DIVA TALK: Divas of the Century

DIVA TALK: Divas of the Century Hello, diva lovers! Well, I must admit it was a bit daunting to open a blank Word Perfect document this past Tuesday morning to attempt to write a millennium-based diva column while finishing our January subscription issue and starting our February theatre edition. At one point I decided I would just write a regular weekly column and not deal with the approaching 2000 mark, but then I thought I would simply list many of the women of the musical theatre/cabaret worlds who have brightened our lives throughout the past few decades. So, in alphabetical order, here they are. (I’m sure I’ve left out many of your favorites, so please excuse any omission!) Following this grand diva list are more detailed thoughts and musings about some (but not all) 25 of my very favorite gals (alphabetically, of course). I hope you enjoy reading this column, and may the New Year bring every diva lover out there much joy and happiness, and may it also be diva-filled!
Kathleen Turner is one of the Tallulahs; Adam Pascal is a model prisoner; Eve Ensler is taking her Monologues on the road.
Kathleen Turner is one of the Tallulahs; Adam Pascal is a model prisoner; Eve Ensler is taking her Monologues on the road.

Hello, diva lovers! Well, I must admit it was a bit daunting to open a blank Word Perfect document this past Tuesday morning to attempt to write a millennium-based diva column while finishing our January subscription issue and starting our February theatre edition. At one point I decided I would just write a regular weekly column and not deal with the approaching 2000 mark, but then I thought I would simply list many of the women of the musical theatre/cabaret worlds who have brightened our lives throughout the past few decades. So, in alphabetical order, here they are. (I’m sure I’ve left out many of your favorites, so please excuse any omission!) Following this grand diva list are more detailed thoughts and musings about some (but not all) 25 of my very favorite gals (alphabetically, of course). I hope you enjoy reading this column, and may the New Year bring every diva lover out there much joy and happiness, and may it also be diva-filled!

Loni Ackerman, Karen Akers, Debbie Allen, Christine Andreas, Julie Andrews, Lucie Arnaz, Beatrice Arthur, Lauren Bacall, Pearl Bailey, Christine Baranski, Laurie Beechman, Kelly Bishop, Brenda Braxton, Sarah Brightman, Georgia Brown, Ruth Brown, Susan Browning, Betty Buckley, Carol Burnett, Debra Byrne, Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Carolee Carmello, Diahann Carroll, Nell Carter, Carol Channing, Petula Clark, Victoria Clark, Patti Cohenour, Dorothy Collins, Jane Connell, Barbara Cook, Marilyn Cooper, Catherine Cox, Ann Crumb, Tyne Daly, Sandy Duncan, Nancy Dussault, Christine Ebersole, Linda Eder, Susan Egan, Yvonne Elliman, Melissa Errico, Nanette Fabray, Tovah Feldshuh, Beth Fowler, Alison Fraser, Cheryl Freeman, Helen Gallagher, Judy Garland, Joanna Gleason, Randy Graff, Debbie Gravitte, Dolores Gray, Ellen Green, Tammy Grimes, Juanita Hall, Carol Haney, Barbara Harris, Heather Headley, Florence Henderson, Ruthie Henshall, Judy Holliday, Jennifer Holliday, Lena Horne, Dee Hoty, Glynis Johns, Maria Karnilova, Judy Kaye, Madeline Kahn, Eartha Kitt, Terri Klausner, Alix Korey, Judy Kuhn, Patti LaBelle, Florence Lacey, La Chanze, Cleo Laine, Nancy LaMott, Angela Lansbury, Carol Lawrence, Gertrude Lawrence, Ute Lemper, Lotte Lenya, Marcia Lewis, Stephanie Lawrence, Ute Lemper, Beatrice Lillie, Priscilla Lopez, Dorothy Loudon, Rebecca Luker, Patti LuPone, Heather MacRae, Andrea Marcovicci, Millicent Martin, Andrea Martin, Mary Martin, Karen Mason, Sally Mayes, Marin Mazzie, Andrea McArdle, Audra McDonald, Maureen McGovern, Donna McKechnie, Lonette McKee, Julia McKenzie, Ethel Merman, Janet Metz, Bette Midler, Ann Miller, Stephanie Mills, Liza Minnelli, Marcia Mitzman, Debra Monk, Liliane Montevecchi, Crista Moore, Melba Moore, Rita Moreno, Anita Morris, Karen Morrow, Donna Murphy, Mary Gordon Murray, Pamela Myers, Portia Nelson, Phyllis Newman, Bebe Neuwirth, Christiane Noll, Nancy Opel, Elaine Paige, Michele Pawk, Bernadette Peters, Tonya Pinkins, Maryann Plunkett, Faith Prince, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Ann Reinking, Debbie Reynolds, Alice Ripley, Chita Rivera, Frances Ruffell, Anne Runolfsson, Rosalind Russell, Lea Salonga, Helen Schneider, Emily Skinner, Alexis Smith, Barbra Streisand, Elaine Stritch, Jane Summerhays, Mary Testa, Leslie Uggams, Gwen Verdon, Nancy Walker, Barbara Walsh, Susan Watson, Marti Webb, Lillias White, Margaret Whiting, Vanessa Williams, Julie Wilson, Rachel York, Karen Ziemba and an honorable mention to . . . Dame Edna Everage!

