DIVA TALK: Holiday Memories with Anderson, Burns, Kennedy, Kritzer, Noll, Simard Plus Leavel on Drowsy

DIVA TALK: Holiday Memories with Anderson, Burns, Kennedy, Kritzer, Noll, Simard Plus Leavel on Drowsy News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Nancy Anderson
Nancy Anderson

HOLIDAY MEMORIES

This holiday season we checked in with a few fabulous gals and asked them to share a favorite holiday memory or two.

NANCY ANDERSON
Nancy Anderson, who drew raves earlier this season for her work in a multitude of roles in Yank! — A New Musical, says she will spend the holidays "in NYC trimming my tree with the Zellnik Brothers, who wrote Yank!, and doing lots of Christmas caroling with Renae Baker's company, ISMILEinNY productions."

The actress with the lilting, period-flavored soprano says, "When I was in high school, we started having Christmas Eve parties. My mother is a proud atheist, and she used to get mad that non-Christians had nothing to do on Christmas Eve and Christmas. The complicated part was that she also loved Christmas, the tree, which she viewed as pagan, the lights, the Christmas Carols, the Messiah sing-a-long. So, in our house, we liked to think of Christmas as the pagan solstice festival with really great four-part harmony. We would have these gigantic tree-trimming parties on Christmas Eve for Jews, pagans, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists and agnostics (and any other group that Christmas leaves out). My favorite Christmas memory is four Jewish friends crowding around my piano sight-reading Christmas carols in four-part harmony!"

Anderson, whose favorite holiday song is "The First Noel," says her New Year's resolution is "to learn Spanish." And, she hopes 2008 brings "a Broadway show and a gig in France — and Barack Obama as the next President of the United States!"

Andréa Burns

ANDRÉA BURNS
Andréa Burns, the Broadway belter with the rich, warm voice, says picking a favorite holiday memory is quite easy: "On the morning of Christmas Eve 2003, I went into labor, and 16 hours later got the best Christmas present anyone could hope for, my son, Hudson Rafael." Burns — whose vocal stylings can be heard on the wonderful new CD "A Deeper Shade of Red" (PS Classics) — says this holiday season will find her in "Miami playing 'suburban life': the beach, the mall, Target." The actress, who stood by for Rosie Perez in the recent Broadway revival of The Ritz, will no doubt be gearing up for her return to The Great White Way in In the Heights, the acclaimed Off-Broadway musical that will begin previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre Feb. 14, 2008. Burns will reprise her role as sassy hairdresser Daniela in that production, which was previously seen Off-Broadway at 37 Arts.

Burns, whose New York theatre credits also include Songs for a New World and Broadway's The Full Monty and Beauty and the Beast, says her New Year's resolutions include "being more present and grateful," and she hopes the New Year will bring "great success for In the Heights."

As for her favorite holiday tune? "'Happy Birthday,' naturally!"

Lauren Kennedy

LAUREN KENNEDY
"What comes to mind first," Lauren Kennedy says about a favorite holiday memory, "is having Christmas dinner at my grandparents house and my sister and I always having to sit at the 'kids' table — just the two of us at a card table off to the side. We would get so giddy at the independence of it and make each other laugh until we were crying — literally over nothing. Everyone would get so annoyed at us, but we loved it so much that we insisted until just a few Christmases ago to sit at our own table. Now that we have kids of our own, we are hoping to pass along the tradition!" Kennedy, who is married to actor Alan Campbell, is mom to their three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Riley, and says that "Santa is big around our house this year. Our daughter is aware of it more than ever, so it should be really fun. She has already had Santa sightings in the sky!" Kennedy also says her favorite holiday song "would have to be a tie between 'Dominick the Donkey' and my husband singing the bass part of 'Carol of the Bells'!"

