The late cabaret critic Bob Harrington once wrote, "There is no more beautiful musical instrument than the voice of Nancy LaMott." And, I might have to agree. LaMott possessed a rich, lush, honey-toned sound that could be soft, sweet and creamy one minute and big and belty the next. She also possessed a remarkable ability to find the emotional center of any song, bringing a lyric to life as honestly as possible. She could take a warhorse of a song — listen to her definitive version of "Moon River" — and bring it back to full life, and she had a gift for choosing songs that fit perfectly together: "Not a Day Goes By" and "Good Thing Going" was one exceptional medley, and "Out of This World" and "So in Love" another.
Well, fans of the late singer have reason to rejoice this week. David Friedman — LaMott's friend, the gifted composer of several of her signature tunes and the man to whom she entrusted her recorded legacy — has finally reached an agreement with LaMott's family and her estate that will allow him to reissue her several recordings and create new ones from a wealth of unreleased material.
Friedman had promised his friend on her deathbed (LaMott lost her battle with cancer in 1995 at the age of 44) that he would continue to release her recordings until the entire world heard her sing. LaMott's estate and family almost made that promise impossible, but a recent agreement will now allow the composer/conductor to fulfill that vow. I spoke with an excited Friedman about the news earlier this week. He explained that the agreement was reached with "a lot of quiet, behind-the-scenes work. [LaMott's musical director] Christopher Marlow had a lot to do with it — just speaking to people and saying, 'Look, David holds the rights [to Nancy's recordings]. You're not going to be able to do anything with them. There's all this material [available for release].' And everybody, one by one, the family and the estate, signed."
Friedman plans to issue several new CDs as well as videos/DVDs of concerts LaMott performed throughout her career. "I have a box full of material," Friedman told me, "a lot of stuff that Bradshaw Smith recorded, stuff from television, stuff from her early years. It varies in quality — you're not going to get anything that's been done in the studio. We have live performances from San Francisco. We have all the club acts from Don't Tell Mama, and you see her different weight, her different hairdos during the years, all sorts of demos that she did. It's really interesting." The composer, who is currently busy rehearsing his new revue, Listen to My Heart: The Songs of David Friedman (performances begin Oct. 9 at Upstairs at Studio 54), also hopes to create a television film about LaMott's life. "We actually have a treatment for a movie of the week," said Friedman, "and we're starting to put that together about her life. I did the treatment years ago. We did her life story and put it down. And Victoria Lang, my producer of Listen to My Heart, wants to work on it with me, and I have various people who want to work on it, and [LaMott's friend] Kathie Lee [Gifford], of course, is very excited about it, and she'll do anything to promote that."
Friedman hopes to release a LaMott CD or video by the spring of 2004. For more information about LaMott, Friedman or to purchase LaMott's existing recordings (“Beautiful Baby,” “Come Rain or Come Shine: The Songs of Johnny Mercer,” “My Foolish Heart,” “Just in Time for Christmas” and “Listen to My Heart” and the posthumously issued “What’s Good About Goodbye?"), visit www.middermusic.com.
For me, Kerry Butler was the vocal highlight of the Tony-winning musical Hairspray: Her belty tones in the show's finale, "You Can't Stop the Beat," were especially thrilling. Now, Butler is ready to take centerstage in the upcoming Broadway bow of Little Shop of Horrors, playing Audrey, the ditzy plant shop worker with a heart of gold. I had the chance to chat with the talented Butler at the recent press preview of the musical, which begins previews at the Virginia Theatre Aug. 29. That brief interview follows:
Question: How are rehearsals going?
Kerry Butler: Great, I think we're far ahead. We did our second run-through yesterday.
Q: How did your casting come about?
KB: I was doing Hairspray, and it's the same producers as Hairspray. They told me that they wanted to bring me in for it, so I went in. And, also, I've worked with Alan Menken before and Michael Kosarin. They all knew me, and they told me that they thought that I would be great in the part. So, it was kind of good to go in having people behind me already. I'd never worked with Jerry [Zaks] before, so he was the only one who didn't know me, so I had to go in and sing the songs and do some scenes.
Q: How is he as a director?
KB: He's great. He knows exactly what he wants, and he totally knows comedy, so we're all just trusting him [laughs]. I tell everybody if I'm really good in the show, then it's all Jerry, and if I'm really bad in the show, it's all Jerry, because I completely trust him. He has a good track record [laughs]. He's been around a while, so he knows what he's doing, I think.
Q:You've had a good year or two.
Q: How was the last Hairspray performance for you?
KB: Oh, it was sad. I had wished that I had more time to prepare, to think, 'Oh, it's the last time I'm going to be doing this scene,' but it happened so quickly that on my last show, I just told everyone, 'Hold it together because people paid a lot of money,' and then at the end of 'You Can't Stop the Beat,' I burst out crying. I just loved doing that show so much, and I'm so close with everybody there. We're such a family, and now I'm going to be right across the street.
Q: You also were part of the reading of Alan Menken's The Little Mermaid. What's happening with that?
KB: I don't know [laughs]! Your guess is as good as mine. It was great. [Menken] wrote amazing new songs, a lot of new songs, it was so good. We'll see. . . I did the demo and the reading, and then that's it [laughs].
Q: Have you ever seen a production of Little Shop?
KB: I saw the movie, and I think I may have seen the Off Broadway show. My parents went to see it, so I think I may gone with them.
Q:What's your take on Audrey?
