DIVA TALK: Holiday Chats (Part II) with Barnhart, Blickenstaff, Larsen, Marshall and Paice

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Holiday Chats (Part II) with Barnhart, Blickenstaff, Larsen, Marshall and Paice
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Jennifer Barnhart with Mrs. T in Avenue Q
Jennifer Barnhart with Mrs. T in Avenue Q Photo by Carol Rosegg

Happy holidays, diva lovers! This week features more short holiday chats with several of this column's favorite gals. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jennifer Barnhart, Heidi Blickenstaff, Anika Larsen, Gay Marshall and Jill Paice about their favorite holiday memories and songs, their New Year's resolutions, what they were thankful for in the year that is about to come to a close and their work plans for 2009. Read on!

JENNIFER BARNHART
"I actually have a fairly recent holiday memory that has become my favorite," says Jennifer Barnhart, the only original cast member still performing in the hilarious, Tony-winning Avenue Q at the John Golden Theatre. "Last year, thanks to the Local One strike, I was able to spend more time with my family during Thanksgiving week. The day after Thanksgiving, my brother traditionally ushers in the holiday season by playing piano at a local seafood restaurant. It's become a huge tradition for many families; it's a sing-along of carols, [and] kids get up and perform a dance to 'Up on the Housetop,' and each table in the place is assigned one of the 'Twelve Days of Christmas,' complete with props and pantomime. It's a big party, culminating in a visit from Santa (one of the bartenders) at the end of the evening, giving out presents to all the kids. For the past several years, I have been unable to go. Last year, I was able not only to attend the shindig, but I got to introduce my fiancé to the tradition, and we helped my mom bring my grandmother to see my brother play. The sight of my 93-year-old grandmother clapping and singing along has become my favorite holiday memory."

Barnhart says she kicks off the season each year with her favorite holiday tune, "O Christmas Tree" by Vince Guaraldi, from the Charlie Brown Christmas album. Her favorite Christmas album "as a whole is 'Let's Sing a Song of Christmas' by Spike Jones. It's funny, and there are some great choral arrangements thrown in for good measure."

The actress, singer and puppeteer, who brings to life a host of characters in Broadway's Q, says she will spend this holiday "much the same way as I have the past few years: On Christmas Eve, after my matinee, I pack myself on the train out to Connecticut to have Christmas Eve with my father, stepmother and aunt. I'll have Christmas Day with my mother and grandmother, then pack up and return the next day for shows on the 26th. Mercifully, we only have an evening show, so I can have a bit of a sleep-in. One significant change is that my fiancé will be with me! He usually visits his family in California from Christmas to New Year's; this year, we'll be visiting his family just after New Year's for a few days."

Barnhart says that although she doesn't make New Year's resolutions — "they're a recipe for failure!" — she does "reflect on the year that's just ended and explore areas that I'd like to improve. Generally, these things tend to be along the lines of making more time for my loved ones and for myself. I look at the New Year as a time to become more mindful." As for the year that's about to end, she is thankful for "the fact that I still have a job; the continuing health of my family; my ever-patient, loving and supportive family and friends; my recent engagement; that I got to witness and participate in an historical election; that I continue to receive knowledge of how my other life (in children's television) makes an impact on young lives; and so many other blessings too numerous to mention." And, what will 2009 bring for Barnhart? "I'm very excited about the upcoming premiere of a new music series on PBS called 'Lomax: The Hound of Music,'" she says. "It's a show designed to help kids ages four to seven develop a sense of musicality, melody and rhythm through the canon of the American Folk Song. I puppeteer a white cat named Delta — and I also got to do some on-camera work as a human, which is always a blast. In February, I'll also resume production for the ninth season of 'Between the Lions' for PBS, a show that teaches literacy to children ages four to seven where I play Cleo, the mother of a family of lions who live in and run a public library. And [I recently played] Mama Bear on 'Sesame Street.'

"While I do love that I continue to work in children's television," Barnhart adds, "I'm looking to branch out in other directions next year."

["Lomax: The Hound of Music" will make its NYC premiere Dec. 20 on WLIW, Channel 21; check local listings.]

