DIVA TALK: Latest on Betty, Judy, Ethel and...

DIVA TALK: Latest on Betty, Judy, Ethel and... Hello, diva lovers. Just a few items this week as we go into the Valentine's Day weekend. Enjoy . . .

Hello, diva lovers. Just a few items this week as we go into the Valentine's Day weekend. Enjoy . . .

BETTY BUCKLEY
Tonight, Feb. 13, Betty Buckley returns to one of her and her fans' favorite New York venues, The Bottom Line. In the past decade Buckley has delighted audiences at this Village legend (15 West 4th Street) on numerous occasions with her eclectic repertoire of country, pop and Broadway tunes. BB will perform a mostly new set of songs on Feb. 13, 14 and 15. You can expect to hear her version of the Rodgers and Hart classic "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" that she recently sang at the Terrence McNally salute presented by The Drama League.

Buckley's Bottom Line program is entitled "Heart to Heart," and show times are 7:30 and 10 PM on Feb. 13 and 14, and 4 PM and 8:30 PM on Feb. 15. At the 4 PM show on Sunday, Betty will perform a special "Songs by Request" program--those attending may request songs from Betty's vast repertoire. It's the perfect opportunity to ask for "Meadowlark," "With One Look," "September Song" and other Buckley gems. Be sure to get to the Bottom Line this weekend--it's always a terrific evening. I'll be there at the second show on Sunday and will have a full report next week.


JUDY KUHN
One of my favorite ladies, Judy Kuhn, is back onstage this weekend in the first of the season's Encores! productions at City Center. Kuhn possesses one of the most thrilling voices of her generation, and it will be a pleasure to hear her sing the Gershwin standard, "The Man I Love," in Strike Up the Band. Kuhn will also get the chance to wrap her voice around such other Gershwin tunes as "Soon" and "Hoping That Someday You'd Care." Others in the cast include David (Titanic) Elder, Philip (Moon Over Buffalo) Bosco, Lynn (Shakespeare for My Father) Redgrave and Jere (Passion) Shea. If you can get a ticket this weekend, you will not be disappointed. The Encores! presentations have become highlights of the theatre season.


MARIN MAZZIE
It's been such a busy couple of weeks, diva-wise that is, that I haven't had a chance to write about Marin Mazzie's beautiful performance in Ragtime, a performance that was, for me, the highlight of this dazzling production. As great as Brian Stokes Mitchell is as Coalhouse, it is Mazzie's character, Mother, who is the driving force of the evening. Not only does Mazzie possess a gorgeous voice that can be soft and gentle one moment and big and soaring the next, but she manages to be touching in every scene she plays. One of the most moving moments of the musical is a small scene between Mother and Tateh at a railroad station in New Rochelle when Mother's son notices that Tateh has his daughter on a leash. Mazzie's work in that scene will pull at your heartstrings. The former co-star of Passion and And the World Goes Round has also been given one of the show's greatest songs, "Back to Before," which she builds to a thrilling, belty finish; Mazzie is equally moving in quieter moments, such as "Goodbye, My Love," "What Kind of Woman" and "New Music." Praise should also be given to Audra McDonald whose thrilling vocals are another highlight of Broadway's newest hit.

MORE MERMAN
Last week, I included quotes about the late, great Ethel Merman from some of the musical theatre's leading ladies. This week I thought you'd like to read Merman reminiscences from some of the men of the theatre:

-Jerry Orbach:
I appeared in the 1966 Lincoln Center revival of Annie Get Your Gun with Ethel, whom I was crazy about. One night she spoke to Bill Ross, the stage manager about me; she saw out of the corner of her eye--she usually faced front--that I was moving at the end of one of her "jokes." Bill said he would watch the next night. He came back after the next show and told her that I was reacting to her joke. She said, "You tell Jerry and everyone else, I don't react to their jokes, and they don't have to react to mine!

-Arthur Laurents:
During the original run of Gypsy, Ethel had a question for her leading man, Jack Klugman. "Is Tab Hunter gay?" she asked. "Is the Pope Catholic?" Klugman responded. "Yes," said Ethel decisively.

-Jerry Herman:
When Hello, Dolly! was in its 7th year and I was about to meet the Great Merman to begin teaching her the score--everyone warned me about how tough she was and how difficult a time I would have. What I found was a loving woman with a marshmallow of a heart who became one of my dearest friends and confidantes--So you see, Merman's exterior and interior were total opposites.