Karen Akers Akers was probably the first cabaret singer I saw in a live performance. I had become aware of her work through her debut PBS special, “Presenting Karen Akers,” where she lent her deep, rich voice to such tunes as “Taught By Experts,” “Cloud of Music,” “Send in the Clowns,” and “No Regrets,” which has become a staple of her cabaret acts. A few years after that TV broadcast, I noticed an ad in the New York Times for her cabaret act, took my mom to see her show at the now defunct Ballroom in New York City, and have been a fan ever since. Akers possesses one of the most distinct voices in the business, one that been likened to “silver bells wrapped in velvet,” and she always presents an interesting array of songs -- songs in English, French, German and Italian. Her six solo CDs are available at most major outlets: “Presenting Karen Akers,” “Unchained Melodies,” “Unusual Way,” “Just Imagine,” “Under Paris Skies,” and “Live from Rainbow & Stars.” Akers also starred on Broadway in two Tommy Tune-directed musicals and can be heard on both shows’ cast albums: “Nine” and “Grand Hotel.”

Julie Andrews and Judy Garland I thought I would list these two icons together because, for me, they will always be Maria von Trapp and Dorothy, respectively. Although their stage/concert work is legendary, it was The Sound of Music and “The Wizard of Oz” that forever endeared me to these great stars. Who could resist Andrews’ delightful, radiant turn in the film of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical, where her voice soared in such tunes as “My Favorite Things,” “Do Re Mi” and “The Sound of Music”? And, from the moment Garland opened her mouth to sing “Over the Rainbow” and out poured that throbbing, emotion filled voice, I was hooked.

Laurie Beechman The theatre/cabaret world lost one of its most talented performers in March 1998 when Beechman lost her decade-long battle with ovarian cancer. Beechman will probably be best remembered for her work in two Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, where she performed the role of the Narrator and received a Tony nomination for her work; and Cats, where she succeeded Betty Buckley in the role of Grizabella, the faded Glamour Cat. Beechman possessed a voice that seemed to originate from deep in her soul, evoking both the joys and pains of life. She had one of the strongest belt voices around, but she could also create delicate, softer sounds that moved listeners just as profoundly. In 1991 Cats celebrated its ninth anniversary on Broadway, and I was lucky enough to attend the special performance that featured Beechman as Grizabella, and she was nothing less than spectacular in the role. I hadn't seen the show since it first previewed on Broadway in 1982, and I was surprised by how moved I was by her performance. Her voice soared in the theatre as she sang the now-famous lines, "Touch me, it's so easy to leave me. All alone with my memory of my days in the sun. . ." And, her final note on "Look a new day has begun" was delivered in a soft head tone that was beautifully ethereal. Thankfully, Beechman recorded a handful of albums that are available in stores: “Listen to My Heart,” “Time Between the Time,” “The Andrew Lloyd Webber Album” and “No One Is Alone.” Beechman will be remembered not only for her musical talents but also as a courageous woman who spoke about her fight with cancer in an effort to explain that it is possible to live with the disease with dignity. Betty Buckley Well, what’s left for me to say about one of Broadway’s magnificent reigning divas? She’s a consummate actress and a thrilling singer, one who brings humanity, emotional intensity and beautiful shading to every role she plays and every song she offers. No one who has ever seen this quintessential musical theatre actress live could argue. Her work in such musicals as 1776; Promises, Promises; Cats; The Mystery of Edwin Drood; Carrie; Song and Dance; Sunset Boulevard; Triumph of Love; and Gypsy has brought her numerous awards (including a Tony Award and an Olivier nomination), rave reviews and a multitude of loyal fans. Her version of “Rose’s Turn” in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Gypsy was one of the most shockingly emotional performances I’ve ever witnessed. And, just when you think you’ve seen the entire range of Buckley’s enormous talents, she surprises you by delivering knock-out performances in such straight plays as The Eros Trilogy and Tennessee Williams’ Camino Real. Buckley has also made her mark on TV and the silver screen, in several exquisite performances, but for this BB loyalist, nothing can beat seeing this dynamic performer live. I will never forget her now-legendary Carnegie Hall concert: When she presented three theatre roles -- Margaret White's "And Eve Was Weak" from Carrie, Norma Desmond's "With One Look" from Sunset Boulevard and Mama Rose's "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy -- during the second half of the evening, complete with onstage costume changes, you realized you were witnessing a true moment in theatrical history and a landmark moment in Buckley's career. Buckley’s numerous solo CDs include “Betty Buckley,” “Children Will Listen,” “With One Look,” “The London Concert,” “An Evening at Carnegie Hall,” “Much More” and the soon-to-be-released “Heart to Heart.”

