Mary Cleere Haran is one of the most intelligent and elegant performers currently brightening up the cabaret scene. A San Francisco native, she has become an expert interpreter of the popular American standard. Haran brings her charm, expertise and talent to Lincoln Center's American Songbook series next weekend for three different evenings of song at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. I had the chance to chat with the witty Haran earlier this week, who is currently preparing for her three-night engagement, which will include a master class (Nov. 13), a tribute to the film "The Band Wagon" (Nov. 14) and her own concert (Nov. 15).
Haran's acts always have the air of a time gone by, a more romantic world where families gathered around the piano to sing the tunes of the Gershwins or Cole Porter. So, it's not surprising to learn that her biggest musical influences were three women who triumphed singing the works of the popular American songbook: Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee. "I loved Judy Garland when I was a girl," says Haran, "because she meant everything she sang — just that warmth, that beautiful warmth in her voice. And then when I was around 18 or 19, I heard Ella Fitzgerald, and I just flipped. She sounded like an angel, plus you could hear every single lyric, so I went into a big, big Ella overdrive for many, many years. And then I saw Peggy Lee when I was about 19.
"She was pretty kooky," Haran adds, "even when she was young. As she got older, her shows got maybe stranger, but she always appealed to me. It was just enchanting and bizarre. She created her own little universe but in a very wacky way, and it was so romantic. It was at the height of rock, and here were these gorgeous arrangements by Johnny Mandel and that supper club atmosphere. I'm very left wing and progressive and anti-war, but I couldn't help but be enthralled with what she was doing." Later, Haran admits, she began to enjoy the vocal work of Doris Day, whom she was originally "put off by her squeaky clean persona. But what a great singer! She really embodies the song. She was a big fan of Ella's singing, too. When [Doris Day] broke her leg, she listened [to Ella] while she was convalescing for months."
Although her predilection is for songs of the Golden Age — the Rodgers and Hart team is a particular favorite — Haran does admire a few composers working today. "I've always loved Paul Simon," says the singer actress, "and Randy Newman. I'm very outdated. Jimmy Webb has just written the music for a Broadway show, and he's incredible. He's doing a musical version of 'The Bronx Tale,' and I just heard him recently with Michael Feinstein, and he is amazing. Simon, Jimmy Webb and Randy Newman really have followed that tradition [of great songwriters]. They also know very much about that canon of music — maybe that's why I'm drawn to them so much because they know the great songs." She adds with a laugh, "I usually tell people when they give me music that I don't sing anything written by anybody that's still alive! I can't go there. I like simplicity. I much prefer simplicity and directness rather than that intellectual rhyming all over the place." Haran also spoke about her upcoming Lincoln Center weekend, which will commence with a Master Class with graduate students currently attending the Tisch School of the Arts. "They're all really well-trained," says Haran, "and they're also very into their careers; they're sincere about singing. There's something wonderful and bright-eyed about them and hopeful. They're just perfect to work with. I basically tell them how when you're in a smaller room, you don't have to project so much, how you can just let yourself feel the song." Haran, who has led master classes numerous times, says that both student and audience are often thoroughly moved by the process. "What's so great in these classes," she explains, "is you see the student and the audience discovering who that student is at the same time. It's a wonderful feeling. It's also educational for an audience. It's something I truly love. And I'm very into Frank Capra movies, and it's very Frank Capraesque. It's very positive and beautiful." Haran also has specific advice for those seeking a career in the world of cabaret. "Find an idol or two," she says. "Figure out who he or she is. Read everything you can about that person, how they made it, what their story was. Go to the Museum of Broadcasting, and try to see anything you can on them. See their movies. Go up to the Billy Rose, and see their stuff on the stage. Listen to their recordings, and then go see everybody you can afford. The older the performer the better, in a way, because you'll really learn what's right. I always used to say, 'Go see Rosemary Clooney,' which now I can't. But Julie Wilson certainly. And then live — don't be afraid to have a life!"
Haran's second Lincoln Center evening will salute the classic 1953 movie musical "The Band Wagon," which was directed by Vincente Minnelli and featured a screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Haran first encountered the film while she was in rehearsals for her one Broadway outing, the 1979 musical The 1940's Radio Hour. Haran says, "The fact that it was about putting together a Broadway show was kind of eerie, and our show was in trouble. I enjoyed the film so much. I just found it dazzling. I found it so witty and ironic, and Fred Astaire is sort of making fun of his image. And I adore the fact that Comden and Green put themselves into the movie. And the numbers are heavenly — it was at the height of the Arthur Freed unit at MGM. I think the production is just dazzling. Vincente Minnelli's direction is so beautiful, and the sets are so exquisite. . . And I love the score — the [Arthur] Schwartz and [Howard] Dietz — and because they wrote revues mostly when they were a team, it's so wonderful to have 'The Band Wagon' then be about a revue. . . And I just love Comden and Green scripts; they're so inside."
