DIVA TALK: Laurie's Legacy; Divas Go 'Back To Before'

DIVA TALK: Laurie's Legacy; Divas Go 'Back To Before' Hello diva lovers! Just a few items today as we begin the holiday weekend. Have a great diva-filled holiday. . .

Hello diva lovers! Just a few items today as we begin the holiday weekend. Have a great diva-filled holiday. . .

LAURIE BEECHMAN

I was contacted earlier this week by Tony Swanick, who is the Director of Communications for United States Representative Jon D. Fox. Fox is currently working on legislation to honor Laurie Beechman--the late star of Annie, Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Les Miserables -- who lost her battle with ovarian cancer this past March. Laurie's parents live in Congressman Fox's district, and Fox is about to introduce a series of initiatives that will address the issues surrounding ovarian cancer. To honor Laurie's memory, these issues will be assembled under the title, The Laurie Beechman Memorial Act. According to Mr. Swanick, the bills that will comprise this act have been designed to accomplish the following three goals:

1. Increase funding for research into the disease through the National Institutes of Health in an effort to improve the survival rate and move us closer to a cure.

2. Increase funding for educational programs including those which provide information to both the person with the illness as well as her family. This funding would be administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. 3. Authorize the minting of a coin to honor Laurie Beechman and raise awareness about ovarian cancer. Proceeds from the sale of this coin would go to Gilda's Club where Laurie and so many others have found the solace and assistance they needed as they fought the cancer."

A press conference will be held in Washington July 11, the day these bills are scheduled to be introduced. Later that day, Fox will organize other members who will pay tribute to Beechman, and they will also discuss the challenges that this nation faces in the battle against the disease that claimed Laurie's life.

Although there is no date set at this time, another event will be held in New York City to display and sell the coin minted in Laurie's honor, and this fundraiser will benefit Gilda's Club. And finally, a benefit concert is being planned in Philadelphia to be held at the Walnut Street Theater. Many of Beechman's colleagues are expected to perform, and the target date for this event is Dec. 1998. Stay tuned for more details on all of these events.

For those who would like more information about the upcoming legislation, contact Mr. Swanick at Congressman Fox's office: voice ( 202) 225-6111; fax - (202) 225-3155.

FLAHERTY'S DIVAS

A recent Tony winner for his ravishing score to Ragtime, Stephen Flaherty will be a piano soloist with the Boston Pops Orchestra during this Saturday's live Independence Day broadcast on the A&E Network. Flaherty will play the title tune from Ragtime, and the segment will also feature Marin Mazzie's wonderful rendition of her second-act showstopper, "Back to Before." Fans of Ragtime are also in for a rare treat, a chance to hear another Coalhouse and Sarah perform "Wheels of a Dream." Alton White and Darlesia Cearcy, both from the Washington, D.C. company, will perform this beautiful song on the A&E broadcast, which will begin at 7:30 p.m. A full chorus will also be on hand to support the Ragtime stars. So, if you plan to be out watching the fireworks on Saturday night, be sure to set your VCRs for this July 4th treat.

SONDHEIM'S DIVAS

Last week I celebrated my 30th birthday, and a friend gave me the new Stephen Sondheim biography, simply titled "Stephen Sondheim," as a gift. I've been reading a bit each night, and thought I would include some of Sondheim's quotes about the many women in the theatre he has worked with over the years. For those of you who are Sondheim fans, this 461 page book by author Meryle Secrest is a must read.

Bernadette Peters:
--Sondheim explains Peters' hesitance about making the move to Broadway after her participation in the workshop of Sunday in the Park with George:

"She said you sort of lose Dot after the first scene. She makes appearances, but you don't know what she is going through . . . At first we thought, 'Well, she just wants a couple more songs,' or something like that. But the more we thought, the more it made sense, and we were wondering how to work her into second park scene after 'Color and Light.' I don't know how it came up, but John Guare said, 'Why doesn't she learn to read while he's drawing?,' and it clicked. . .That kind of suggestion is invaluable."