Carolee Carmello Carmello finishes her run in the third incarnation of The Scarlet Pimpernel this week, but it was her work in the much-too-short-lived musical Parade that truly illuminated her remarkable gifts. I had enjoyed Carmello’s performances over the past decade both on and Off-Broadway, where she often demonstrated her comedic abilities (in Falsettos as one of the "lesbians next door") and vocal prowess (in the two-person, Off-Broadway musical john and jen). However, with her leading role in Parade, she made that great leap to divadom and musical theatre star. Providing one of the core performances of that Hal Prince-directed musical, Carmello brought an emotional honesty to her work that was completely stirring. In fact, whenever she took to the stage in that wonderful and haunting musical, your eyes were riveted on her every move, as a warmth and sincerity spread out over the audience. The Obie and Drama Desk Award-winning actress also possesses a powerful voice that she controls with exquisite precision. There is virtually no break in her voice as she moves from chest to head tones, and her belt range is expansive. Take a listen to the beauty of her singing on the Parade cast recording; she is particularly effective on “You Don’t Know This Man,” “All the Wasted Time” and “What Am I Waiting For?”

Barbara Cook Her career is perhaps the longest of any current musical theatre performer, an actress-singer who made her Broadway debut in 1951’s Flahooley and then went on to star in such legendary musicals as The Music Man, for which she received a Tony Award, and Candide and She Loves Me. Cook left the stage for a few years, only to return better than ever, igniting a cabaret/concert career that brings her to top venues every year. New York’s Cafe Carlyle is now home to at least one new Cook show a year, and, thankfully, the brilliant soprano continues to generate one thrilling recording after another. Her latest, “The Champion Season,” (DRG Records) features the singer -- in peak form -- singing songs associated with the late director- choreographer Gower Champion. Cook brings to vivid life such tunes as Annie Get Your Gun’s “I Got Lost In His Arms,” Mack & Mabel’s “Time Heals Everything” and many other gems.

Alix Korey Anyone who has ever seen Korey perform David Friedman’s “My Simple Christmas Wish” will know why this gifted comedic actress is included in my top 25. Not only is Korey one of the funniest women around, but she is blessed with a phenomenally rangy belt voice, whose volume surely rivals anyone in the business. I’ve seen Korey perform in cabaret settings several times, and she is always terrific, singing an eclectic array of material. She is at her best singing comic tunes, but she can also wrap that thrilling voice around a ballad and be equally effective. Let’s hope her role in The Wild Party gets this lady the attention she deserves. You can hear her work on two solo CDs “Songs You Might Have Missed” and “Gifts of Love.”

