DIVA TALK: Holiday Memories with Ayers, Brier, D'Abruzzo, De Guzman, Gambatese, Greene, Newman, Noll, O'Malley and Pedi

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Holiday Memories with Ayers, Brier, D'Abruzzo, De Guzman, Gambatese, Greene, Newman, Noll, O'Malley and Pedi News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
top to bottom: Heather Ayers, Kathy Brier, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Josie de Guzman, Jenn Gambatese, Ellen Greene, Phyllis Newman, Christiane Noll, Kerry O'Malley and Christine Pedi
top to bottom: Heather Ayers, Kathy Brier, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Josie de Guzman, Jenn Gambatese, Ellen Greene, Phyllis Newman, Christiane Noll, Kerry O'Malley and Christine Pedi

HOLIDAY MEMORIES

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

HEATHER AYERS, who is currently making her Off-Broadway debut in Five Course Love at the Minetta Lane Theatre, couldn't have penned a better New York Times review for her performance had she written it herself. In his write-up, critic Neil Genzlinger says, "[Ayers'] versatile, big voiced performance in five roles might make Kristin Chenoweth want to check the rearview mirror."

Ayers, who will play her final performance in Five Course Love Dec. 31, said she will be spending the holiday with her parents, who are "coming here for their very first holiday in New York! This is the first time both of their girls [sister Becca is in Avenue Q] are employed in the city at the same time." About her sister, Heather adds, "If Becca and I can ever agree on a theme, we are planning on getting a cabaret [act] together."

As for a favorite holiday memory, the actress explains, "One year, while us kids were out in the neighborhood lighting luminaries, my uncle stayed behind and got plastered. Upon our return, he proceeded to knock over the Christmas tree onto the dog. We spent Christmas day vacuuming pine needles off of Bogie!" **********

You may have seen KATHY BRIER on Broadway in Hairspray or Off-Broadway in Bat Boy, but you've never heard her sing the way she does in A Broadway Diva Christmas, which is currently playing a limited engagement at the Julia Miles Theatre through Dec. 31. Though she belts out powerful, rock-flavored versions of "All I Want for Christmas Is You" and "Please Come Home for Christmas," it is Brier's delivery of Joni Mitchell's "River" that is especially riveting. Her beautifully sung and powerfully performed version of Mitchell's aching tune is one of the show's many highlights.

Because of A Broadway Diva Christmas, Brier won't be able to head home this holiday season, but "last year," says Brier, "I went to Hawaii and I hope to go back soon. It was great." Another holiday favorite was "going to [see the] Rockefeller X-mas tree with my family as a kid and looking at the Saks windows." The Emmy-nominated actress, who continues to shine on "One Life to Live," is "currently working on [her] first CD. It should be available in stores some time in March/April — all original rock music."

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After a more than two-year Tony-nominated, Theatre World Award-winning run in Avenue Q, STEPHANIE D'ABRUZZO is set to depart the award-winning production to co-star in the new Off-Broadway musical I Love You Because. D'Abruzzo, who also made her solo cabaret debut this past season at the famed jazz club Birdland, says one of her favorite holiday memories took place on Christmas Eve 2003. "It was my first Christmas at Avenue Q," says the singer-actress-puppeteer, "and we really didn't have a lot of time off to do anything special for the holidays. So we decided that my hubby would pick me up at the theatre after our Christmas Eve matinee and we'd go have dinner, which we did. But I wanted to do something special and fun and Christmasy, so I came up with the bright idea of building our own gingerbread house. Instead of using a kit, we'd go to the grocery store and build the house out of graham crackers and then get a bunch of other cookies and candies and icings to decorate it. Seemed like a fun way to spend the evening. Only I didn't really think things through, and it was a disaster! We could barely get four walls up, and then we made the house too wide to put a roof on. My hubby was trying to use those long, round pirouette cookies with the hazelnut filling as support beams, only to see them crumble under the weight of a graham cracker or a Nilla wafer! A wall would go up, and another would fall down. It was a colossal mess. We had frosting all over us, and we were laughing so hard we were crying — all the while there was sweet Christmas music playing and holiday specials in the DVD player, and the menorah glowing gently with sheer candy-coated chaos ensuing in our world! It was maybe the best Christmas Eve ever!"

This year D'Abruzzo and her husband will catch some shows "and try to relax a bit. Of course, we'll have to hit the Hallmark stores for the half-priced ornaments the day after Christmas — we have a very pop-culture tree! And, I'll be singing at Tony's DiNapoli on New Year's Eve again with some other Broadway folk."

In addition to I Love You Because, which begins performances at Off Broadway's Village Theatre Jan. 19, D'Abruzzo has a few other ideas brewing. "My pet project," she says, "is to do an evening of Joe Raposo songs, and I'm hoping to put together a table read of a couple of my husband's plays. But, really, the best things that have happened to me in 2005 have all been happy surprises. Who knew I'd get to be in two absolutely amazing Stephen Sondheim celebrations? So I'm perfectly willing to go with the flow and see where life takes me."

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"One of my favorite holiday memories," the Tony-nominated Guys and Dolls actress JOSIE DE GUZMAN says, "was when I was performing in West Side Story in Paris [and] the cast was invited to midnight mass in Notre Dame. Right after we were done with the show, we all went and sat and heard the most beautiful singing in the most beautiful cathedral. The best part was that my parents and sister were there, and we were all able to share this most wonderful midnight mass!"

"This holiday," the gifted soprano explains, "[will be] a simple one, but I'm so looking forward to spending it with my guy in Houston. It should be a relatively quiet holiday except that I will be cooking a fun, delicious meal for friends on one of those holiday days."

De Guzman, who recently co-starred in the Alley Theatre's production of Hapgood, says that experience was "thrilling. The production was directed by Gregory Boyd with his acting company, and it was a fabulous production." She is currently looking for the next project and says Hapgood "certainly fed my soul for a little while. . . . [and when the next project] comes, I'll be so thrilled to be a part of it."

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It's been a busy year for JENN GAMBATESE, who played two roles in the Elvis Presley-themed musical All Shook Up at the Palace Theatre and who will return to the Broadway stage in 2006 in the eagerly awaited new musical Tarzan. This holiday season will find the young actress and her boyfriend in Cleveland, OH, sharing the celebrations with her family. "I'm very excited," says Gambatese, "because I've been working in different shows, so this will be my first Christmas at home in four years."

A favorite holiday was "the year my brother and I got Superman and Wonder Woman Under-Roos and spent the greater part of Christmas morning jumping off of the couch and zooming round the living room!" Perhaps that was good practice for her upcoming role, when "I will be swinging — literally — into action as Jane in Disney's Tarzan!" Tarzan, which will co-star Josh Strickland in the title role, begins previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre March 24, 2006.

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ELLEN GREENE, who brings warmth, heart and her unique presence to A Broadway Diva Christmas, has three favorite holiday memories. Says the fabulous "Torch!" singer, "One was my first Christmas here — that's when I learned about Christmas. It was when I first came to New York, and my dear Greg Fauss — my lighting designer and good friend — bought me my first tree for $35, and we had a trimming party. He taught me about Christmas, and Christmas came to represent home for me and synonymous with New York. The second favorite one was at my loft on Crosby Street with Tibor, and I cooked a million entrees and baked cookies, tarts and cakes. Everyone from New York seemed to show up, and we all sang Christmas carols, and I cooked and cooked and cooked, and baked and baked and baked, and everyone ate and everyone drank, and it was so much fun. And I had three Christmas trees! And, my last favorite one was my first Christmas married to Christian [Klikovits], and we just spoiled each other rotten — and it was just us — and he bought me pots for cooking — how romantic!"

This holiday season Greene will continue to cast her spell over the Christmas audiences at the Julia Miles Theatre with her riveting renditions of such tunes as "Silent Night" and "The Christmas Song," and "I hope to cook for the band and Tommy [D'Angora] and Michael [Duling]. 'Next Stop, Greenwich Village' was released on the 13th of December on DVD with an audio commentary track by Paul Mazursky and myself — it was my first film with an amazing cast, and I am very proud of it. I also might be doing a film in January and February in Austin, Texas."

As for her favorite holiday songs, the multi-talented performer says, "My favorite holiday song is the one I do in the show, 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,' and 'Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.' One Christmas, when I was very little, I stood on my mother's desk at her school in Forest Hills — she was an English teacher then — and sang to her class 'Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.' I went over big! I loved that song — I had a little yellow record of it."

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PHYLLIS NEWMAN, who received a Tony Award for her performance in Subways Are for Sleeping and a Tony nomination for her work in Neil Simon's Broadway Bound, is now equally well known for her philanthropic organization, the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative, which has raised millions of dollars to help women in the entertainment industry access health care. Newman, who was married to the late Tony winning lyricist Adolph Green, says her favorite holiday concerned the arrival of her daughter, composer-lyricist Amanda Green. "My favorite holiday was the year our daughter Amanda was born," says Newman. "Our son Adam was already here. [Amanda] was in my tummy, and on Dec. 29 she was born so that New Years I was in the hospital all well with my husband Adolph and my two children — snuggly, feeling completely happy, sipping champagne, beginning a new chapter. This year," the award-winning actress adds, "I will spend with new and old friends and family. I still like champagne and the glamour of New York City."

As for future plans, Newman says, "I hope this year the show I've been writing for the last couple of years will be on a stage, and, of course, the eleventh Nothing Like a Dame in March will take place and raise money and engender a lot of help for our colleagues."

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CHRISTIANE NOLL, who is currently playing the Baker's Wife in the TheatreWorks mounting of Into the Woods, says that although she is often away from home during the holidays, she always manages to have Christmas with her family. "If I couldn't fly home," says the star of Broadway's Jekyll & Hyde, "my mom would just purchase or send our traditional holiday fare to whatever city we happened to be playing, in whichever Residence Inn we happened to be staying. One memorable year we were in Denver and willing to share our celebration with whomever needed a home away from home, and this year the guests to our travelling feast were Brad Oscar and Philip Hoffmann. We hung origami figures on the phony ficus tree, made place mats out of wrapping paper and shared our favorite holiday traditions with each other. It was nice to be reminded that no matter which holiday you celebrate or what you believe, the most important things are family and friends.

"Because Christmas falls on a weekend this year," Noll continues, "the schedule for Into The Woods at TheatreWorks is such that I have a few days off, so I'll be flying home. I have done a bunch of eBaying and internet shopping, and for the first time I am wrapping up and shipping my gifts home."

In October Noll was part of a critically acclaimed concert at Carnegie Hall titled Three Broadway Divas. The concert has since garnered a lot of interest and will be presented New Year's and New Year's Day with the San Francisco Symphony, January 13-14 with the Columbus Symphony, January 20-21 with the Arizona Symphony, January 26-28 with the Utah Symphony, Feb. 11 with the New Mexico Symphony, March 4-5 with the Naples Symphony (and Jerry Herman) and March 17-19 with the Florida Symphony. **********

It would be hard to pick a more appropriate way for an actor to spend the holiday season than performing a role in the new musical comedy Irving Berlin's White Christmas, which is currently playing Boston's Wang Theatre through Dec. 31. And, KERRY O'MALLEY — most recently on Broadway as The Baker's Wife in the Tony-winning revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods — is doing just that, playing Betty in White Christmas, which boasts direction by Walter Bobbie and choreography by Randy Skinner.

Last year provided O'Malley with one of her favorite holiday memories "when the Red Sox won the World Series, and my entire family was delirious with joy. We even used a Red Sox cap as the tree topper! And there was even more Red sox paraphernalia under the tree to add to my ever-growing collection."

This year, O'Malley has a noon matinee of White Christmas on Christmas Eve, and then she and her husband "will drive up to Nashua to my parents' house and spend Christmas with my parents and my sister, her husband and her two little boys. Both of my brothers will be away, so we will do an iChat with both of them. There will be lots of good food, a big roaring fire, tons of presents, games and lots of laughter. And if there is enough snow, we'll go sledding!"

O'Malley's plans for the New Year depend on the reception to her new Showtime series, "Brotherhood." "Ideally," says O'Malley, "I will spend pilot season in L.A., then start shooting season two of 'Brotherhood' and then wrap shooting in time to do White Christmas again, which I absolutely adore. It's heaven to perform, and being directed by such a wonderful creative team and getting to sing such sublime songs in such stunning costumes on a grand stage so close to home with a wonderfully talented and generous cast and a dreamy co-star [Stephen Bogardus] is the best gift I could ever have received. I am having the time of my life!"

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CHRISTINE PEDI, the Forbidden Broadway veteran who provides many of the comedic high points of Off-Broadway's A Broadway Diva Christmas, shared this touching holiday memory with me: "One holiday season many years ago I discovered that life really can be like a Frank Capra movie. A beloved member of our amateur theatre community — where I grew up and spent many years playing fantastic roles — found himself in a horrible financial situation through no fault of his own. He was made responsible for a huge debt and clearly had no way of paying it off — just like George Bailey in 'It's a Wonderful Life.' A few of us decided to spread the word to see if we couldn't help him out a bit. Believe it or not, his name was George, and no sooner had word gotten out that George was in trouble than the checks came pouring in — and I mean pouring. We wanted to make all donations anonymous, so everyone was told to send them to my attention. I was beyond broke at the time and frustrated about it, but at the end of every long and tedious workday, I'd open my mail and read these beautiful letters with the deepest and warmest sentiments and messages, [and] all included checks or cash in varying amounts. We've all heard the word heartwarming. I was feeling it on a daily basis. It was what I looked forward to all day. Each note was a treasure.

"I was working with our friend on the tech staff of a theatre at the time, so while he wasn't looking I swiped a deposit slip from his desk and deposited the checks. Later, while I was decorating the lobby with boughs of holly and Christmas lights, I instructed the receptionist to tell him there was a delivery. Then I climbed high up on a ladder to deck the halls and eavesdrop. A box wrapped in red plaid paper was waiting for him. In it was a deposit receipt and a big stack of cash resting on a bed of tinsel and a Santa ornament wearing Groucho glasses — we didn't want to take ourselves too seriously. After a long silence, he asked the receptionist who left it. I had told her not to say a word — she didn't. She kept saying that she didn't have a clue who left it. He persisted. She played dumb. He was relentless. Finally, she shouted, 'It was an ELF, OK!' He still pushed. She was magnificent. With a completely serious face she described the elf — beard, pointy shoes and high-pitched voice. It was priceless. Being witness to this pure act of love and kindness was the ultimate Christmas gift and lesson."

This holiday season will find Pedi performing at the Julia Miles Theatre as she tries "to fit a real live tree somewhere in my teeny apartment." Pedi, who also hosts a radio show on Sirius Satellite Radio on the Broadway Channel (Mon-Fri 7 AM-1 PM), is also working on a one-woman show that she hopes to take out on the road. And, she adds with her trademark humor, she's looking for a "tall, dark, handsome, rich, straight, witty, adoring man to marry me, buy me a compound in Connecticut and take me on long trips to Tuscany. Santa, can you fit that in my stocking?!"

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