Heidi Blickenstaff

HEIDI BLICKENSTAFF
It's been some year for Heidi Blickenstaff, the big-voiced big talent who not only opened on Broadway earlier in the season in [title of show] but also recently made her Carnegie Hall concert debut and will soon step into the role of Ursula in Broadway's The Little Mermaid. About her favorite holiday memory, Blickenstaff, who begins her Mermaid run Jan. 27, 2009, says, "As a kid, I would always sucker my cousins into putting on plays or concerts with me after we opened all our presents on Christmas Eve. They weren't exactly the performing types, but somehow they always indulged me and played along. (I was very persuasive and bossy.) Megan played the flute while I sang 'Silent Night' and/or 'Tomorrow,' and Allison, Lauren, and Jenny would sing back-up. They were always such good sports."

This holiday will find the singing actress — who says she's a "sucker for the entire Vince Guaraldi Charlie Brown Christmas album. I can't wait to start playing it every year and I never get sick of it" — with her boyfriend in Seattle, where he's "doing a show. He's got the 24th and the 25th off, and I think we're going to go get lost somewhere in the Puget Sound."

Blickenstaff, whose Broadway resume also includes The Full Monty, says she is especially thankful this year for "our President-Elect, my healthy family, the best friends in the world, my boyfriend, my Helen Hayes Award, my dog, learning how to scuba dive, The Little Mermaid, and that [title of show] made it all the way to Broadway." As for New Year's resolutions, the upbeat actress simply says, "Enjoyment."

Blickenstaff adds, "I'm thrilled to be playing Ursula in The Little Mermaid on Broadway beginning in late January. We ([title of show]) just played Carnegie Hall as special guests of The Gay Men's Chorus, and I'm still reeling from that. That was, sincerely, one of the biggest thrills of my life to sing a solo on that stage. I'll never forget it. I have a tiny part in a Catherine Zeta-Jones movie coming up called 'The Rebound,' but I'm secretly guessing my part is going to end up on the cutting room floor, so don't hold your breath for that one, but it was super fun to shoot! I've got some other stuff cookin', but it's a little half-baked, so I gotta keep my trap shut. Maybe an album...? Why? What have you heard?!," she laughs.

Anika Larsen and Kate Monster in the Avenue Q tour
photo by Carol Rosegg

ANIKA LARSEN
"I have nine brothers and sisters, and six were adopted from different races and countries," singer-actress Anika Larsen, who is currently starring in the national tour of Avenue Q, says. "When we were little, at Christmas time my parents would throw a Christmas party and make all of us kids perform. My mom thought we were the multicultural Von Trapps. I couldn't wait to sing in those shows, because I always got a big, fat solo. I figured out quick that that's how I could get individual attention, and I've been hooked on the junk ever since!" This holiday will find the former Xanadu star in Clearwater, FL, with the Q tour. "We have four days off — unheard of in the theatre," she says, "from the 22-25th, so I'm flying my baby brother down to Orlando to meet me, and we're going to spend Christmas in the happiest place on earth: Disneyworld! He's 22 and a pretty cool kid, so I wasn't sure if he'd be into it. When I asked him, he said he'd only do it with me if we wore Mickey Mouse ears the whole time. So it is on like Donkey Kong! Especially because Kerry Butler is a Disney freak — or should I say 'connoisseur'? — and she has volunteered to create our itinerary for us!"

Larsen, who says her favorite holiday tune is "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" — "I love Judy Garland singing it, of course, but my favorite rendition is the lovely and sweet one sung by John Denver and Rowlf from the Muppets in 'John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together'" — says she is thankful this year for "Barack Obama. And Michelle Obama. And the hope that Barack Obama has brought to so many. And drama, pajamas, llamas, commas, the Dalai Lama, my mama, and anything else that rhymes with Barack Obama. And Barack Obama!"

As for performance plans in 2009, the good-natured Larsen says, "After Avenue Q tour ends in May, I'm coming back to NYC to do a play with music I wrote about my childhood, produced by my theatre company, Jaradoa Theater. It's called Shafrika, The White Girl, and it basically asks the question, 'What do you get when you toss ten kids of different races into one family and stir?' In the show, my character, Anika, ponders just what kind of white girl she is, having grown up with brothers and sisters who are black, white, Asian, Latino and Native American. Though Anika sets out to do a solo show, her entourage hijacks the thing. They take over the roles of the people in her world, pipe up about their own experiences and opinions, and force Anika to grapple with the truth in a unique and quirky exploration of race, identity and family. Or something like that!" For more information visit www.jaradoatheater.com.