Judy Kuhn Judy Kuhn could sing the phone book and I’d be delighted. Kuhn boasts one of the most exciting voices of her generation, a silvery, rich tone that glides easily from a powerful belt to a soaring soprano. Kuhn won me over about a decade ago when I saw her perform in the New York production of Chess. I remember how disappointed I was initially when I read that Kuhn had been given the role of Florence in the Broadway company of Chess. Not only was I annoyed that Elaine Paige would not get the chance to re-create the role that she had created on record and onstage in London, but I hadn't realized what a powerful sound Kuhn had, having only seen her portray the soprano role of Cosette (and, for me, the best Cosette there has been) in Les Miserables. But after hearing her knockout version of Chess's "Nobody's Side," I became a true fan. Not only a great singer, Kuhn is a terrific actress as well, perhaps the only woman who portrayed Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard to not make you crave the Norma Desmond scenes. She again displayed her stage magic in the King David concerts at the New Amsterdam Theatre a few seasons ago; in fact, whenever Kuhn was onstage, the Tim Rice-Alan Menken production was completely enhanced by her presence. There was not one false gesture or vocalism on her part and to hear her sing that show’s "Never Again" was a sheer delight. Kuhn’s stage appearances have been less frequent in the past few years, but there is a rumor that she will star as Josephine this fall in a new West End musical about Napoleon.

Florence Lacey It was during the most recent Carol Channing Hello, Dolly! tour when I heard Florence Lacey sing live for the first time, and, diva fans, it was goose-bump time. I remember turning to the friend who joined me for the evening, and we just stared at each other as this woman belted out a superior version of Dolly’s “Ribbons Down My Back.” (For trivia fans: Lacey made her Broadway debut years earlier in this same role.) It was soon after that performance that I obtained a copy of Lacey’s Evita CD (she holds the record for performing the title role more than any other actress), and again I was floored. Her raise-the roof version of “Rainbow High” has to be heard, as does her take on that show’s “Waltz for Eva and Che.” Lacey is equally at home with the rangy work of Andrew Lloyd Webber as she is with the lush romanticism of Jerry Herman’s canon of songs, and she remains one of Herman’s favorite gals. In fact, Lacey’s first starring role on Broadway was in Herman’s The Grand Tour, and she was most recently on Broadway in An Evening with Jerry Herman where she again demonstrated her vocal and interpretative gifts. Lacey can be heard on the cast recordings of The Grand Tour; Hello, Dolly! and Evita. And, it’s high time this woman who has as big a heart as she does a voice released a solo recording. Varese Sarabande, are you listening?!

Nancy LaMott I don’t think I’ll ever get over the tragic death of Nancy LaMott, that shining soul who lost her battle with cancer four years ago at the age of 44. LaMott possessed perhaps the most beautiful voice of any cabaret singer, a rich, lush, honey-toned sound that was equally beguiling in her softer head tones as it was in her thrilling belt. At the time of her passing, she was on the brink of becoming a worldwide star as more and more people were beginning to discover the genius of her singing. In fact, during the last year of her life, LaMott’s concert bookings and TV appearances soared, and she released her fifth solo recording, “Listen to My Heart,” a CD that fulfilled her life-long dream of working with legendary arranger Peter Matz. Whether it was a standard by Johnny Mercer, a romantic ballad by the Bergmans or a tune written especially for her by New York composer David Friedman, LaMott had the gift to find the emotional center of the song, and she used her voice like the finest instrument; however, she didn’t engage in vocal pyrotechnics -- she simply delivered a song in the most heartfelt fashion. LaMott’s other discs include “Beautiful Baby,” “My Foolish Heart,” “Come Rain or Come Shine: The Songs of Johnny Mercer,” “Just in Time for Christmas” and the posthumously-released “What’s Good About Goodbye?”

Patti LuPone There’s something special about your first . . . diva isn’t there? La LuPone and Evita were the reasons I fell in love with the theatre nearly 20 years ago as a sixth-grade student in Ocean Township, New Jersey. I can still remember hearing that voice for the first time: a soaring instrument that can induce chills, tears and ultimately amazement from its listeners. Watching her from-the-guts performance of Eva Peron was an exciting experience, and I’ll never forget her work in Evita’s Act I closer, “A New Argentina.” And, if you think LuPone has lost one iota of her vocal superiority, then you weren’t in the audience at Carnegie Hall this past November. LuPone rose to new heights singing songs -- “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” “Soliloquy,” “Ol’ Man River” -- from every role she “ever wanted to play.” Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to witness a string of wonderful LuPone performances: the broken dreams of Les Miserables’ Fantine; the sassy spunk of Anything Goes’s Reno Sweeney; the first-ever musical Norma Desmond -- a vulnerably crazed and heartbreaking performance in the world-premiere production of Sunset Boulevard in London; a comical turn as the over-sexed Vera Simpson opposite Peter Gallagher’s Pal Joey; a masterful, passionate turn as the masterful, passionate opera diva Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s Master Class; and a startling stint as a woman struggling with the emotional scars of her childhood in David Mamet’s The Old Neighborhood. LuPone continues to shine in all areas of the performing arts: on television, in films, on stage in dramatic and musical-theatre roles; and on the concert stage. Her solo CDs include “Patti LuPone Live,” “Heatwave: Patti LuPone Sings Irving Berlin” and her most recent recording for Varese Sarabande, “Matters of the Heart.”