The final evening — simply titled Pure Ambrosia — will feature a concert performance from Haran, who will offer such tunes as "I Remember You" and "On the Atchinson, Topeka and the Santa Fe." Haran will also spotlight her musicians, Chip Jackson (bass) and Don Rebic (piano). "Because I'm in such a teaching mood, I would really like to incorporate my musicians as well because they're a big part of what a show is, and also they come with their own sensibilities and their own background," Haran says. "We're all around the same age, and sometimes it's nice to let an audience know who they are."
For those who clamor for still more Mary Cleere Haran, she will be featured this February at the 92nd Street Y in a show that she is producing herself about the works of Harry Warren. "I'm doing Harry Warren because I love him," says Haran, "and nobody knows who he is. His melodies are so gorgeous. I've been doing a lot of research on him." In fact, you might find Haran among the stacks at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts. "When I first came to New York," Haran explains, "I used to go to the Lincoln Center library, [and] I still to this day go. They have everything there — people leave their papers, Dorothy Fields' lyrics are there, Richard Rodgers has entire scrapbooks there. Maybe people don't find it that important for a singer, but for me it just enriches everything."
(Tickets for the American Songbook series are available at the Alice Tully Hall box office, Broadway and 66th Street; through CenterCharge, 212-721-6500; or on-line at www.lincolncenter.org. The Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse is located at 165 W. 65th Street, Rose Building, 10th Floor. )
FOR THE RECORD The Boy From Oz
Like the new show at the Imperial Theatre, the original Broadway cast recording of The Boy From Oz is pure fun. The musical doesn't strive to reach new dramatic heights—it simply aims to entertain. And, entertain it does, thanks to a thrilling, charming, powerfully sung and sometimes campy performance by Hugh Jackman, who is making his Broadway debut after wowing audiences in his native Australia (Sunset Boulevard) and in London (Oklahoma!). In fact, Jackman offers one of the most enjoyable star turns in recent memory; his joy of being on a Broadway stage is obvious, and that feeling spreads throughout the audience. Based on the life of the late composer/singer Peter Allen, the musical employs about two-dozen songs from Allen's songbook, including such hits as "Don't Cry Out Loud," "Best That You Can Do" and "I Honestly Love You" as well as lesser-known gems like "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love" and "I Still Call Australia Home."
Jackman possesses an appealing voice — with the range of a tenor but with the weight of a baritone — and scores on most every song he delivers. Highlights of the show (and the Decca Broadway recording) include Jackman's opening number, "The Lives of Me," which draws the audience in from his first note; "Quiet Please, There's a Lady On Stage," one of the show's most moving moments; Jackman's tender duet with Jarrod Emick on "Love Don't Need a Reason"; Jackman's full-voiced "I Still Call Australia Home" and his stirring 11 o'clock number, "Once Before I Go." There are also fine vocal contributions from the aforementioned Emick, who offers a gentle version of "I Honestly Love You"; Stephanie J. Block, who, as Liza Minnelli, delivers one of Allen's best ballads, "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love"; and Isabel Keating, who belts out a fierce "Don't Wish Too Hard" in the guise of Judy Garland.