The Broadway performer, whose rangy and powerful belt can be heard on a terrific new recording spotlighting the work of current and up-n-coming theatre writers ("Here and Now," PS Classics), says that she is not "a big resolution type person. I think there is no time like the present, so if I feel like I need to lose five pounds or focus more on family and friends, I start right away and don't wait for the New Year. By the way, starting today I need to lose five pounds and spend more time with friends and family!"

When asked what she hopes 2008 will bring, the affable Kennedy responds, "I am hoping that I will continue to learn."

Leslie Kritzer

LESLIE KRITZER
Leslie Kritzer, who will soon be seen in the eagerly awaited new musical A Catered Affair — performances begin March 25, 2008, at the Walter Kerr Theatre — says her favorite holiday memory is "making maps of our house on Christmas Eve [with my sister] and planning on how we were going to sneak down the staircase and into the den to see the tree and all our presents in the middle of the night. I think I almost broke the railing on the staircase because I slid down it, and it was close to coming out of the wall! We both got tons of presents, and my mother wrapped them all in special wrapping paper and ribbons. We had two Christmas trees, and my mom always made the holidays extra special with her good food — especially the cakes and pies. I will never forget those big parties and lots of family around. I really look forward to someday having that with my children." This season will find the comedic singing actress in Chicago "meeting my boyfriend's parents for the first time. No pressure!! I spent Thanksgiving with my mom this year in order to make up for the guilt that I have, not being with her during the holidays. She is very supportive and understands. Plus, if she wants grandkids someday, I have to put in the leg work!"

Picking a favorite holiday song, Kritzer says, is difficult. "'The First Noel' is a personal favorite sung by Frank Sinatra on his 'A Jolly Christmas' album. Also, a lot of people don't know about Maureen McGovern's Christmas album ['Christmas with Maureen McGovern'], which I absolutely love. One of the best Christmas albums ever, and I lost my copy so I have to get a new one. It was a gift from a friend years ago. All the songs are beautifully arranged — love everything on that album."

"I hate making New Year's resolutions," Kritzer confesses. "There is so much guilt and pressure on yourself to make things 'happen.' I believe what you really want is in your heart to do anyway, so I guess it would be to continue listening to my instincts about things. This year has been a transformation for me of sorts. I really got in good shape with the help of my trainer, Anthony Preischel, and going into 2008 I want to continue to do that. It's truly changed my life."

Kritzer is especially excited about returning to Broadway in Harvey Fierstein and John Bucchino's Catered Affair. "I can't wait to be in New York with a brand-new show that I really believe in and in March reunited with my Catered Affair family," she says. "I miss them!"

Christiane Noll

CHRISTIANE NOLL
"Christmas," the gorgeous-voiced Christiane Noll says, "has always been about family, first and foremost. My parents and I have never been apart for Christmas. Even if I was on the road and unable to come home, they came to me, bringing our 'Christmas' with them — the benefits of being an only child. Whether we were in San Francisco, Chicago or Denver, my mother was adept at creating our traditional Christmas fare. Lord love the Residence Inn! I would make origami ornaments and decorate the phony fichus trees." Noll, who was recently seen in Off-Broadway's Frankenstein, says her favorite holiday song is "Do You Hear What I Hear" — "especially the version that Vanessa Williams does on her Christmas album, 'Star Bright.' Oh, and of course the Sandi Patty arrangement of 'O Holy Night' is amazing — I got to sing that at Carnegie Hall last year!"

The actress, whose Broadway credits include Jekyll & Hyde and It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, will next be seen in the American Musical Theatre of San Jose's production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's sci-fi camp musical Little Shop of Horrors, Jan. 22-Feb. 3, 2008.

Jennifer Simard

JENNIFER SIMARD
It was a milestone year for Jennifer Simard, the Off-Broadway favorite who finally had the chance to demonstrate her numerous gifts for Broadway audiences when she made her Main Stem bow in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Circle in the Square Theatre. Simard, who offered Drama Desk, Drama League and Lucille Lortel Award-nominated performances in I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change and The Thing About Men as well as the "Special Victims Unit" edition of Forbidden Broadway, says her favorite holiday memory is "sitting on the family couch with my mom late at night with all the window candles lit, tree lights on, Bing Crosby singing in the background and just the two of us having girl talk."