KB: I think that she just sees the best in everything. She's very very trusting . . . Her issues with men and stuff just come from her childhood . . . her father left her. She has such a low self image that she thinks that nobody would ever like her, and I think she tries to please people, but she has a really good heart.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Jodi Benson and Joey McIntyre will replace the previously announced Rachel York and Neil Patrick Harris in the upcoming Reprise! concert of Babes in Arms. Featuring direction by Glenn Casale and choreography by Dan Mojica, the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart classic will play UCLA's Freud Playhouse Sept. 9-21 with an official opening set for Wednesday, Sept. 10. Gerald Sternbach is musical director for the production, which features such classic tunes as “Where or When,” “Babes in Arms,” “I Wish I Were in Love Again,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Johnny One Note” and “The Lady Is a Tramp.” The Babes in Arms cast also features Ruta Lee, Tom Beyer, Richard Bulda, Beth Curry, Jenna Leigh Green, Seth Hampton, Biff Ingenthorn, Christa Jackson, Beth Malone, Bets Malone, Claci Miller, Vincent Ortega, Jeffrey Schecter, Steve Vinovich, Rick Wasserman and Anna White. The UCLA Freud Playhouse is located within Macgowan Hall. Tickets, priced at $55 and $65, are available by calling the UCLA central ticket office at (310) 825-2101. Go to www.reprise.org for more information. . . . A dozen of cabaret's finest performers will offer an An Evening of American Cabaret Sept. 8 at San Francisco's Herbst Theater. Presented by The Mabel Mercer Foundation in association with Bill Lanese, the 8 PM concert will boast the talents of Christine Andreas, Andrea Marcovicci, Klea Blackhurst, Wesla Whitfield (with Mike Greensill), KT Sullivan, Spencer Day, Jeff Harnar, Sidney Myer, Georga Osborne, Craig Rubano and Lumiri Tubo. Tickets for the concert are priced $25-$75 and are available at the City Box Office, 401 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, CA. For more information call (415) 392-4400 or visit www.cityboxoffice.com. . . . Academy Award-nominated director Rob Marshall will serve as Honorary Chairman for the upcoming S.T.A.G.E. Too event, Sing Happy: The Words & Music of John Kander and Fred Ebb. The Oct. 25 concert at Los Angeles' Luckman Fine Arts Complex will salute the works of Kander and Ebb, who have created such Broadway musicals as Cabaret, Chicago, Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Act, Woman of the Year, Zorba and The Rink.The evening will include soon-to-be-announced stars of stage, screen and television and will benefit The Actors' Fund of America. David Galligan will direct the 8 PM concert, which will feature musical direction by Ben Lanzarone. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — executive producers of the Miramax's Oscar-winning "Chicago" — will be on hand to receive the Nedda Harrigan Logan Award. The Luckman Fine Arts Complex is located on the campus of California State University at 5151 State University Drive. Tickets range from $40-$250, and sponsorships are available for $2,500-$25,000. Advance priority ticket orders can be placed by calling (323) 933-9266, ext. 54. Visit www.actorsfund.org for more information. . . . Although rehearsals have yet to begin for the new Off-Broadway revue, Listen to My Heart: The Songs of David Friedman, a cast recording has already been announced. Midder Music, the label Friedman started for the late Nancy LaMott, will record the evening of song Oct. 25. Friedman — whose songs have been recorded by Diana Ross, Barry Manilow, Petula Clark and LaMott — confirmed the news to Playbill On-Line, adding, "We're going to record it live — we'll record two performance on the 25th. They'll be special performances that people can come to and watch the recording of the album." The revue will play Upstairs at Studio 54 beginning Oct. 9 with an official opening set for Oct. 23. The cast includes The Wild Party's Alix Korey, Victor/Victoria's Anne Runolfsson, Show Boat's Joe Cassidy with Friedman at the piano. Two additional cast members will be announced shortly; Mark Waldrop — of When Pigs Fly fame — will direct. Upstairs at Studio 54 is located in Manhattan at 254 West 54th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. The revue will play Tuesday through Friday evenings at 8 PM, Saturdays at 7 and 10 PM with matinees on Wednesdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Tickets — priced $60-$65 — are available by calling (212) 239-6200. For more information, visit http://ListenToMyHeartSite.com. . . . And, finally, don't forget that the Tony-nominated star of Mamma Mia!, Louise Pitre, will make her Joe's Pub concert debut this Monday, Aug. 25 at 7 and 9:30 PM. Accompanied by musical director Diane Leah, Pitre will perform an eclectic mix of tunes, featuring songs by or associated with Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, Al Jolson and Bonnie Raitt. Tickets for Pitre's Joe's Pub concerts are priced at $25 (in advance) and $30 (at the door). Call (212) 239-6200 for tickets; those wishing to dine before the show should make reservations by calling (212) 539-8778. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street.
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Aug. 29-30 at the Stockbridge Cabaret in Stockbridge, MA
Oct. 11 with the Binghamton Philharmonic Pops in Binghamton, NY
Oct. 20 at the 14th Annual New York Cabaret Convention in New York, NY
Jan. 31, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
May 1, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
Aug. 22-23 in Passion at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Jan. 23, 2004 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jan. 24, 2004 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Karen Mason in Concert:
Aug. 18 at the King Kong Room in New York, NY
Oct. 4 with the Chicagoland Pops Orchestra at the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, IL
Oct. 18 at the Emelin Theater in NY
Nov. 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!