Gay Marshall

GAY MARSHALL
Gay Marshall, the dazzling artist who recently performed the songs of Edith Piaf to sell-out crowds at the Metropolitan Room, admits that the holidays are "usually fraught with agonizing shopping and travel and tricky family get-togethers, and I actually try to avoid them — which reminds me of the time my husband and I decided at the last minute to get away and spend them at a castle in France, even though the receptionist begged us to reconsider because their dining room was sold out New Year's Eve. She said that three times, followed by 'Are you sure you want to come?' We were sure. "The location looked better on the map than on location. The actual castle was magnificent: the superb entrance hall, the huge stone walls, enormous regal room with one of those fireplaces that could house a family — and the price tag that was a fraction of the cost of the 57th St. Holiday Inn — but all around it were vast swamps surrounded by shopping malls. When we went scouting for a place to eat on New Year's Eve, all we could find was a plastic-lattice-laden pizza parlor. So we happily bought some cheese, bread and wine and drove back very carefully along the skinny roads over the quicksand. When we got back, there was an elegant table in the middle of our room set on monogrammed linen, with Limoges china, crystal glassware and champagne chilling in a silver bucket on a stand. We called down to say there must be some mistake, but no, they said, it was for us. They hoped we'd accept. So we got all dressed up to stay put, and I'll tell 'ya — it was really acceptable. Being served a luxurious ten-course gourmet feast by two discreet butlers in the privacy of our room was incredibly acceptable."

Marshall, who will most likely spend the holidays in New York with her husband, says she likes several "Christmas songs, especially the melody of 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear' and 'Glooooooooooooooooria' (in harmony), but Tom Lehrer's 'Christmas Carol' and [David Friedman's] 'My Simple Christmas Wish' are pretty high on my list."

The singing actress, who recently released the wonderful "Gay Marshall Sings Piaf," says she is thankful this year for "my indescribably wonderful husband and the huge success of his photo expo at the National Arts Club this October hosted by gracious, generous, gorgeous Susan Sarandon; living in the Village and being in touch with old friends plus making new ones here; the good health of my family; Obama being elected; finally getting my CD out this fall; the renovated boardwalk from Christopher Street to Battery Park where I love to go; President Obama; and Stephen Colbert, who is maybe the funniest man on the planet; and oh, did I mention Obama?"

Marshall says she's never made New Year's resolutions. "If I start trying to make myself do something, I'll see myself as an authority figure, and I have always resisted authority," she laughs. "Although, I would like to calm down, but I don't think that could be a resolution. I think that for that to happen I'd have to engage the services of someone with a PhD and a prescription pad."

And what's in store for Marshall in 2009? "I'm always afraid if I talk about what I'm going to do it won't happen, but chances are pretty good that I'll be recording a new musical with some fabulous people in January, doing another CD of my own, and more club dates in the city with the great musicians I had at the Metropolitan Room in October. Then there's that TV series…"

Jill Paice

JILL PAICE
Within the past year Jill Paice, the American actress of the West End and subsequent Broadway production of The Woman in White, starred in two new musicals — on different sides of the Atlantic. She was Scarlett O'Hara in the short-lived Gone With the Wind in London and played Elizabeth in the Signature Theatre's Broadway-aimed musical Ace. For the holidays, though, the former Curtains star will be "with my folks in Dayton, Ohio." "Every year on Christmas Eve," Paice says, "my family drives around the local neighborhoods to look at the Christmas lights. I used to dread it as a kid, but now it's my favorite tradition. The tastefully decorated houses are beautiful, but I love the houses that have crammed every square inch of house and yard with blow-up Christmas cheer."

Although she doesn't make New Year's resolutions, the multitalented performer says she has many reasons to be thankful. "I've had a wonderfully, topsy turvy year," she says, "and I am thankful for the many lessons I've learned and the people I've met along the way. I am also thankful for good health, happiness, my lovely friends, Coke Zero, my Mac and 'The Office.'"

Paice, whose favorite holiday tune is "The Best Gift" from Barbra Streisand's "A Christmas Album," is currently performing in Irving Berlin's White Christmas in Detroit, MI, through Dec. 23, and "after that...only time will tell!"