ELAINE PAIGE
I received word this week from a loyal diva watcher that Elaine Paige wowed the audiences at her concerts in New Zealand last week. Thought you'd be interested to read some excerpts from the reviews:

Susan Budd of The Dominion:
"What an opening! What a show! Elaine Paige gave a star performance that
exceeded all expectations in launching the gorgeously restored St. James
Theatre last night. A tiny woman with enormous eyes that seemed to connect with those of every member of the audience, she packed every one of the songs with passion and emotion, drawing a long standing ovation from the capacity house. . .It was fitting that 'Don't Cry For Me, Argentina' was her first song, sung with clarity and sad strength, followed by 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall' from the same show. A short foray into the brittle sweetness of Cole Porter with 'I Get a Kick Out of You' was followed by 'From a Distance,' which she sang with the gutsy power of a gospel singer, reaching high notes with tremendous force. . . Her bracket of Piaf songs climaxed with a terrific performance of 'Non, Je
Ne Regrette Rien,' the signature song of the little Parisienne sparrow,
evincing the same grit and indomitability, not to mention passion, of the
original. Sunset Boulevard is her most recent role, which she performed on Broadway in 1996, and the song of the tortured former silent movie star Norma Desmond ('As If We Never Said Goodbye') proved to be the climax of her performance, intensely dramatic and hugely emotional."

Peter Kitchin in The Evening Post:
"The queen of British musicals was in dazzling form for the reborn St.
James' premiere, and was the right kind of artist to showcase its attributes as a live performance venue. . . Paige has qualities in abundance. Her voice has extraordinary, unrelenting power, and her diction is crisp and sparkling. In addition, she has a command of the stage, and puts it to effective use. Eye dabbers made quick work of their tissues during her dramatic rendering of Edith Piaf's 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.' The Gershwin brothers got sweet treatment with their pithy 'How Long Has This Been Going On,' her version of Cole Porter's 'I Get A Kick Out Of You' was full of zip, and her closing work was a Jimmy Webb charmer (Grow Young). The audience responded to the entire show with nothing less than rapture."

Next week I should have news about Elaine's upcoming London theatre project.


REMINDERS:

NOTHING LIKE A DAME

The third annual production of Nothing Like a Dame will take place on Feb. 23, 1998, at the Shubert Theatre on West 44th Street. The event, which includes an impressive roster of divas, supports the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of the Actors' Fund of America, a program that is committed to the health concerns of women in the entertainment industry. Tickets for Nothing Like a Dame begin at $40 and include seats priced at $100, $200, $500 and $1,000. The $1,000 seats also include a post-show cast party with the dames at John's Pizzeria Times Square. For more information and for tickets, call the DAME-LINE at 1-888-DAME TIX (1-888-326-3849).

DIXIE CARTER
Carter will return to the cabaret stage of the Cafe Carlyle (Madison Avenue at 76th Street) on March 10. Reservations can be made by calling (212) 744-1600.

LINDA EDER
will bring her thrilling vocals to Town Hall on Thursday, Feb. 19 at 8 PM. Tickets are now available through TicketMaster at (212) 307-7171.

EARTHA KITT
The legendary Eartha Kitt continues at Cafe Carlyle ((212) 744-1600) on Madison and 76th Street through March 7. Performances are Tuesday through Saturdays at 8:45 and 10:45, and there is a $50 cover with no minimum.

PATTI LuPONE
On Feb. 14, LuPone sings at the Kravitz Center in West Palm Beach, Florida (tickets available by calling 561-833-8300), and from Feb. 26 through March 1, she will perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. Tickets for these concerts, which range from $30-$48, are now on sale by calling 412-392-4900.

KAREN MASON

For those of you in the metropolitan area who have yet to see Karen Mason live, here's your chance. Mason will join Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops Orchestra on March 20 at Carnegie Hall. Tickets for the evening, which is titled "The Broadway Songbook," range from $17 to $65 and are now on sale at the Carnegie Hall Box Office (881 Seventh Avenue) or by calling CarnegieCharge at (212) 247-7800.

BERNADETTE PETERS
BP's concert schedule follows:
Feb. 14 in Providence, RI at The Veterans Memorial Auditorium
Feb. 24 in Milwaukee, WI at The Bruce Hall
March 6 & 7 in Costa Mesa, CA at The Orange County Performing Arts Center
March 12 in Akron, OH at the E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall, Univ. of Akron
March 14 New Brunswick, NJ at the NJ State Theatre
March 15 Springfield, MA at Symphony Hall
March 27 & 28 in Dayton, OH at the Dayton Convention Center

JULIE WILSON

Julie Wilson is currently performing at Michael's Pub at 57 East 54th Street (between Madison and Park Avenues). Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. There is a $20 music charge Tuesday-Saturday, $25 Friday and Saturday and a $15 food or drink minimum for all performances. Call (212) 758-2272 or (212) 355-0243 for reservations.


ON A PERSONAL NOTE: I will be singing at Don't Tell Mama (343 West 46th Street) for my annual cabaret act on Feb. 14 (at 6 PM) and Feb. 19 (at 9 PM). The show is titled "Ordinary Miracles" and includes songs by David Friedman, Craig Carnelia, John Bucchino, the Bergmans, the Gershwins, Sondheim and more. If you come, please be sure to say hello after the show. Reservations can be made by calling (212) 757-0788.

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

-- By Andrew Gans

e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com