DIVA TALK: Divas Of Broadway & The West End

News   DIVA TALK: Divas Of Broadway & The West End Hello, diva lovers! Well, I'm on vacation this week, but before I left, I was able to cobble together a few items so no one would have to suffer through diva withdrawal! Enjoy, and I'll see `ya next week!

Hello, diva lovers! Well, I'm on vacation this week, but before I left, I was able to cobble together a few items so no one would have to suffer through diva withdrawal! Enjoy, and I'll see `ya next week!

KRISTIN CHENOWETH
On Sept. 1 recent Tony winner Kristin Chenoweth begins her run in the new comedy Epic Proportions, written by Larry Coen and "Friends" creator David Crane. The September issue of Playbill will feature an interview with the rising star, and what follows are some of Chenoweth's choice quotes from Merv Rothstein's article:


about growing up in Oklahoma:
"I grew up singing myself to sleep every night . . .I was raised with a strong belief in God. I rely on that belief now. I would sing solo in church. I was a sort of prodigy because my voice was way beyond my years. I would be invited to churches all over the state. When I was 12, I sang at the Baptist Convention in front of 40,000 people."


about her musical training: "My parents gave me ballet and piano lessons, but they didn't give me voice lessons. I went to Tulsa University when I was 16 to have a teacher listen to me, and she said I was so advanced -- I was hitting notes you just didn't hit at that age -- that she wanted to leave me alone so I wouldn't develop bad habits."
about her character in Epic Proportions, Louise:
"[Louise] is the heart of the show. It's her story. It's the middle of the Depression, and people are willing to do whatever's necessary to make money. Two brothers decide to play extras so they can be fed and housed. Both of them fall for her, so she's the heart of the triangle. But she's also funny."


about roles she would like to play:
"I'd love to do Carnival. And something operetta-ish, like Gilbert and Sullivan. And Candide. Anything where I can combine my voice and comedy."

THEATRE ENCYCLOPEDIA There is a wonderful new book available from Virgin Books entitled "The Virgin Encyclopedia of Stage & Film Musicals." The 680-page tome covers a century of both stage and film musicals and includes over 1,600 entries. Many of this column's favorite ladies are profiled, and I thought you'd enjoy some of Colin Lark's thoughts about these thrilling performers. What's most interesting about reading the short biographies is what information Lark focuses on and how he phrases general descriptions and certain career highs and lows. For Carol Channing, as an example, Lark states, "An actress and singer with a style and appearance that are difficult to define, she has been described as 'a blonde, wide-eyed, long legged, husky voiced, scatty personality' -- among other things."! Here are a few more . . .


Sarah Brightman:
". . .In 1993 she made her debut in the straight theatre with appearances in Trelawny of the Wells and Relative Values. For some years it had been forecast that Lloyd Webber would write a stage musical or film for her based on the life of Jessie Matthews, the graceful star of many 20s and 30s musicals, and to whom she bears an uncanny facial resemblance. However, in 1994 the composer dropped his option on Michael Thornton's biography of Matthews, and announced that there were 'no further plans to develop the project.'"


Betty Buckley:
". . .Back in New York in the 70s and 80s, she mixed straight roles with appearances at various times in musicals such as Pippin, I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Song and Dance, and in 1983 won a Tony Award for her performance as Grizabella in Cats. From the security of Andrew Lloyd Webber's longest-running musical to date, five years later Buckley played Margaret White, the fanatically religious mother, in Carrie, one of the most famous flops in Broadway history . . ."


Patti LuPone:
". . .She first played Norma Desmond at the composer's Sydmonton Festival in the summer of 1992. Declining the use of the book on stage, she learnt the part and gave what was regarded as a 'sensational' performance. Soon afterwards it became obvious that she had stolen the role-of-a-lifetime from 'under the noses' of bigger names such as Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Liza Minnelli, and Julie Andrews. . ."


Elaine Paige:
". . .In spite of the disappointment of being unable to play the part [of Eva Peron] on Broadway (because of American union rules), Evita made Paige into a star almost overnight. She won a Society of West End Theatres Award for her outstanding performance, and was also voted Show Business Personality of the Year. . ."


Bernadette Peters:
"Often called 'the finest singing actress since Barbra Streisand,' Bernadette Peters is certainly one of the few leading ladies of the last decade or so whose name on a Broadway marquee can cause box-office queues to form before the show has gone into previews. . ."


Marti Webb:
"In 1963, at the age of 19, singer Marti Webb was 'plucked from the chorus' of the London production of Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley's hit musical Stop the World -- I Want to Get Off, to star opposite Tommy Steele in the even more successful Half a Sixpence. Although she was not chosen to recreate her role in the subsequent 1967 film version, she did dub the singing voice of her replacement, actress Julia Foster. . ."

