DIVA TALK: Divas of the Two Davids, King and Friedman

DIVA TALK: Divas of the Two Davids, King and Friedman JUDY KUHN and KING DAVID
How great it is to have Judy Kuhn back onstage in New York, even if it is for only a little over a week. Kuhn is one of the leading players in the Alan Menken/Tim Rice musical concert, King David, which also stars Marcus Lovett, Alice Ripley, Stephen Bogardus, Martin Vidnovic, Peter Samuel and Roger Bart. I have long been a fan of Kuhn, who possesses one of the greatest voices in musical theatre today and has a stillness and command onstage that is nothing less than riveting.

Kuhn won me over when I saw her perform in the New York production of Chess almost a decade ago. 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 created on record and onstage in London for New York audiences, but I hadn't realized what a powerful sound Kuhn had, having only seen her portray the soprano role of Cosette (and to 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 fan for good. Not only a great singer, with a voice that glides easily from soprano to a forceful belt, Kuhn is a terrific actress as well, perhaps the only lady who portrayed Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard to not make you crave the Norma Desmond scenes (coincidentally, the New York Betty, Alice Ripley, co-stars in King David, and looks stunning as Bathsheba).

In the current King David, playing through May 23 at the breathtakingly restored New Amsterdam Theatre, Kuhn is cast as Michal, the daughter of King Saul who eventually becomes David's wife. Whenever Kuhn is onstage, the production is completely enhanced by her presence. There is not one false gesture or vocalism on her part: To see and hear her sing the second-act ballad "Never Again" is a sheer delight. I particularly liked Ben Brantley's description of Kuhn in his New York Times review. Said Brantley: "And Judy Kuhn, a Broadway star before she was the voice of Pocahontas for Disney, is terrific as the proud Michal, a character described by Mr. Heller as the very first Jewish-American princess. With a penetrating voice and a slyly commanding carriage, Ms. Kuhn gives the evening its strongest psychological edge."

Most of the rest of the cast fares well, too, especially the monumental singing of Marcus Lovett who grows from the boyish shepherd into the commanding King of Israel. Although the Menken/Rice score is not as great as one might have hoped--I would have liked less recitative and a few more melodic, Broadway/pop songs--there is still a lot right with it. There are some extremely thrilling moments with, perhaps, the best singing on any stage in New York at the moment. The high point for me was the choral number, "Saul Has Slain His Thousands," where the men and women of the chorus take centerstage to deliver this spine-tingling number that takes the roof off the theatre. Praise should also be given to the full-voiced Martin Vidnovic as King Saul and Stephen Bogardus as Joab. Look for the live recording of King David next month on Walt Disney Records.

JUDY KUHN and KING DAVID
How great it is to have Judy Kuhn back onstage in New York, even if it is for only a little over a week. Kuhn is one of the leading players in the Alan Menken/Tim Rice musical concert, King David, which also stars Marcus Lovett, Alice Ripley, Stephen Bogardus, Martin Vidnovic, Peter Samuel and Roger Bart. I have long been a fan of Kuhn, who possesses one of the greatest voices in musical theatre today and has a stillness and command onstage that is nothing less than riveting.

Kuhn won me over when I saw her perform in the New York production of Chess almost a decade ago. 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 created on record and onstage in London for New York audiences, but I hadn't realized what a powerful sound Kuhn had, having only seen her portray the soprano role of Cosette (and to 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 fan for good. Not only a great singer, with a voice that glides easily from soprano to a forceful belt, Kuhn is a terrific actress as well, perhaps the only lady who portrayed Betty Schaefer in Sunset Boulevard to not make you crave the Norma Desmond scenes (coincidentally, the New York Betty, Alice Ripley, co-stars in King David, and looks stunning as Bathsheba).

In the current King David, playing through May 23 at the breathtakingly restored New Amsterdam Theatre, Kuhn is cast as Michal, the daughter of King Saul who eventually becomes David's wife. Whenever Kuhn is onstage, the production is completely enhanced by her presence. There is not one false gesture or vocalism on her part: To see and hear her sing the second-act ballad "Never Again" is a sheer delight. I particularly liked Ben Brantley's description of Kuhn in his New York Times review. Said Brantley: "And Judy Kuhn, a Broadway star before she was the voice of Pocahontas for Disney, is terrific as the proud Michal, a character described by Mr. Heller as the very first Jewish-American princess. With a penetrating voice and a slyly commanding carriage, Ms. Kuhn gives the evening its strongest psychological edge."

Most of the rest of the cast fares well, too, especially the monumental singing of Marcus Lovett who grows from the boyish shepherd into the commanding King of Israel. Although the Menken/Rice score is not as great as one might have hoped--I would have liked less recitative and a few more melodic, Broadway/pop songs--there is still a lot right with it. There are some extremely thrilling moments with, perhaps, the best singing on any stage in New York at the moment. The high point for me was the choral number, "Saul Has Slain His Thousands," where the men and women of the chorus take centerstage to deliver this spine-tingling number that takes the roof off the theatre. Praise should also be given to the full-voiced Martin Vidnovic as King Saul and Stephen Bogardus as Joab. Look for the live recording of King David next month on Walt Disney Records.