Andrea Marcovicci I had heard quite a bit about Marcovicci before I ever heard her sing. I was in college at the time her first solo recording, “Marcovicci Sings Movies,” was released, and I remember heading to one of the sound booths of our campus radio station for a listen. By the second track, Tootsie’s “It Might Be You,” I was hooked and have been a fan ever since. “Sings Movies” remains my favorite Marcovicci recording, her renditions of “Two for the Road,” “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” and “Here Lies Love” priceless. During the past decade, Marcovicci has made the famed Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel her home-away-from-home, and during that period she has helped redefine the limits of cabaret, championing the works of both old and new composers. While she may not have the most beautiful voice or the largest vocal range, she manages to bring to full life any song she touches. Her recordings are many, including the aforementioned “Marcovicci Sings Movies” plus “Always, Irving Berlin,” “What Is Love?” “Live in London,” “Just Kern,” “Some Other Time” and a song cycle written for her by Maury Yeston, entitled “December Songs.”

Marin Mazzie She’s currently displaying her comedic skills on the stage of the Martin Beck Theatre in the critically acclaimed revival of Kiss Me, Kate. It was, however, her performance as Mother in Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’s Ragtime that I thought was especially brilliant. As dazzling as the rest of the star-studded cast were, it was Mazzie’s portrayal of Mother who, for me, was the driving force of the epic musical. Not only does Mazzie have a gorgeous voice that can be soft and gentle one moment and big and soaring the next, but in Ragtime she managed to be touching in every scene she played. The former co-star of Passion and Kander and Ebb’s And the World Goes Round also brings her flowing soprano to a lovely medley of Stephen Schwartz’s “With You” and “Gifts of Love” on the newly released Varese Sarabande recording, “The Stephen Schwartz Album.”

Audra McDonald McDonald is without question the breakout talent of the nineties. She began the decade (1994, actually) by winning a Tony Award for her role as Carrie Pipperidge in Nicholas Hytner’s acclaimed production of Carousel. She scored another Tony for her dynamic work opposite Zoe Caldwell in Terrence McNally’s Master Class, and she followed that with yet a third award for her touching portrayal of Sarah in Ragtime. McDonald brings such honesty and naked emotion to each role, and her voice is a gift from the heavens, one of the rangiest around. She is back onstage again, winning raves from the critics for her first starring role in Michael John LaChiusa’s Marie Christine, and she just may add a fourth Tony to her collection. And, dare I remind you that this megatalent is not yet 30 years old! McDonald’s first solo recording, “Way Back to Paradise,” showcases the work of such up-n coming writers as LaChiusa, Adam Guettel, Jason Robert Brown and others.

Ethel Merman Certainly one of the greatest stars Broadway ever produced, Ethel Merman is synonymous with the best of the Broadway musical theatre. She was a woman who brought joy and a heart of gold to every role she played, and, I think, this paragraph from her Hello, Dolly! Playbill bio says it best: “[Merman] 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. Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli and Barbra Streisand I thought it appropriate to list these three multi-talents together because they are all superstars of the entertainment industry. They have conquered every aspect of the entertainment business: theatre, film, TV and concert work. There is little left to be said about them, other than they deserve a prominent position on anyone’s diva list. And, congratulations to Liza Minnelli for a successful “comeback.” May her worldwide tour be a raging success.

