DIVA TALK: Donna, Barbara, Lisa and More Divas!

DIVA TALK: Donna, Barbara, Lisa and More Divas! DONNA McKECHNIE
Tony Award winner Donna McKechnie has extended her engagement at New York City's Arci's Place through Saturday, August 11. The former star of A Chorus Line is currently performing her one-woman show, An Evening with Donna McKechnie: My Musical Comedy Life, at the cabaret space located at 450 Park Avenue South. McKechnie was also the subject of a recent New York Times article by Barry Singer, which featured a wonderful interview with the singer/actress/dancer. A few of McKechnie's choice quotes from Singer's article, "Broadway to Park South: A Trouper Keeps Trekking," follow: (McKechnie's show plays Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 9 PM and Friday and Saturday nights at 8:30 and 11 PM; there is a $30 cover charge and a $15 food/drink minimum; call (212) 532-4370 for reservations):

DONNA McKECHNIE
Tony Award winner Donna McKechnie has extended her engagement at New York City's Arci's Place through Saturday, August 11. The former star of A Chorus Line is currently performing her one-woman show, An Evening with Donna McKechnie: My Musical Comedy Life, at the cabaret space located at 450 Park Avenue South. McKechnie was also the subject of a recent New York Times article by Barry Singer, which featured a wonderful interview with the singer/actress/dancer. A few of McKechnie's choice quotes from Singer's article, "Broadway to Park South: A Trouper Keeps Trekking," follow: (McKechnie's show plays Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 9 PM and Friday and Saturday nights at 8:30 and 11 PM; there is a $30 cover charge and a $15 food/drink minimum; call (212) 532-4370 for reservations):


about producers who hire TV stars instead of veteran stage actors:
"Producers today who are hiring people for musicals who've never done musicals and think they'll just be able to act it, I say to them, "Good luck.' Great musical theater producers once knew how to involve themselves in the creative process, and they also knew how to get out of the way, and when. The people in charge now are all about dollars. They've disturbed the balance. There's no one in charge anymore, creatively."


about Michael Bennett and musical theatre:
"Michael Bennett's dream of what musical theater could be was essentially limitless. Musical numbers that moved seamlessly from drama to music and back again were what Michael aspired to. And I kind of attached myself to that dream. It was one of the things that we believed together as young dancers in New York."


about theatre as a career
"Being in theater is a brutal career choice, third maybe to boxing and prostitution. But I'm very proud of it. It is amazing that I'm still doing this. But it was always really important to me to be a creative artist. Not to be a star, not to be rich, not be famous. My impulse as a dancer was never just to move but rather to interpret the music. I needed meaning. It completed me."

CABARET SPOTLIGHT: LISA VIGGIANO
I've been enjoying Lisa Viggiano's solo debut disc, "One Private Moment," for the past year, so I was quite excited to finally get a chance to see the New York native -- who has relocated to San Francisco -- perform live this past weekend at Restaurant Row's Don't Tell Mama. Viggiano, who is calling her new show "The Bun in the Oven Tour" (she is pregnant) performs a mix of tunes by Broadway and cabaret favorites as well as some pop and jazz favorites. The singer, who by day is a speech therapist, is adept at both dramatic and comedic tunes and possesses a voice that is clear, focused and strong while also quite pretty in its upper register. If it was a mistake to open with three Nancy LaMott staples, "Listen to My Heart," "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," (especially with LaMott's former musical director, the talented arranger and accompanist Christopher Marlowe on piano), Viggiano found her own voice with two tunes by "From a Distance" composer Julie Gold: the comical "Temporary Song" and the moving "Good Night New York," with its longing refrain, "All of my yearning, all of my hunger, maybe I'm learning, sometimes I wonder. Good night New York." Viggiano delivered a passionate rendition of the little-known Marvin Hamlisch/David Zippel song, "Until You Let Go," which can also be found on her solo CD. The singer, whose warmth and refreshingly down-to earth persona add greatly to her performance, also did well with Kenny Loggins and Bob James' "Celebrate Me Home," and her encore of Richard Maltby and David Shire's "The Story Goes On" was both fitting and powerfully sung and left the audience wanting more. Viggiano concludes her Don't Tell Mama run this weekend with shows tonight (Friday, July 27) at 7 pm and tomorrow (Saturday, July 28) at 6 pm.

