Wyatte, Clare Kramer as Sarah, Lori Heuring as Billie, Wade Williams as Temple, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe as Jackie, Busy Philips as Carol Ann, Amanda-Lee Aday as Bevers, Ashley Louise Edner as Young Billie, Luke Strode as Young Jesse and F.J. Flynn as Father. A release date has yet to be announced. Set in the roadside diner Armadillo Café, the film concerns a young woman named Sarah who happens upon the diner and encounters an eclectic array of characters. Her presence in the Café — which features a life-sized mummy and a stuffed armadillo — unleashes the “deep and dark secrets” of many of the diner’s inhabitants. . . . The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus will salute the “Diva” March 10. The evening at Avery Fisher Hall is titled Viva la Diva and will feature a host of divas from a mix of entertainment mediums. Those scheduled to join the famed chorus include Barnum actress Terri White; Jenifer Lewis, star of Off-Broadway’s The Diva Is Dismissed; opera diva Denise Lennon; Indra Thomas, the African-American vocalist hailed as the next great Verdi soprano; and drag performer Jimmy James, who has been acclaimed for his impersonations of Bette Davis, Cher, Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland. Show time is 8 PM. Jeffrey Maynard will conduct the evening, which will feature such tunes as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (performed by Lennon), Starmites’ “Diva” (performed by White), Tosca’s “Vissi d’Arte” (performed by Thomas); “I Got it Bad and That Ain’t Good” (performed by James); and toe-tappers from the new hit musical Hairspray (performed by Lewis). The evening will also include songs rendered by the 185-voice male chorus, which is dedicated to the performance of classical and contemporary choral music. Tickets for Viva la Diva are priced between $30 and $80 and are available by calling (212) 242-1777. Avery Fisher Hall is located within Lincoln Center at 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, Broadway at 65th Street. . . . Originally scheduled for an April 22 release, Barbara Cook’s acclaimed Mostly Sondheim concert will now hit stores — on DVD and video — May 20. The DRG release, "Barbara Cook Mostly Sondheim — Live in Concert," salutes the songs of Stephen Sondheim as well as the tunes the award-winning composer has said he wished he had created. Featuring Wally Harper as musical director, the DVD also boasts several bonus features: Cook's Master Class at the Kennedy Center (Aug. 14, 2001), an interview with the legendary singer, interactive menus, instant chapter access to songs and Cook's complete discography on DRG Records. The concert — filmed live at the Pepsico Theatre at SUNY Purchase — is digitally mastered with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, and the recording has a suggested retail price of $29.98 (DVD) or $19.98 (VHS). . . . Former Jekyll & Hyde star Christiane Noll will star in the upcoming City Center Encores! presentation of New Moon. The singer-actress will be part of the mounting of the Sigmund Romberg musical, which will play City Center March 27-30. Tickets for New Moon are priced between $25 and $85 and are available by calling City Tix at (212) 581-1212 or (877) 581-1212. City Center is located in New York City at 55th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. . . . Speaking of Noll, she and Rob Evan, who both starred in the Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde, will reunite March 9 for a concert at the Duplex Cabaret. Noll and Evan will take part in the Duplex’s Newer Sundays series, which spotlights the work of up-n-coming songwriters. The March 9 program will feature the works of Brian Feinstein and Diana Hansen-Young with musical direction by Chris Fenwick. Show time is 5 PM. The Duplex Cabaret Theatre is located in New York’s West Village at 61 Christopher Street. There is a $12 cover and a two drink minimum; cash only. Call (212) 255-5438 for reservations. . . . Three-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald may co-star in the upcoming concert presentation of Passion at this summer’s Ravinia Festival. A spokesperson for the Festival confirmed that the actress, who currently stars in the NBC drama “Mr. Sterling,” has been offered the role of Clara in the concert of the Stephen Sondheim musical, which will play two performances at the Chicago theatre August 22 and 23. Patti LuPone has already signed on to play the ill-fated Fosca in the Tony-winning musical. No other casting has been announced for the summer Passion, although the Ravinia press office said a casting announcement is expected March 31. McDonald and LuPone also starred in another Sondheim work, “Sweeney Todd in Concert,” first presented at Lincoln Center in May 2000. The Ravinia theatre is located in Highland Park, IL; for more information, go to www.ravinia.org. . . . And, finally, tonight’s (March 7) concert at Town Hall dubbed French Cabaret: Viva La Chanson will feature a second act starring Louise Pitre. The Mamma Mia! star will take centerstage during the second-half of the evening devoted to the French chanson and will demonstrate her versatility beyond the songs of pop group ABBA. Scott Siegel, who is producing the evening, recently told me, “Louise will do the entire second act. It will give theatregoers the opportunity to see all that she can do outside of Mamma Mia! People probably don’t realize how versatile and dynamic a performer she is, and this show will give her that opportunity. [Pitre] had a celebrated hit with a show about the life of Edith Piaf, and at Town Hall, she will sing a wide variety of songs, all of French origin.” The first half of the evening will feature special guest star, singer-songwriter Amanda McBroom, who is best known for writing the hit tune “The Rose.” McBroom also starred in a successful production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, and she will belt out several tunes from that revue March 7. Others participating in the first act include French tenor Michel Bérubé, who will be making his New York debut; Parisian chanteuse Greta; and New York cabaret singer A. J. Irvin. Tickets are priced at $30 and $35 and are available by calling (212) 307-4100 or by visiting the Town Hall box office. Town Hall is located in Manhattan at 123 W. 43rd St.

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:

May 31 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA

Liz Callaway in Concert:

May 16 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA Barbara Cook in Concert:

Through March 9 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, CA
March 21 at the Flynn Center in Flynn, MI
March 28 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
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:

March 27 at the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 28-29 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 30 at the Ham Auditorium at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

Maureen McGovern in Concert

Through March 15 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York City
April 12-13 at Center Stage—Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, CA
April 14-19 at Founder's Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
May 30 - 31 at the Palmer Events Center with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Austin, TX
June 7 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN

Christiane Noll in Concert

April 5 Springfield, MA with Springfield Symphony
April 9 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
April 21 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
May 24 Williamsburg, VA with the Virginia Arts Festival
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
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!