It seems especially appropriate this year that Simard's favorite holiday tune is "I'll Be Home for Christmas." "[Because] I have been working out of town the last two holiday seasons," Simard explains, "this Christmas I will be going home to my parents house, and New Year's will be spent in NYC with my perfect husband, Brad Robertson." As for her New Year's resolution? "To try and be as perfect as my perfect husband Brad Robertson."

Simard, who plays her final Bee performance Jan. 20, 2008, says she hopes the New Year will see a "Democrat assume the presidency of the United States. That the Democratic majority in Congress grows a pair. That I can leave 'the office' at the office when I take a much-needed vacation with my perfect husband. "And, health, success, peace of mind, and love for my family and friends."

* * *

Beth Leavel as The Drowsy Chaperone
photo by Joan Marcus

BETH LEAVEL
Earlier this week it was announced that the award-winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone would play its final performance at the Marquis Theatre Dec. 30 following 674 performances and 32 previews. I had the great pleasure of attending the Lisa Lambert-Greg Morrison-Bob Martin-Don McKellar musical several times throughout the past year-and-a-half, and Beth Leavel — who stars in the title role — was never less than perfection. In fact, as good as she was the first time I attended, she only got better and funnier throughout the lengthy run of the musical about a musical theatre fan whose favorite show comes to life before his (and the audience's) eyes.

Leavel, who earned a much-deserved Tony Award for her Drowsy performance, said this week that "there are so many highlights from Drowsy. What comes to mind first is the whole Tony month — so unbelievable, and I am forever grateful to [director-choreographer] Casey [Nicholaw] and the producers and creative team for allowing me to develop Drowsy and Beatrice Stockwell. Another highlight is being around my second family, which is the cast of Drowsy. They are so special and talented, and I love them very much."

The dynamic singing actress, who will play Lucille in the upcoming City Center Encores! production of No, No, Nanette (May 8-12, 2008), says the show's long run allowed her performance to evolve. "I keep exploring Drowsy, and the audience informs me every show if I am successful. I just discovered something last week in one of my scenes with Mara [Davi, who plays Janet], and I thought to myself, 'Why hadn't I done this before?' Danny [Burstein] and I are comedy soul mates, and we are always ready to risk and play."

Leavel — who will also play Lily this March in the San Diego Old Globe's production of Dancing in the Dark, based on the movie "The Band Wagon" — says that when Drowsy ends its run she will be "one of 21 proud casts members, along with our fantastic crew and stage management and every one at the Marriott Marquis Theatre, who have been so very privileged to bring this unique, joyous and wonderful piece of theatre to life. I will cry a lot [on Dec. 30] — I'm like that!"

And her final Drowsy thoughts? "I would just like to thank everyone for all their amazing support and love they have shown me during my entire Drowsy Chaperone run," Leavel says. "It fills my heart. Thank you, and cheers, darling!"

[The Drowsy Chaperone plays the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway. Call (212) 307-4100 for tickets or visit www.ticketmaster.com]

DIVA TIDBITS
And, now it's official! The upcoming Broadway revival of Gypsy — starring Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone as that stage mother of all stage mothers, Rose — will play the St. James Theatre. After a limited engagement this past summer at City Center — the inaugural production of the Encores! Summer Stars series — the acclaimed mounting of Gypsy starring LuPone will begin previews at the St. James March 3, 2008, with an official opening March 27. Boyd Gaines and Laura Benanti, who played, respectively, Herbie and Louise in the City Center production, will repeat their roles for Broadway. Gypsy co-creator Arthur Laurents, who helmed the summer production, will direct on Broadway as well. Additional casting will be announced shortly.