FOR THE RECORD
I was not a particularly big fan of the recent, short-lived revival of Bells Are Ringing. I'm not sure if the show is just too dated for a full-scale revival or if the revival's star, Faith Prince, lacked some of the warmth necessary for the role originated by the late Judy Holliday. That said, I'm surprised by how much I've been enjoying the new cast recording of the show, which was recently released on the Fynsworth Alley label. The disc is exactly what the revival wasn't: fun. Even Prince, who I felt was a bit miscast, comes across wonderfully on the recording. She's in great voice and finds a warmth on disc that somehow eluded her onstage. She's particularly effective in "It's a Perfect Relationship"; delivers a wonderful duet with Marc Kudisch in "Better Than a Dream"; and scores with the 11 o'clock number, "I'm Going Back," one of the gems of the score. In fact, most of the Jule Styne/Betty Comden and Adolph Green score is a delight, with such melodic offerings as "Hello, Hello There," "Independent," "I Met a Girl" and two Broadway classics: "Just in Time" and "Long Before I Knew You."

QUOTABLE QUOTES:
This week's "Quotable Quotes" all focus on Barbara Cook's triumphant concert opening at London's Lyric Theatre. It's rave upon rave for one of Broadway's favorite divas...


Tim Ashley in The Guardian:
"When the curtain goes up on Barbara Cook's show at the Lyric, you know you're in the presence of a most unusual legend. Avoiding any pretensions to glamour or stardom, she's dressed in a simple black trouser-suit. The woman who has been called the greatest singer in the world looks ageless, maternal, wise. She's also tireless, indefatigable. Cook made her Broadway debut 50 years ago, a fact which, in the repartee with which she engages her audience, she completely ignores. Instead, for 90 extraordinary minutes, she pays an affectionate tribute to Stephen Sondheim, whose 70th birthday fell in March last year . . . Sondheim himself she compares to Picasso -- a trail-blazing, risk-taking genius who redefined the parameters of artistic potential. With his ability to view the human condition with a mixture of compassion and irony, he could also be seen as a 20th-century Mozart, and there's a similar profundity in Cook's performances. In 'Buddy's Eyes' from Follies -- she opens up the song with an almost operatic density -- encapsulates both the beauty of love and the grim reality of self-delusion. 'Person,' from Company, reveals anguished vulnerability beneath its scornful bravado. She sings 'Send in the Clowns' with a throttled whisper that fills the building. Throughout the whole evening, Cook's ability to weld sound with sense remain astounding and few performers -- whether classical or popular --have her ability to get to the heart of a song. She's incomparable. Buy, beg, borrow or steal a ticket -- but just go and hear her."


Mark Shenton in What's On Stage:
"Though the bell-like upper register that made her the leading Broadway ingenue of the 1950s and 60s isn't as powerful as it then was, Cook's tone remains exquisite, the notes sublime, her control effortless. Best of all, she connects totally with every lyric, and not just so that every emotion within it is revealed but also, crucially, so that every single word rings out in the theatre with utter clarity. Her superb technique is, of course, a given; but the overwhelming feeling that she also invests in the material is a constant revelation. She makes you hear these songs often as if for the first time. To hear Cook sing Irving Berlin's 'I Got Lost in His Arms' from Annie Get Your Gun, for instance, is to get lost in a song that I thought I knew but suddenly realised I hadn't paid attention to its achingly lovely lyrics before. She achieves this effect with the utmost restraint; she never bullies the listener or the song, but simply draws you into the latter's world totally. The Sondheim selections are no less revelatory, not least for the fact that -- since his songs are character-based and have therefore often been rendered by performers who are actors first rather than singers -- they're actually given their full vocal as well as emotional resonance. A powerful curtain call rendition of the title song to Anyone Can Whistle, performed without a microphone, was so perfect and true that you could weep. I could go on; but you just need to go."


Clive Davis in The Times:
"She stands on an unadorned stage with just a piano player and a bassist for company. Her artistry makes London's big musicals look like so much tissue paper. Theatre people tend to go weak at the knees over Barbara Cook, which can be off-putting to those who are among the uninitiated. But sometimes a little hero-worship is in order. I find writing about the American legend difficult, because I have exhausted all my superlatives over the years, yet each time she comes back she gets better. We will just have to start thinking of her in terms of a natural wonder, like a solar eclipse. If you have yet to discover her for yourself, the residency staged by Bill Kenwright at the Lyric in Shaftesbury Avenue is the best possible place to start. Long time fans will need no prompting, of course, and they will be happy to know that they still have a chance to hear Cook 'now 73' go for the high note on 'Ice Cream' ('I give that B natural a little more thought than I used to,' she says afterwards with a coy smile.) Yet this show also breaks new ground. A belated 70th birthday present for Stephen Sondheim, it gives Cook the opportunity to roam through her favourite numbers from Follies and the rest, as well as performing songs that Sondheim has said he would have "liked" to have written. It makes for an eminently loose structure, and Cook's mixture of folksiness and formality exploits it to the full.