Donna Murphy:
--about Donna Murphy's audition for the role of Fosca in Passion: "Hers was one of the most astonishing auditions I have seen. . .I have never known an actress to understand a character that thoroughly. . . It was absolutely extraordinary."

Ethel Merman:
-- about seeking advice from Oscar Hammerstein for writing the lyrics for Gypsy:
"Instead of writing Madame Rose you write for Madame Rose as played by Ethel Merman. It turned out to be very useful, because when I wrote Joanne in Company, I wrote Joanne as played by Elaine Stritch. I wrote Mrs. Lovett as played by Angela Lansbury and Sweeney Todd as played by Len Cariou, too. It's not so much that you tailor the material, but you hear the voice in your head whether you want to or not. I've often made the arch comment that I really don't want to write a score until the show's cast."

--about wanting to add an additional verse to "Some People" during Gypsy's out-of-town tryout in Philadelphia:
"So, we were in Philadelphia, and it was two and a half weeks before opening night, and I wanted a verse for 'Some People' in which she was telling her father to go to hell. And she wouldn't do it. The reason she wouldn't was because she didn't want, as Ethel Merman, to be telling her father to go to hell. So, she used the pretext that the show was 'frozen.' . . .And Jerry [Robbins] said, in front of everybody, something to the effect that 'if you were half as talented as she is, there might be a point to this,' or 'more professional,' but the point was, he was saying, 'You're not worthy of . . .' And he was furious because he knew I was right, and he didn't want to face her. I was just stunned."


AUDRA McDONALD
The three-time Tony winner who currently stars as Sarah in Ragtime was interviewed for American Theatre magazine about a month before she won her latest Tony. In Kipp Cheng's article, the multi talented actress discusses her onstage career thus far. What follows are a few quotes from Cheng's article, which is entitled "Someone Lovely This Way Comes."

about her desire to be on Broadway:
"I remember putting on the cassette of Funny Girl and acting out all of the parts in the living room when I came home from school. I've always wanted to be on Broadway."

about acting opposite Zoe Caldwell in Master Class:
"Oh, my God. She is just it for me. She's such a force of nature, on and off stage. She is like my touchstone. A ruby-red gem I touch and get my energy. I learned so much from Zoe during Master Class." about her desire to only do film and TV when it's right:
"I couldn't see myself doing Booty Call. No offense to the people who made the movie, but it's not what I do. I know it sounds lofty, but I'm not saying everybody should be like me. Besides, I don't think they would cast me in Booty Call anyway."

IN OTHER NEWS . . . Patti LuPone's recent concert in Connecticut was quite thrilling, according to one New York theatre press agent. LuPone sang Ragtime's "Back To Before" to the delight of its composers, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who were both in attendance. LuPone also included a smattering of Rodgers and Hammerstein tunes as well as many songs by contemporary composers like Jimmy Webb . . . "Back to Before " will also be the title of Kim Criswell's next album, which she will record in London next month . . . Elaine Paige's concert in London on June 18 was also a smash, according to a handful of diva lovers who particularly enjoyed Paige's soaring version of "From a Distance."

REMINDERS:

BETTY BUCKLEY
BB will perform at 7:30 and 10 pm on October 30 and 31, and on November 1 show times are 4 pm (the "songs by request" concert) and 8:30 pm. The Bottom Line is located at 15 West 4th Street, and tickets will be on sale at the Bottom Line box office in the near future. PETULA CLARK
Before Petula Clark begins touring as Norma Desmond in the second national company of Sunset Boulevard, she has a few concerts lined up in the U.S. and in the U.K. First up, is a performance at the Resorts International Hotel (1-800-322-SHOW) in Atlantic City from September 2-7. Then, Clark will perform in the U.K. in the following areas:
September 15 Cheltenham Town Hall (01242 227979)
September 16 Rhyl Pavilion (01745 330000)
September 18 Leamington Spa Royal Spa Centre (01926 334418)
September 19 Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall (01892 530613)
September 20 Worthing Pavilion (01903 820500)
September 21 Reading Hexagon (0118 9606060)
September 23 Bexhill-on-Sea De La Warr Pavilion (01424 787900)