Elaine Paige It’s a theatrical moment I’ll never forget. I was on vacation in London to catch both Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige’s performances as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. It was Paige’s last performance in the demanding role, substituting for Buckley, who was on leave due to a bout with appendicitis. Paige was singing her second-act show-stopper, “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” and she had just arrived at the song’s climactic line, “I’ve come home at last.” When Paige sang the word “home,” she held the note in an explosion of voice that nearly took the roof off the theatre. It was simply exhilarating. I’ve only seen one other live Paige musical-theatre performance, her powerful re-creation of Edith Piaf in Pam Gems’ musical play. Her portrayal of the famed French chanteuse was flawless, and her vocal work tremendous. Just to hear her sing such classic Piaf tunes as “No Regrets,” “If You Love Me” and “Mon Dieu” was the treat of a lifetime. Paige, who created the lead roles in the West End productions of Evita (Eva Peron), Cats (Grizabella) and Chess (Florence), will return to the London stage this spring in a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, and it promises to be another award-winning turn. Her solo recordings are numerous and include “Sitting Pretty,” “Stages, “Cinema,” “Christmas,” “Romance & the Stage,” “Love Hurts,” “Encore,” “From a Distance” and several others.

Bernadette Peters How can you not love Bernadette Peters? It seems almost un-American to not embrace one of the theatre’s most talented (and gracious) leading ladies, an actress-singer in the fullest sense of the term, one suited for the demands of both broad comedy and heartbreaking drama. And, when she sings, it’s pure heaven. Peters owns a smooth-as-silk upper register (listen to her rendition of Sweeney Todd’s “Johanna” as proof), which is buttressed by a superior belt, capable of shaking the rafters when she sees fit. In fact, in the past two decades, Peters has become one of the musical theatre’s most incandescent stars, garnering critical accolades and numerous awards for her work in such musicals as Sunday in the Park with George, Song and Dance, Into the Woods, The Goodbye Girl and, currently, Annie Get Your Gun. Peters nabbed her second Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for the current revival of Irving Berlin’s AGYG, and she received her first for her magnificent, tour de force performance as Emma, the English hat designer, in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Song and Dance. However, it’s another composer, Stephen Sondheim, whose work Peters has championed. Since her dazzling portrayal of Dot in the aforementioned 1984 Sondheim musical, Sunday in the Park with George, Peters has become, perhaps, the foremost interpreter of this composer’s work, and evidence of her affinity for his tunes can be found on her Grammy-nominated live Carnegie Hall recording, “Sondheim Etc.” Other solo albums include “Bernadette Peters,” “Now Playing” and “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.”

Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner I thought it appropriate to place these two women together as they made their mark as conjoined twins in one of the most vocally exciting musicals of the decade, Side Show. Both had extensive theatre credits before this Henry Krieger Bill Russell musical, yet their heartbreaking portrayals of Violet and Daisy Hilton were breakout performances that catapulted them into divadom. Who could resist their thrilling renditions of Side Show’s “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” and “I Will Never Leave You.” Yet, this is not to say that the two women are carbon copies of each other; in fact, it is just the opposite. They complement each other wonderfully, and that is what makes their work together so enjoyable. The two are “together again” this season in the musical play James Joyce’s The Dead, which recently transferred to Broadway after a much-lauded run at Playwrights Horizons. The duo can also be heard on two of Varese Sarabande’s best-selling CDs, “Duets” and “Unsuspecting Hearts.” One suspects (and hopes) these two dazzling performers will be lighting up the stages of Broadway for many years to come.

Lea Salonga Although her Broadway credits are limited to two musicals, Miss Saigon and Les Miserables, Lea Salonga’s talents are bountiful, and she possesses one of the purest, most beautiful voices. Her work in Saigon was so honest that her character’s doomed plight was heartbreaking. As she sang “I’d Give My Life for You” to her young child, you didn’t doubt that sentiment for a moment. Salonga has also provided the singing voice for several animated characters and enjoys a thriving concert and theatre career in her homeland. Let’s hope she returns to the Broadway stage soon.

Lillias White Lillias White’s voice is a gift from the gods, and she uses it with force, stopping whatever show in which she appears. Who can forget her belting out “Brotherhood of Man” in the revival of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying or her jazzy riffs in The Life’s “The Oldest Profession”? And, this past summer she provided one of the most spectacular turns at a benefit concert that I can recall. Her rendition of Henry Krieger’s “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” was the most compelling version of the Dreamgirls anthem in recent memory. It was a perfect combination of artist and song, completely moving and shattering.

That’s all for this millennium. Happy New Year, and, of course, happy diva watching!


By Andrew Gans