IN OTHER NEWS Betty Buckley returns to her favorite downtown haunt this weekend with a series of concerts at The Bottom Line. Don't miss your chance to see this multi-talented performer in action . . . The recent production of Sweeney Todd in Concert in San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall was taped for future broadcast. Reprising their roles from the acclaimed Lincoln Center production were Broadway heavyweights Patti LuPone and George Hearn. San Francisco Chronicle reviewer Robert Hurwitt had this to say about the San Francisco run: "Hearn is, if anything, an even stronger, more deeply vengeful and eerily obsessed Sweeney than in the touring version that played the Golden Gate 20 years ago, his voice every bit as commandingly rich. LuPone creates a Mrs. Lovett distinct from but worthy to stand beside Angela Lansbury's monumental original, blithely mendacious and desperately loving, her supple voice unearthing and exploring new riches in the score. Neil Patrick Harris is brilliant as the haunted, pitiful Tobias Ragg. Victoria Clark is a rivetingly mad Beggar Woman. A boyishly fervent Gaines and starry-eyed but determined Vroman breathe new life into the imperiled young lovers. Stripped to its core, this Sweeney is as sharp as a razor." . . . On this week's "Everything Old Is New Again" radio program (Sunday, July 29 on WBAI 99.5 FM from 9 to 11 PM), you can expect to hear an interview with Lea DeLaria plus excerpts from her new CD, "Play It Cool." The program will also spotlight new recordings from Alice Ripley, Keely Smith, Kristin Chenoweth and Alison Jiear. . .

REMINDERS:

BETTY BUCKLEY
That Tony-winning dynamo, Betty Buckley, has just released a new slate of concert performances, which follows:


July 27 and 28 at the Bottom Line in New York, NY
July 29 at the Provincetown Town Hall in Provincetown, MA (Fund raiser for Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater)
August 25 at the Great Waters Music Festival in Wolfeboro, NH
September 19 at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall (American Songwriters Series) in New York, NY
September 29 at Centre East in Skokie, IL
October 6 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ (with Michael Feinstein)
November 10 at the Naperville North Central College Performing Arts Center in Naperville, IL (with Michael Feinstein)
November 14-18 at the Mohegan Sun Cabaret in Uncasville, CT
November 24 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ (with Michael Feinstein)
December 6 at Abravenal Hall with the Utah Symphony in Salt Lake City, UT (Xmas program)
December 7 at the Ellen Eccles Theatre in Logan, UT
December 27 at the Verizon Regional Performing Arts Center in Philadelphia, PA (with Michael Feinstein)
January 4 & 5, 2002 at the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford, CT
March 15 & 16, 2002 with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, NC
March 30 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA LINDA EDER
Eder in concert:
Sept. 14 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA, (215) 893-1999
Sept. 29 at the Eisenhower Hall Theatre at West Point, (845) 938-4159
Oct. 19 and 20 at the Atlanta Symphony Hall, go to www.atlantasymphony.org
Nov. 3 at the Youngstown Symphony Center in Youngstown, OH, (330) 744 4269
Nov. 16 and 17 at Jacobs Symphony Hall in Jacksonville, FL, (877) 662 6731
Dec. 5 at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, (973) 376-4343
Dec. 11 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA, (617) 266-1492
Dec. 14 and 15 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, (800) 444-1324

PATTI LuPONE
The Tony and Olivier Award-winning actress has also just released a whole new slew of concert dates, which follow:


August 3-4 at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Los Angeles, CA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
August 24 in Sweeney Todd at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL
August 27 in "Matters of the Heart at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL
September 15 at the Rialto Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia ("Matters of the Heart")
September 20-23 at Bass Hall with the Ft. Worth Symphony in Ft. Worth, Texas ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
October 10 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA ("Matters of the Heart")
November 10 at Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts ("Matters of the Heart")
February 9, 2002 at the Tilles Center with the Long Island Philharmonic ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
February 22-23, 2002 at the Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, NY with the Buffalo Philharmonic ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

February 28 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY ("Coulda Woulda Shoulda")

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

By Andrew Gans