DIVA TALK: Divas Make Believe; the Songs of Billy Joel

DIVA TALK: Divas Make Believe; the Songs of Billy Joel ONLY MAKE BELIEVE: A BENEFIT

ONLY MAKE BELIEVE: A BENEFIT

On Monday, Nov. 4 a host of talent from the casts of Hairspray, The Producers, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Mamma Mia! and Into the Woods will take part in a benefit entitled Only Make Believe. Hosted by Hayley Mills, the evening will benefit the Only Make Believe charitable organization, which brings theatre to hospital-bound children.

Among the performers taking part in the 8 PM event at New York City's Westside Theatre are Shoshanna Bean (Hairspray), Brad Oscar (The Producers), Marc Kudisch (Thoroughly Modern Millie), Louise Pitre (Mamma Mia!), Chad Kimball (Into the Woods) and Brian d'Arcy James (recently in Sweet Smell of Success) as well as Ann Harada, Anne Runolfsson, Janet Metz, Liz Larsen, Orfeh, Kevin Pariseau, Linda Romoff and Andrew Lippa. As of press time, the song line-up — which is still in formation — for the evening follows:

Hayley Mills: "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music
Brad Oscar: "Betrayed" from The Producers
Marc Kudisch: "Come Home" from Allegro
Louise Pitre: Abba's "Angel Passing Through My Room"
Brian D'Arcy James, Andrew Lippa and Kevin Pariseau: Maltby and Shire's "Fathers of Fathers"
Orfeh: "Piece of My Heart" from Love, Janis
Ann Harada: Marci Goldrich and Zina Heisler's "15lbs. Away from My Love"
Chad Kimball: "Lost in the Wilderness" from Children of Eden
Anne Runolfsson, Shoshanna Bean and Janet Metz: an arrangement by Andrew Lippa of "W-O-M-A-N" from Smokey Joe's Café
Linda Romoff: a balloon stunt from Victor/Victoria
Maureen Moore and Jill Geddes: "Children Will Listen" and "Our Children," arranged by Joel Fram

The Westside Theatre is located at 407 W. 43rd Street; for tickets or further information, call (646) 336-1500. MOVIN' OUT

Every once in a while my brother — who enjoys musical theatre about as much as I enjoy football — and I argue over who is the better pop songwriter, Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen. He always sides with Springsteen, and I always vote for Joel, who has a wonderful gift for melody. In fact, both melodically and lyrically, most of Joel's songs are extremely well-crafted. Had he not gone the pop route, I think the Long Island native could have had major success as a Broadway composer.

As a kid, I played many of his songs on the piano — "Piano Man," "Honesty," "Goodnight Saigon," et al. — and when I studied voice, I particularly enjoyed singing "New York State of Mind" and "Summer Highland Falls." I find the lyrics for the latter as wonderful as anything he's written and eerily appropriate for the post-9/11 world: "They say that these are not the best of times/But they're the only times I've ever known . . . Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity/Our reason coexists with our insanity/And though we choose between reality and madness/It's either sadness or euphoria."

So, when I heard that Twyla Tharp was going to fashion a new musical — actually a ballet — around Joel's canon of songs, I became quite excited about the project, which has finally reached Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre. As wonderful as the dancing is, what really propels the show is Joel's music, sung winningly by newcomer Michael Cavanaugh, who sounds quite a lot like the young Joel. The show wisely includes many of Joel's biggest hits, including "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," "Uptown Girl," "She's Got a Way," "Big Shot," "Goodnight Saigon," "Keeping the Faith" and "I've Loved These Days."

Though comparisons have been made to Susan Stroman's Tony-winning Contact, the musical reminds me more of the second half of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Song and Dance, an evening of energetic, often moving dances, performed to a pop-rock score. I know very little about ballet but was very impressed by the work of the dynamic, attractive cast, including John Selya, Keith Roberts and Karine Bageot. Movin' Out plays the Richard Rodgers Theatre at 226 W. 46th Street; call (212) 307 4100 for tickets.

Guilty Pleasure: I have to admit that I also had a lot of fun at Debbie Does Dallas, the new musical(?) at the Jane Street Theatre. Admittedly, it's not for everyone. If you're offended by sexual innuendo — and there's quite a bit more than innuendo in the Erica Schmidt-directed production — then Debbie isn't for you. But if you're not and you don't mind a bit of raunchy humor, you might want to check out the 90 minute, intermissionless show, which stars Sherie Rene Scott in the title role.

Scott is actually the reason I booked seats to DDD, which is based on the famed seventies porn film. I've long been a fan of Scott, who possesses one of the most exciting voices to hit the theatre in the past decade. I thought she was the best part of the original Aida cast, and her work in the short-lived Jason Robert Brown musical Last Five Years was also wonderful. In Debbie, Scott gets the chance to display more of the comedic skills she hinted at in Aida, and she seems very much at home as the small-town girl with big-city dreams. She also gets to sing a handful of songs, which display her rangy, exciting belt.

The entire cast is actually quite good with noteworthy performances from Mary Catherine Garrison, who plays Debbie's rival Lisa; Caitlin Miller, who seems like she would be a perfect fit for the cast of "Saturday Night Live," as the Senate-seeking Tammy; Jon Patrick Walker — who has the play's only nude scene — as Debbie's cheatin' boyfriend Rick; and Paul Fitzgerald, recently on Broadway in the Noises Off replacement cast, as a host of different characters. Debbie Does Dallas plays the Jane Street Theatre at 113 Jane Street; call (212) 239-6200 for tickets.