THE MERM
Last week I received a copy of an Ethel Merman concert that was taped for BBC television in the sixties. By that time, Merman had well established herself as Broadway's reigning diva, having most recently triumphed in the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents classic Gypsy. What was most surprising about watching this great lady perform an evening of hits and special material was the sense of joy and enthusiasm that Merman brought to most everything she sang. For a long time, I had only known this powerhouse performer from her TV appearances towards the end of her life, and even though the voice was still there, it was not a fair representation of her powers. On this BBC concert, Merman is in peak form and easily sails through a generous set that includes "Gee, But It's Good to Be Here," "Blow Gabriel Blow," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Everything's Coming Up Roses" and several others . . . I was also recently sent Merman's Playbill bio from her stint in Hello Dolly, and this write-up says it better than I can!


Ethel Merman (Dolly) has been one of the greatest luminaries of the entertainment world ever since she sang the irrepressible "I Got Rhythm" of George Gershwin's Girl Crazy. Prior to opening night she was a complete newcomer to Broadway musical comedy; thereafter, she was most certainly a star. Each successive appearance has added to her renown as an artist whose clarion voice and distinctive style have enriched her 13 Broadway hits, many movies and TV shows. The pyramiding succession of hit shows, hit songs and hit appearances has given Ethel Merman the inalienable right to the title of the First Lady of the American Musical Theatre. Following Girl Crazy, she scored in George White's Scandals, Take a Chance, Anything Goes, Red Hot and Blue, Stars in Your Eyes, DuBarry Was a Lady, Panama Hattie, Something for the Boys, Annie Get Your Gun, Call Me Madam, Happy Hunting and Gypsy. She has sung and immortalized the great songs of America's great popular melodists -- Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Vincent Youmans and others. She has over 6,000 performances on the Broadway stage in performing these shows. She is, as one of her noted songs suggests, The Tops.


Ethel Merman was practically a performer before she could read or write. At the age of five in her native Astoria, part of New York's borough of Queens, she began singing at church socials. Thereafter, she made continuous amateur appearances while continuing through public school. She graduated from high school as a full-fledged stenographer and worked as a secretary for a few years until night club and vaudeville demanded her full attention. Miss Merman, by the way, still is expert in steno and typing, finding them invaluable for taking rehearsal notes and dealing with her own correspondence. It was the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre that paved the way for Miss Merman's entrance to Broadway. There producer Vinton Freedly heard her sing and there was where he got the idea to introduce her to George Gershwin. The show they had in mind was Girl Crazy starring Ginger Rogers. After opening night, the star was Ethel Merman. Songs sometimes become identified with the person who made them popular. Miss Merman has a score of songs which can be called "hers." They are "You're the Top," "Blow, Gabriel Blow," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "It's Delovely," "Friendship," "Let's Be Buddies," "There's No Business Like Show Business," "They Say It's Wonderful," "Doin' What Comes Naturally," "Eadie Was a Lady," "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," "You're Just in Love," "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun," "Everything's Comin' Up Roses" and more. Miss Merman has never taken a music lesson. She just sings the way she wants to. Gershwin, Porter and Berlin have rated her the greatest singer of her time.


Movie makers have done justice to Miss Merman's inimitable style of acting and singing. Call Me Madam, There's No Business Like Show Business and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World utilized her talents in the triumphant way that theatregoers have associated with her Broadway performances. TV guest appearances and many popular recordings have not only augmented her stage credits but have brought her even greater audiences. Perhaps noted British critic Kenneth Tynan best summarized her place in the American theatre when he called her "the strutted incarnation of style," and added: "From Merman one learns that there is no need to strain, wink, scream or wail. All that is necessary is a clean, clear voice, monumental breath control, built-in timing and sincerity. She can mould a ballad as movingly as the brashest marching song . . . We rise to her indomitable simplicity and wonder, as our palms steam with applause, what there ever was about Callas that we deemed worthier of our tears."

IN OTHER NEWS One of Patti LuPone's Donmar Warehouse performances saw a bevy of divas in the audience: Chita Rivera, Sian Phillips and Elaine Paige. In a recent London newspaper interview, LuPone had this to say about her most-recent concert act, Matters of the Heart: "This one was very difficult to birth. I knew I didn't want it to be big Broadway showtunes. I wanted to sing original, contemporary material. I feel if a song has got a good melody and a good plot, it's a show tune -- or it might as well be a show tune." . . . Former On the Town star Lea DeLaria will bring a special Christmas show to Joe's Pub (at the Public Theater) this holiday season. Stay tuned for dates . . .