BERNADETTE PETERS
Quite a bit of news on the BP front this week. The uniquely talented Peters has indeed been offered the lead role in the revival of the Irving Berlin classic Annie Get Your Gun, and she is seriously considering it as we speak. As for more definite plans, Peters will appear in concert at Los Angeles's Universal Ampitheatre on June 20, and she will also tape an appearance on the "RuPaul Show" in the near future (date to be announced). The program, which airs on VH1, will feature an interview with BP as well as her vampy rendition of Stephen Sondheim's "Sooner or Later." And, as reported last week, Peters will make an appearance on this year's Tony Awards telecast. She is scheduled to present a posthumous award to the legendary Shubert producer Bernard Jacobs, who passed away earlier this year.


ANNE and ALIX and more . . . DAVID'S DIVAS
Last month, there was a one-night-only performance at Rainbow & Stars of David Friedman and Friends, which spotlighted the work of this talented writer. The evening was such a hit that New York's newest cabaret room, Maxim's, is now offering four performances of Listen to My Heart: David Friedman and Friends at the end of the month. On May 28 (8:30 PM), May 29 (8:30 PM) and May 31 (9 PM and 11:30 PM), you can have the chance to listen to an evening of songs by one of New York's most-talented composers. What is so appealing about Friedman's work is not only the superb melodies, but lyrics that are written from the heart and convey humanity at its best.

Friedman has long been embraced by the cabaret community: The late Nancy LaMott was one of his champions, recording many of his songs, including "Listen To My Heart," "We Can Be Kind," "Help Is On the Way" and "I'll Be Here With You." Others who have recorded songs by Friedman include Diana Ross, Kathie Lee Gifford and Laurie Beechman, who sang both "Listen To My Heart" and "What I Was Dreaming Of" on her first solo recording. And, recently, Anne Runolfsson of Victor/Victoria fame joined forces with Friedman to write the title song for her just-released CD,

At Sea.

Runolfsson is just one of the terrific ladies who will join Friedman for his three evenings at Maxim's. Others include that belter of belters Alix Korey plus Naomi Kukoff, LaTonya Holmes and Annie Sutton. Three of these ladies, Korey, Kukoff and Runolfsson, will sing works that they have co-written with Friedman as well as performing songs for which Friedman has written both music and lyrics. Annie Sutton, a rock-styled singer who is well known as a jingle singer, has promised to reprise her performance of Friedman's "Catch Me," which received a thunderous ovation a few years back at another Friedman concert.

Joining the ladies will be performances from a few talented men as well, including cabaret's Bobby Belfry, Norm Lewis, Byron Nease and Bill McKinley. And, all of the performers will lend their voice to Friedman's newest anthem, "As Long As I Can Sing."

Directed by that gifted showman Scott Barnes, the evenings promise to be a thrilling mixture of songs that span the range from pop/rock to traditional Broadway tunes. There is a $25 music charge, and dinner is available at the early show. For more information and to make a reservation, call 212-751-5111. Maxim's is located at 680 Madison Avenue at 61st Street. Hope to see you there!


BETTY BUCKLEY
Betty Buckley continues her triumphant concert tour, garnering raves in each city she appears. Now add the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, California, to the concert schedule. Buckley is slated to perform with the Pacific Symphony on May 30 and 31, and you can expect to hear both of her Sunset Boulevard arias, "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye." Tickets may be purchased by calling 714-556-2121. Another stop for BB and her group of jazz-flavored musicians is the Power Center in Ann Arbor on June 25. For those of you in the Michigan area, the number for tickets is 313-747-3327.


PATTI LuPONE
Last week, we printed many of Patti's rave reviews in the London production of Master Class, currently running at the Queens Theatre in the West End. I thought you would be interested in this quote from Class playwright Terrence McNally, who recently spoke with Variety's Matt Wolf. Said McNally, "With Patti, you see the music going through her body in a way you didn't with Zoe. . .Zoe is almost a-musical; she was responding to it as a good part and knew what the play was about, especially anything having to do with the teaching tradition. [But] Patti can listen to the music and talk. Zoe had to shut the music out." LuPone also has a fan in Wolf, who writes that her performance is "even wittier and more impassioned than the one I saw in New York in January--is marked by an integrity not always apparent in the play itself."

MAUREEN McGOVERN
There is some good news for fans of Maureen McGovern in the New Jersey area. The singer with the multi-octave range will perform a concert at New Brunswick's State Theatre on May 31. And, this Saturday, McGovern will be a guest on WBNJ in Teaneck, New Jersey. The station, located at 1160 AM, will welcome McGovern at 10:30 AM on Saturday, May 24.

DEBBIE GRAVITTE
I will be interviewing the Tony-winning star of Jerome Robbins' Broadway during the first week of June and would like to get your input. If you have any questions you would like me to ask the recent star of The Boys from Syracuse, please e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com. Also, as reported last week, Gravitte will return to Rainbow & Stars for a two week engagement beginning June 17. Show times are Tuesday-Saturday evenings at 8:30 and 11 PM, and there is a $40 cover charge, with dinner required at rly shows. For information/reservations, call 212-632 5000. Rainbow & Stars is located on the 65th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.



REMINDERS:

FLORENCE LACEY. . .
will take part in a six-week tour of the music of Jerry Herman this summer. The tour dates follow (tickets can be booked beginning in June for most summer playhouses):
July 21-August 2 at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT
August 4-16 at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, ME
August 18-30 at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA
ELAINE PAIGE
Boston Pops: An Evening with Elaine Paige will begin airing on PBS stations across the country on July 28. The program captures EP's spectacular U.S. concert debut with the Boston Pops Orchestra.

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!