Cover art for "Wish"

DIVA TIDBITS
Tony Award winner Sutton Foster, currently starring in Shrek the Musical, will release her debut solo recording Feb. 17, 2009, on the Ghostlight Records label. Entitled "Wish," the 15-track CD was produced by Joel Moss and co-produced by Michael Rafter. Executive producers are Kurt Deutsch and actress-singer Foster, whose original artwork is featured in the CD package. The complete track listing for "Wish" follows: "I'm Beginning to See The Light" (Duke Ellington, Don George, Johnny Hodges, Harry James), "Warm All Over" (Frank Loesser), "The Late, Late Show" (Murray Berlin, Roy Alfred), "Up on the Roof" (Carole King, Gerald Goffin), "My Romance"/"Danglin'" - (Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers/Maury Yeston), "I Like The Sunrise" (Duke Ellington), "Air Conditioner" (Christine Lavin), "Sunshine on My Shoulders" - (John Denver, Richard Kniss, Michael Taylor), "My Heart Was Set on You" (Jeff Blumenkrantz), "Flight" (Craig Carnelia) duet with Megan McGinnis, "Once Upon a Time" (Charles Strouse, Lee Adams), "Nobody's Cryin'" (Patty Griffin), "Come the Wild, Wild Weather" (Noel Coward), "On My Way" (music by Jeanine Tesori, lyrics by Brian Crawley) and "Oklahoma" (Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers). Initial casting has been announced for the open-ended San Francisco engagement of Wicked, which begins performances Jan. 27, 2009, at the Orpheum Theatre. Teal Wicks (L.A. Wicked, national tour of Pippin) and Kendra Kassebaum (Broadway's Wicked, Off-Broadway's The Receptionist), will head the cast as, respectively, the green-faced, misunderstood Elphaba and the curly-locked Glinda. Wicks and Kassebaum will be joined onstage by Carol Kane as Madame Morrible and David Garrison as The Wizard. Tickets for the San Francisco production of Wicked are now on sale for performances through June 27, 2009; visit ticketmaster.com/wicked or call (415) 512-7770. Tickets are also available at the Orpheum Theatre Box Office (1192 Market at 8th Street).

Tony winner LaChanze, most recently on Broadway in The Color Purple, will go it solo Feb. 14, 2009, at the Highline Ballroom in Manhattan. LaChanze's Valentine's Day concert is scheduled for 8 PM; doors will open at 6 PM. Highline Ballroom is located in Manhattan at 431 West 16th Street. For tickets, priced $35, go to ticketweb.com or call (866) 468-7619. For more information visit www.highlineballroom.com.

"Brady Bunch" star Florence Henderson, who bowed on Broadway in Wish You Were Here, will bring her new cabaret act to Catalina's Jazz Bar & Grill in 2009. Henderson recently presented her act, which is entitled All the Lives of Me . . . A Musical Journey, at Feinstein's at Loews Regency is November. She is now scheduled to perform the evening Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2009, at Catalina's Jazz Bar & Grill in Hollywood, CA. Show time each night is 7:30 PM. All the Lives of Me features songs from Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The Sound of Music and Annie Get Your Gun. The singing actress will also offer anecdotes about "a life on the boards of Broadway and the Brady set." Catalina's Jazz Bar & Grill is located at 6725 Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, CA. For tickets, priced $30 and $35, call (323) 466-2210 or visit www.catalinajazzclub.com.

Marni Nixon — who is perhaps best known for dubbing the vocal performances of such film stars as Audrey Hepburn (in "My Fair Lady"), Deborah Kerr (in "The King and I") and Natalie Wood (in "West Side Story") — will be part of a new revue at the Metropolitan Room in the New Year. Entitled MÉNAGE – Have Gown. Will Travel, the three-person revue will feature the talents of Nixon as well as Edd Clark and Sarah Rice (Sweeney Todd, Candide). Show times at the Manhattan venue are Jan. 18, 2009 at 4 PM and Jan. 21, 22 and 24 at 7:30 PM. The evening of song, according to press notes, celebrates "life, love, and the slings and arrows of the outrageousness of relationships. It showcases works by a variety of composers chosen from Stephen Sondheim, Ivor Novello, Nancy White, and Rodgers & Hart – and more." The Metropolitan Room is located in Manhattan at 34 West 22nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. There is a $20 cover charge and a two-drink minimum; for reservations call (212) 206-0440 or visit www.metropolitanroom.com.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Today’s Most Popular News: