DIVA TALK: It's Tony Time...

DIVA TALK: It's Tony Time... BETTY BUCKLEY
As you can imagine, I was thrilled that Betty Buckley received a well deserved Tony nomination for her role as Hesione in Triumph of Love, the recent musical at the Royale Theatre. Buckley's work in that show was, without a doubt, the high point of the production, and her delivery of "Serenity" was superb both vocally and dramatically. . . Although Ms. B's cameo in Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer had to be cut (the movie was running close to four hours, and many scenes had to be excised), you can find Buckley on the small screen next week and also in June. Buckley will perform on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" one day next week to celebrate her Tony nomination. The day is not yet finalized, but I will post the date as soon as it is available. And, as reported earlier, Buckley, Patti LuPone and Jennifer Holliday will join Rosie O'Donnell for the opening number of the Tony Awards (June 7 on CBS), which will be a salute to the divas of the stage.

BETTY BUCKLEY
As you can imagine, I was thrilled that Betty Buckley received a well deserved Tony nomination for her role as Hesione in Triumph of Love, the recent musical at the Royale Theatre. Buckley's work in that show was, without a doubt, the high point of the production, and her delivery of "Serenity" was superb both vocally and dramatically. . . Although Ms. B's cameo in Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer had to be cut (the movie was running close to four hours, and many scenes had to be excised), you can find Buckley on the small screen next week and also in June. Buckley will perform on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" one day next week to celebrate her Tony nomination. The day is not yet finalized, but I will post the date as soon as it is available. And, as reported earlier, Buckley, Patti LuPone and Jennifer Holliday will join Rosie O'Donnell for the opening number of the Tony Awards (June 7 on CBS), which will be a salute to the divas of the stage.

And, in other Buckley news: I had the pleasure of speaking to John Yap this week, the man who runs the small record label Jay Records. Contracts are almost finalized, and it looks like his company will record Triumph of Love. Betty Buckley is definitely on board, and he is currently in negotiations with F. Murray Abraham, Susan Egan and the other Broadway cast members. Yap believes the recording sessions will be held within the next month or two, so stay tuned for more information . . . By the way, Jay Records will also release Liliane Montevecchi's solo album, On the Boulevard, in June.

And, a reminder. . . You can catch Buckley in concert tonight, May 8, when she makes an appearance at Carnegie Hall with the New York Pops. Check the Betty Buckley website on PBOL for further concert dates.


PATTI LuPONE
It's your last chance to see Patti LuPone in action in David Mamet's The Old Neighborhood, which will close this Saturday, May 9, after the evening performance at the Booth Theatre. . . On a brighter note, La LuPone will join Marcia Lewis, Sam Harris and Billy Porter at a fundraiser hosted by talk-show queen Rosie O'Donnell for her brother, Daniel O'Donnell, who is running for New York State Senate. The "intimate evening of comedy and song" will be held at Caroline's Comedy Club at 1626 Broadway on Tuesday, May 19. Tickets, which include cocktails, show and post-performance buffet dinner are $1,000. There is extremely limited seating; call (212) 838-0042 for more information.

John McDaniel, who will serve as the musical director for this fundraiser, will also be featured in the June issue of Playbill Magazine in an article by Harry Haun. My favorite quote from the article concerned his relationship with LuPone. Says, McDaniel, "We've worked together for a long time, and I especially loved doing her show, Patti LuPone Live, out in L.A. Like Rosie [O'Donnell], she gives 180 percent all the time. She'll never walk through it. Patti is committed to a standard of excellence at every turn, and you have to rise to it just to keep up with her." And, as a reminder, LuPone will perform in concert on August 28 and 29 at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles. LuPone will sing brand-new material during these two evenings, and tickets will be available shortly by calling (562) 916-8500. You can also hear LuPone a bit earlier at a benefit for the Kent Land Trust, which will be held at the Kent School in Connecticut. The benefit is scheduled for June 27, and tickets, which are priced between $40 and $1,000, are available by calling (860) 927-3936.


KAREN MASON
It seems that every musical theatre actress at one point or another desires to play Mama Rose in the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents musical Gypsy. With several knockout songs for Rose (including "Some People," "Small World," "You'll Never Get Away from Me," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "Rose's Turn" and more) as well as both comedic and dramatic scenes, it seems to be a test of the talents of whatever actress takes on the role. Last time on Broadway, Rose was portrayed by Tyne Daly, who won a Tony for her work, and then by Linda Lavin, who replaced Daly late in the run. Other Broadway Mamas include Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury, and a host of other divas have done the role throughout the country, including one of this column's favorite ladies, Betty Buckley, who played Rose in a regional theatre production a few years back. The latest diva who will play the unstoppable Mama Rose is Karen Mason, Buckley's understudy in Sunset Boulevard. Mason is scheduled to star in the Sundance Institute's production of the musical on their outdoor Eccles Stage in Sundance, Utah, from June 24 through August 29. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Sundance Box Office at (801) 225-4100. . . Also on the roster for Sundance is Carol Burnett in a one-night only benefit performance of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters on Tuesday, July 28 at 8 PM.


THE TONY NOMS
In a theatre season as competitive as this past one, I thought the Tony nominating committee did a particularly good job in its choices, especially in the category of Best Leading Actress in a Musical. The nominations in this category, as you already know, include Betty Buckley in Triumph of Love, Marin Mazzie in Ragtime, Natasha Richardson in Cabaret, and a joint nomination for Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, the conjoined twins of Side Show. You could persuasively argue that each of these talented ladies deserves the Tony, and it should prove an exciting night come June 7.
As much as I agreed with most of the other nominations, there were two omissions that, for me, were particularly appalling. The first is, of course, Patti LuPone's beautiful work in David Mamet's The Old Neighborhood. Now, the play itself may not have been to everyone's liking, but LuPone's performance was nothing less than riveting. Even the Times had raved that "You will be stunned by the naturalistic fire she delivers here. As Jolly, a part inspired by Mr. Mamet's real-life sister and his realized female character, Ms. LuPone finds conflicting layers of past and present selves in practically every line. She emerges as both loving matriarch and wounded adolescent, sentimental and devastatingly clear-eyed." As disappointed as I was by her omission, I'm sure LuPone will be back on Broadway soon, triumphing again in another role, musical or dramatic.
I was also disappointed by the exclusion of Norm Lewis for his work in Side Show. Lewis possesses one of, if not the finest male voice on Broadway, and his portrayal of Jake in the now-closed musical was extremely moving and heartfelt. In fact, his delivery of "You Should Be Loved" was one of the high points of the past musical theatre season. Let's hope his return to The Great White Way is equally fast.


ST. LOUIS WOMAN
Without a doubt, the City Center Encores! production of St. Louis Woman was the most delightful of the three vintage musicals offered this season, the other two entries being Strike Up the Band! and Li'L Abner. Starring a multi-talented cast led by former Miss America Vanessa L. Williams, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of song and dance. Williams is a stunning presence onstage, and the part perfectly fit her regal appearance and diva stature. And when she opened her mouth to sing, out poured her creamy, rich tones. Williams may not have the hugest vocal range or the largest sound, but her delivery of such standards as "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" were top-notch. It was also a great chance to hear the booming voice of Chuck Cooper, who won a Tony Award for his performance in The Life last year and opened the Encores! presentation with a wonderful, stentorian version of "Li'l Augie Is a Natural Man." Other notable performances included Stanley Wayne Mathis's high-energy turn as Li'l Augie and L. Scott Caldwell's bible-toting role as Li'l Augie's sister; however, the breakout performance of the evening was Yvette Cason's portrayal of Butterfly. Possessing perfect coming timing and a strong belt voice (she eventually played Effie in the Broadway company of Dreamgirls), Cason managed to wring every possible laugh out of her role and was terrific on her two solo numbers, "Legalize My Name" and "It's a Woman's Prerogative." Let's hope this version of the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen score will be recorded.


IN OTHER NEWS
Crazy for You star Jodi Benson will portray the Narrator in the national tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that will star David Osmond and The Osmond 2nd Generation (including six of David's seven brothers, all nephews of Donny). The tour will start May 19 at Dallas's Music Hall Theatre and will include stops in Kitchener, Ontario; Syracuse, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Houston, Texas; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Atlanta, Georgia; Rosemont, Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin; Norfolk, Virginia; Montreal, Quebec; Tucson, Arizona; and Phoenix, Arizona . . . Cabaret singer Lisa Asher will perform her newest show, True Stories, at Don't Tell Mama (343 West 46th Street) beginning Wednesday, May 20 at 9 PM. Other performance dates are May 27, June 3, 10 and 17. Call (212) 757-0788 for more information and for reservations . . .Judy Kaye, Judy Kuhn, Marcia Lewis, Donna McKechnie and Debbie Gravitte are just some of the luminaries who will take part in The Longest Running Show on Broadway, A Musical Tribute to Maurice Levine. The evening will be held on May 18 at the Kaufmann Concert Hall at the 92nd Street Y. Tickets for this star-studded black-tie event, which will benefit the Y, are very limited, and prices begin at $300. Call (212) 415-5488 for more information.


REMINDERS:

DIVAS PLAY CARNEGIE
The multi-talented Betty Buckley will perform with Skitch Henderson and The New York Pops on Friday, May 8 at 8 PM. . .On June 16 and 17 at 7:30 PM. Lorna Luft will host a tribute to her mother, the late Judy Garland, in an evening titled "Carnegie Hall Celebrates the Music of Judy Garland." . . .On Monday, November 9 at 8 PM theatre and concert star Barbara Cook will grace the stage with her long-time friend Wally Harper as musical director and conductor. . .For more information and for ticket reservations to any of these great events, call (212) 247-7800.

CHESS
Chess will be performed in concert May 10 and 17. The two Sunday performances will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and will be held at the John Houseman Theatre at 450 West 42nd Street. Currently on sale, tickets may be purchased by credit card by calling (212) 354-2220 between the hours of 10 AM and 8 PM (ET). Included in the cast will be an array of some of Broadway's finest talents including Alice Ripley, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Cerveris, Christiane Noll, Miller McLeod, Carl Anderson, Danny Zolli, Raymond Jaramillo, David Clemmons and Robert Evan.

JUDY KUHN
The beautiful-voiced star of Les Miz and Chess is just one of the many talented performers who will star in the upcoming production of As Thousands Cheer for the Drama Dept. At this point, others in the Irving Berlin/Moss Hart musical comedy revue include Howard McGillin, Mary Beth Peil and B.D. Wong. Performances are scheduled to begin on May 27, and the production will be directed by Christopher Ashley and will feature choreography by Kathleen Marshall.

ELAINE PAIGE
Tickets are available to The Misanthrope by calling 011-44 171-287 0464. . .On June 7 and 8 EP will take part in the charity concert Hey Mr. Producer, which will celebrate the work of another legendary Brit, producer Cameron Mackintosh. . . .And, Paige will appear in concert at the Hampton Court Palace Festival on June 19. Tickets may be purchased by calling 011-171-344-4444

BERNADETTE PETERS
May 9 in Knoxville, TN at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum
May 17 in Purchase, NY (venue to come)
May 30 in Phoenix, AZ at the Orpheum Theatre
June 2 in Toronto, ON at the Roy Thomson Hall
July 4 in St. Louis, MO at the Fair Saint Louis
July 17 in San Francisco, CA at the Louise Davie Hall
August 11 in Philadelphia, PA at the Mann Music Center
September 11-12 in Nashville, TN at the Andrew Jackson Hall
October 10 in Spring, TX at the Centrum
October 16-17 in Atlanta, GA at the Rialto Theatre
February 13, 1999 in Birmingham, AL (venue to come)
February 20 in Toledo, OH (venue to come)
April 9-10 in Kansas City, Kansas (venue to come)
December 31 in Colorado Springs, CO (venue to come)

A SWELL PARTY
A plethora of performers will unite this June for a three-evening extravaganza that celebrates the art form that is called cabaret. Titled "A Swell Party," the celebration will take place on June 8, 9 and 10 to benefit The Mabel Mercer Foundation. On the first evening, June 8 at 6 PM, a host of newcomers will be welcomed onto the stage of Town Hall. The second evening will pay tribute to the legendary Cole Porter, and those who will warble his songs include Ann Hampton Callaway, Claiborne Cary, Paula Laurence, Marcia Lewis, Marin Mazzie, Liliane Montevecchi, Patricia Morrison, Sidney Meyer, Abe Reybold, Steve Ross, Jon Soleather, David Staller, Elaine Stritch, Margaret Whiting, Julie Wilson and Gretchen Wyler. The final evening commemorates what would have been Gertrude Lawrence's 100th birthday. Donna Murphy will be joined by Jeff Harnar, Celeste Holm, Alix Korey, Andrea Marcovicci, Patricia Morison, Christian Nova, Phillip Officer, KT Sullivan and many others. Ticket orders are accepted only by mail ($10 per performance; send checks made out to "The Mabel Mercer Foundation" to Finell Enterprises, 301 East 79th Street, New York, NY 10021), and further information is available by calling (212) 980-3026 or (212) 980-3109 during regular office hours.

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

e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com