The annual Broadway Backwards concert — featuring male singers performing songs traditionally sung by women and women singing tunes written for men — will be presented Feb. 4, 2008, at the American Airlines Theatre. A benefit for New York's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Community Center, the evening will feature the talents of Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Beach, Charles Busch, Cheyenne Jackson, Nancy Dussault, Malcolm Gets, Tituss Burgess, David Burtka and Tastiskank (Kate Reinders and Sarah Litzsinger). Robert Bartley will direct the 8 PM benefit concert with musical direction by Mark Janas. A party will be held at the theatre following the performance. The American Airlines Theatre is located in Manhattan at 227 West 42nd Street. Tickets, priced $75 and $125, will go on sale Jan. 2, 2008, through theatermania.com. For $1,500 and $5,000 tickets — includes preferred seating, after party and membership in the Center's Leadership and President's Circle — e-mail Jeffrey Klein at jklein@gaycenter.org. For more information visit www.gaycenter.org.

Tony Award winner Chita Rivera will perform two benefit concerts Jan. 14, 2008, at Birdland. Part of the Broadway at Birdland concert series, 100 percent of the proceeds from the evening will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Show times are 7 and 10 PM. In a statement Rivera said, "I have been so fortunate to have found such unbelievable family, love and support within the Broadway community. I'm thrilled to team with Broadway at Birdland for this special show to support the truly essential Broadway Cares, especially in these challenging weeks following last month's strike. I can't wait; it's going to be a really great night!" Rivera is expected to offer tunes from her legendary musical theatre career, including songs from West Side Story ("America"), Sweet Charity ("Where Am I Going?" and "Big Spender"), Chicago ("All That Jazz" and "Nowadays") and The Rink ("Chief Cook and Bottle Washer"). She will be joined onstage by music director Carmel Dean on piano, Michael Croiter on drums and Jim Donica on bass. Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street. Tickets, priced $40 and $100, are available by calling (212) 581-3080 or by visiting www.birdlandjazz.com.

The Los Angeles company of Wicked at the Pantages Theatre will welcome a new Madame Morrible Jan. 9, 2008, when JoAnne Worley — recently seen on Broadway in The Drowsy Chaperone — succeeds stage and screen actress Carol Kane in the role created on Broadway by Carole Shelley. The L.A. cast of the hit Stephen Schwartz-Winnie Holzman musical will also undergo a few other cast changes: Caissie Levy will step into the role of Elphaba, and Michael Drolet will begin his run as Boq Jan. 1. Eden Espinosa, who has played the role of Elphaba on Broadway and in Los Angeles, will play her final performance Dec. 30. Tickets for the L.A. Wicked are available by calling (213) 365-3500, by visiting the Pantages Theatre box office (6233 Hollywood Boulevard) or by logging on to www.ticketmaster.com.

When Elaine Stritch returns to the Café Carlyle with her award-winning Elaine Stritch at Liberty, the show will be presented like it was on Broadway — in two acts. Dinner — with seatings at 6, 6:30 and 7 PM — will precede the first half of the show, which begins at 8 PM. Dessert will be served at intermission, prior to the second act of Elaine Stritch At Liberty . . . At the Carlyle. Performance dates are Jan. 1-19, 2008. Rob Bowman will conduct a small orchestra. The Café Carlyle is located within The Carlyle Hotel at 35 East 76th Street at Madison Avenue. There is a $125 cover charge for all shows; for reservations call (212) 744-1600.

Melora Hardin

Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler. Producer-director Richard Jay-Alexander has directed thrilling concerts for all three luminaries. He will now direct "The Office" star Melora Hardin in her new cabaret act At the Water Cooler, which will play the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood, CA, Jan. 4 and 5 at 9 PM and Jan. 6 at 7:30 PM. Hardin will offer a mix of her own original tunes and Broadway and jazz standards during her upcoming performances. About her new show, which will feature musical direction by Ben Toth, Hardin says, "It's both a challenge and a dream come true and the perfect way to start 2008! I can't wait to get up there on stage and sing my heart out." For tickets and more information visit www.catalinajazzclub.com or www.melora.com. Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.