REMINDERS


SARAH BRIGHTMAN
Sarah Brightman's complete U.S. tour listing follows:


September 4 in Reno, NV at the Lawlor Events Center
September 5 in Las Vegas, NV at the MGM Grand
September 6 in Phoenix, AZ at the America West
September 8 in Los Angeles, CA at the Universal Amphitheater
September 10 in Santa Barbara, CA at the Santa Barbara Bowl
September 11 in San Diego, CA at the SDSU Open Air Theater
September 14 in San Jose, CA at the Center For Performing Arts
September 16 in Seattle, WA at the Opera House
September 17 in Portland, OR at the Arlene Schnitzer Hall
September 19 in Sacramento, CA at the ARCO Arena
September 21 in Denver, CO at the Temple Buell Theater
September 23 in Chicago, IL at the Chicago Theatre
September 25 in Detroit, MI at the Opera House
September 26 in Akron, OH at the EJ Thomas Hall
September 28 in Pittsburgh, PA at the Benedum Center
September 29 in Cincinnati, OH at the Aranoff Theater
October 1 in Buffalo, NY at the Sheas Theatre
October 2 in Hartford, CT at the Bushnell Auditorium
October 3 in Portland, ME at the Civic Center
October 6 in Newark, NJ at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center
October 8 in Boston, MA at the Wang Center
October 10 in State College, PA at the Bryce Jordan Center
October 12 in Washington, DC at the Constitution Hall
October 13 in Greensboro, NC at the War Memorial Auditorium
October 15 in W. Palm Beach, FL at the Kravis Center
October 16 in Tampa, FL at the Ruth Eckerd
October 17 in Miami, FL at the Jackie Gleason Theater

BETTY BUCKLEY
A host of new concert dates have recently been announced for the multi talented actress and singer.
September 24 Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, PA
October 2 South Street Theater Company in Morristown, NJ
October 9 Tilles Center in Greenvale, NY
October 23 Foellinger Great Hall in Urbana, IL
October 24 Sangamon State University Aud. in Springfield, IL
October 27 Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, NY (Benefit dinner)
November 6 State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ
November 12 Grand Opera House in Wilmington, DE
November 14 Music Hall in Cincinnati, OH
December 13-14 St. Barth's Church in New York, NY
December 17 City Center in Coral Springs, FL
December 18 Atlantic University Aud. in Boca Raton, FL
December 31 Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT
February 5, 2000 Stillwell Theatre in Kennesaw, GA
February 6 Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Marin, CA
February 8-9 Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall in Las Vegas, NV
February 11 Center for the Arts at George Mason Univ. in Fairfax, VA
February 12 Palace Theatre in Louisville, KY
March 18 Folly Theatre in Kansas City, MO
March 19 Macomb Center for the Perf. Arts in Detroit, MI
April 24 Nancy Lee & Perry R. Bass Performance in Fort Worth, TX
April 26 Coronation 2000 in San Antonio, TX
May 4 Poway Center in Poway, CA
May 5-6 Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos, CA
May 7 Haugh Performing Arts Center in Glendora, CA
May 8 Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA


And, "Bravo Profiles: Betty Buckley," an insightful documentary that includes an interview with the Tony Award-winning actress as well as footage from Buckley's recent sold-out Bottom Line concert will air on Bravo November 1 at 10 p.m.

PATTI LuPONE
LuPone will join opera star Bryn Terfel for a concert version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd to be held at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall from May 4 to May 6 in the year 2000. The performers will be backed by the New York Philharmonic, and the event, which will be recorded, will celebrate Sondheim's 70th birthday.

KAREN MASON
Mason's Christmas album, simply titled "Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!" will be available this fall. The busy chanteuse will again join Greg Edelman for a European tour of Broadway music that will play Stockholm (September 1-4); Birmingham, England (September 5); and the Barbican in London (September 8). . . Also, on September 25 Mason will perform in concert to benefit Dallas Children's Theatre Fairmont Hotel, Dallas.

ELAINE PAIGE
What follows are some upcoming worldwide Paige concert dates:
October 30 and 31, 1999 at the Sun City Superbowl in South Africa
November 5, 1999 at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town, South Africa
January 21 and 22, 2000 with the Utah Symphony Orchestra at the Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah

BERNADETTE PETERS
Bernadette Peters in Concert, the thrilling performance taped live in London, airs on PBS stations around the country this month. And, of course, Peters currently stars as the gun-toting Annie Oakley in the acclaimed revival of Annie Get Your Gun at the Marquis Theatre.

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

by Andrew Gans
e-mail me at agans@playbill.com