DISNEY'S DIVAS
Epcot Center in Walt Disney World will host an array of divas beginning next month in a concert series that includes three of Broadway's favorite ladies: Jodi (Crazy for You) Benson, Judy (Chess) Kuhn and Susan (Triumph of Love) Egan. Backed by the Disney Grammy College Orchestra, the concerts are free to anyone who happens to be in the Disney park at that time (entrance to Disney World is approximately $44). Benson is scheduled to perform on July 11 and 12, Judy Kuhn on July 25 and 26 and Susan Egan on August 1 and 2. The mini-concerts will take place four times a day: 4pm, 5:30pm, 6:45pm and 8pm. Call (407) 824-2222 or (407) 824-4321 for more information; times and singers are subject to change.

DONMAR DIVAS
There will be a four-week season of "Divas at the Donmar "-- London's Donmar Warehouse, the theatre that first premiered the current incarnation of Cabaret. As previously mentioned, Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway will kick off the season from August 10-22. Following the sister act will be Barbara Cook from August 24-29, and Imelda Staunton and Her Big Band will finish the diva season from September 1-5 .

JUDY KUHN
The revival of As Thousands Cheer stars Judy Kuhn, Howard McGillin, Paula Newsome, Mary Beth Peil, B. D. Wong and Kevin Chamberlin. Now in performance at the Greenwich House Theatre (27 Barrow Street, near 7th Avenue South), the musical revue is directed by Christopher (Jeffrey) Ashley. Tickets are only $12 and may be purchased by calling (212) 541-8441.

FLORENCE LACEY
Florence Lacey will be returning to Broadway in An Evening with Jerry Herman, which will also star Lee Roy Reams and the Tony Award winning composer himself. The musical revue, which traces Herman's Broadway career, will begin performances at the Booth Theatre on July 15 with an official opening on July 28. Call Tele-charge at (212) 239-6200 for tickets.

PATTI LuPONE
LuPone will also perform in concert on August 28 and 29 at The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles; call (562) 916-8500.

KAREN MASON
Karen Mason currently stars (through August 29) in the Sundance Institute's production of Gypsy on their outdoor Eccles Stage in Sundance, Utah. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Sundance Box Office at (801) 225-4100.

MAUREEN McGOVERN
Maureen McGovern has joined the national touring company of The King and Following is the tour schedule to date:
June 19 - July 5, Chicago, IL at the Auditorium Theatre (312) 431-2395)

ELAINE PAIGE
Tickets are available to The Misanthrope by calling 011-44-171 287-0464.

BERNADETTE PETERS
July 4 in St. Louis, MO at the Fair Saint Louis
July 17 in San Francisco, CA at the Louise Davie Hall
Aug. 11 in Philadelphia, PA at the Mann Music Center
Sept. 11-12 in Nashville, TN at the Andrew Jackson Hall
Oct. 10 in Spring, TX at the Centrum
Oct. 16-17 in Atlanta, GA at the Rialto Theatre
Feb. 13, 1999 in Birmingham, AL (venue to come)
Feb. 20 in Toledo, OH (venue to come)
Apr. 9-10 in Kansas City, Kansas (venue to come)
Dec. 31 in Colorado Springs, CO (venue to come)


I LOVE NEW YORK
Janet Metz and Heather MacRae will be joined by Bryan Batt and Lewis Cleale in the musical celebration I Love New York at Rainbow & Stars beginning June 2. Rainbow & Stars is located on the 65th floor at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. There is a $40 entertainment charge; call 212-632-5000 for reservations.

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

-- By Andrew Gans