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: The most exciting diva news of the week has to be that Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone may star in a concert production of Stephen Sondheim's Passion in August 2003. This would mark La LuPone's third summer of Sondheim at Chicago's Ravinia Festival; the actress-singer was a thrilling Mrs. Lovett opposite George Hearn's Sweeney in the dark revenge tale Sweeney Todd in 2001, and her Desirée Armfeldt, again opposite Hearn, in A Little Night Music also drew raves from the critics. Although LuPone has been offered the role, negotiations have yet to begin. Stay tuned for more! . . . Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer are together again! The duo — who starred in the legendary "The Sound of Music" film and who recently reunited for a TV remake of "On Golden Pond" — will headline A Royal Christmas, a new holiday spectacular set to tour cities in the United States and Canada this December. Andrews and Plummer will be joined by young soprano Charlotte Church as well as a whopping 150 dancers, singers and musicians. A Royal Christmas — which will make the first of its 15 stops at the USB Arena in Cincinnati, OH — will feature the season's most popular songs and carols and holiday tales as well as excerpts from the famed "Nutcracker Ballet." Stage veterans Andrews and Plummer will serve, respectively, as the Mistress and Master of Ceremonies. A spokesman for the tour said that Andrews will be doing a limited amount of singing during the tour. "She's going to be singing along with the chorus and the orchestra and Charlotte Church," said press representative Philicia Gilbert. "She's not going to be doing any solos right now. She's taking it day to day — she may do more, and she may do less." Billed as one of the "largest holiday extravaganzas ever produced," A Royal Christmas will also include London's Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, conducted by George Daugherty; the Westminster Concert Choir; the Westminster Bell Choir; principal and solo dancers from London's Royal Ballet, Winnipeg's Royal Ballet, Russia's Bolshoi Ballet, Ukraine's Kyiv Ballet and the Shumka Dancers . . . On Saturday, Nov. 16 (8 and 10 PM) LaChanze — star of Broadway's Once On This Island, Ragtime and Company — will make her solo concert debut in Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. Concertgoers will hear the singer-actress interpret such tunes as "Another Hundred People," Haymes and Brandt's "That's All," Lala Hathaway's "So They Say" as well as songs by Dianne Reeve, Edwardo del Bario, Raul Midon and the team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. One of the Ahrens/Flaherty offerings will be "A Song for LaChanze," a work the Ragtime team composed to pay tribute to the death of LaChanze's husband Calvin Gooding, who perished during the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. LaChanze's 8 PM concert is $45, and the 10 PM performance is $30; tickets may be purchased by calling (212) 721-6500. The concerts will be held in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse (165 W. 65 St., Rose Building, 10th floor) . . . It was finally confirmed that Tammy Blanchard — who received raves and an Emmy Award for her portrayal of the young Judy Garland in the ABC movie "Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows" — will star in the title role of the upcoming revival of Gypsy starring two-time Tony winner Bernadette Peters. Sandra Church originated the role of Louise ("Gypsy") in the musical's 1959 production. Others who have portrayed the role of the young actress-turned-stripper include Natalie Wood (1962 film), Zan Charisse (1974 production with Angela Lansbury), Crista Moore (1989 production with Tyne Daly) and Cynthia Gibb (1993 TV movie with Bette Midler). Deborah Gibson played the role opposite Betty Buckley's Mama Rose in the 1998 Paper Mill mounting. It was also announced that Into the Woods' Kate Reinders will play Dainty June . . . Julia Murney — star of the Off-Broadway Wild Party — will perform in concert at the Ars Nova Theatre on Monday, Nov. 4 at 8 PM. Part of the Broadway Spotlight Series, Murney's concert will feature some songs from the musical theatre and boasts Steven Oremus as musical director with Matt Beck on guitar, back-up drums and bass. The Ars Nova Theater is located at 511 W. 54th Street in New York City. Tickets are priced at $12 and are available, cash only, at the door. For reservations and information, call (212) 206-1515 or go on-line to www.SmartTix.com.

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:

Now through Nov. 9 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 16 at the Performing Arts Center of SUNY Purchase in Purchase, NY
Dec. 6 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC

Liz Callaway in Concert

May 16, 2003 in "Broadway Showstoppers" with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops in Philadelphia, PA Barbara Cook in Concert:

Nov. 2 at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts in Brooklyn, NY
Nov. 7 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Nov. 9 at the Harriman Arts Program of William Jewell College in Kansas City
Nov. 22 at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT
Nov. 23-30 at the Curran in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 3-16 at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 20 at the Robert Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 31, 2003 at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Long Island, NY
Feb. 14-16 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, PA

Linda Eder in Concert:

Nov. 1-3 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, PA
Nov. 8 in Providence, RI
Nov. 20 at the Community Theatre in Morristown, NJ
Nov. 23 at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, CT
Dec. 1 at the Bass Hall in Austin, TX
Dec. 3 at the Verizon Wireless Theatre in Houston, TX
Dec. 4 at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, TX
Dec. 12 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota, FL
Dec. 16 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 17 at the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL
Dec. 18 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 20 and 21 with the Atlanta Symphony at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 3 and 4, 2003 with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore, MD
Jan. 25 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT
Jan. 30 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, CA
Feb. 1 at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek, CO
Feb. 14 at the Proctor's Theatre in Albany, NY

Patti LuPone in Concert

March 27, 2003 at the East County Performing Arts Center in 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 University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

Maureen McGovern in Concert:

Now through Nov. 3 at the American Music Therapy Association Conf. in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 2 at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 9 at the Landmark Theatre Gala in Port Washington, NY
Nov. 10 at the Hanford Civic Auditorium in Hanford, CA
Nov. 19-Dec. 1 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9 Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Dec. 14 at the Boca Pops Big Band Series in Boca Raton, FL

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!

—By Andrew Gans