The 26-track recording also features a bonus of Allen's "Tenterfield Saddler," sung by star Jackman. The Boy From Oz hits stores Nov. 18.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Barbra Streisand has launched a year-long charity auction of her personal and professional memorabilia on Ebay. The fundraiser, which began Oct. 31, will include hundreds of items from the director/actor/singer's life and wardrobe. The first item — the Arnold Scaasi-designed pantsuit that the actress wore to the 1969 Academy Awards — is now available on-line. (Streisand won the Oscar that year for her performance in "Funny Girl.") Upcoming items include the 1940's period hinged three-piece dressing screen from the film "The Mirror Has Two Faces," a full-length gown from the 1966 TV special "Color Me Barbra" and a show jacket from the Streisand "Timeless" tour in 2000. The auction will benefit various charities served by The Streisand Foundation. For more information visit BarbraStreisand.com. . . One star of Broadway's The Mystery of Edwin Drood will follow another Drood player at the plush cabaret Feinstein's at the Regency. Tony Award winner Betty Buckley, who concludes her acclaimed run at the posh nightspot Nov. 8, will be succeeded by Dame Cleo Laine, who begins her stint Nov. 11. Buckley, of course, played the title role in the aforementioned Rupert Holmes musical, while Cleo Laine was cast as Princess Puffer. Laine's husband, famed jazz musician John Dankworth, will also join the singer for her Feinstein's engagement, which ends Nov. 15. Laine is expected to perform songs from her legendary career, which includes Grammy nominations in three categories: Female Jazz, Popular and Classical. Laine and Dankworth will perform at Feinstein's Tuesday-Saturday evening at 8:30 PM with late shows on Friday and Saturday at 11 PM. All shows have a $60 cover and a $30 minimum; call (212) 339-4095 for reservations. Feinstein's at the Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. . . . A host of Broadway's finest talent — including Patti LuPone, Chita Rivera, Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth — will take part in Great Joy! A Holiday Celebration from Broadway. The Dec. 15 concert at the New Amsterdam Theatre will benefit the Actors' Fund of America and is designed to "become a new, annual tradition." The evening will feature original pieces written by Tony Award winners Terrence McNally and David Henry Hwang as well as appearances from cast members of most every Broadway show. As of press time, those scheduled to take part in the event include the aforementioned LuPone, Rivera, Lane and Neuwirth as well as Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, Edie Falco, Eartha Kitt, Roger Rees, Rosie Perez, Phylicia Rashad, Norbert Leo Butz, Sherie Rene Scott, Alice Ripley, Mario Cantone, Gavin Creel, Richard Kind, Norm Lewis, Elizabeth Parkinson and Billy Porter. Michael McElroy and the Broadway Inspirational Voices will also take part in the star-studded evening. The creative team for the Dec. 15 benefit includes Lisa Leguillo, Paul Dobie, Michael McElroy and Seth Rudetsky. Tickets range from $50-$1,000 and are available by calling (212) 221-7300, ext. 133. For more information visit www.actorsfund.org. . . . Judy Kaye, Liz Callaway and Luann Aronson are The Leading Ladies of Broadway at a Nov. 10 concert in Washington, D.C. The talented trio will perform an evening of Broadway classics to benefit the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center. The one-night-only event held in the Aaron and Cecile Goldman Theater will include dinner, performance and a dessert reception. Show time is 7 PM. Tickets are priced $100 (performance and dessert reception) and $250 (dinner, performance and reception) and are available by calling (202) 777-3259. The District of Columbia Jewish Community Center is located in Washington, D.C., at 1529 16th St NW; for more information visit www.dcjcc.org. . . . Darlene Love, who starred as Miss Gardner in the short-lived cult classic musical Carrie, brings her annual Christmas concert to New York's Symphony Space on Dec. 19 and 20. Her brand-new holiday show is entitled "Solid Gold Christmas" and will include Love's solid gold hits as well as numerous Christmas classics. Love's evening will feature a rock-n-roll band, a full holiday choir and a special guest appearance by the Tony nominated star of Smokey Joe's Cafe, B.J. Crosby. The December concerts will mark the first time Love and Crosby have performed together onstage. Concertgoers can also expect Love to belt her signature holiday tune, "Christmas Baby Please Come Home," which she will also perform on "The David Letterman Show" Dec. 23. It's a busy time for the singer-actress, who will begin touring in the 20th anniversary production of Nunsense in December. The tour of the Dan Goggin musical plays through May 2004. Tickets for Love's 8 PM holiday concerts, priced between $45 and $65, can be obtained by calling the Symphony Space box office at (212) 864-5400 or by logging on to www.supremeconcerts.com. Symphony Space is located in New York City at Broadway and 95th Street. . . . During his upcoming engagement at Mama Rose's in Manhattan, Simply Barbra star Steven Brinberg will welcome special guests Robin DeJesus and Barrett Foa. DeJesus — who appears in the new film "Camp" — will join Brinberg Nov. 28, and Mamma Mia!'s Barrett Foa will make an appearance Nov. 29. Brinberg has labeled his latest tribute to Academy Award-winning actress Barbra Streisand "Second Hand Rose on Second Avenue." Simply Barbra will play Mama Rose's Nov. 14, 15, 21, 28 and 29. Show time is 9:30 PM. Mama Rose's is located in Manhattan at 219 Second Avenue, between 13th and 14th Streets. There is a $20 cover charge and a two-drink minimum; call (212) 533-0558 for reservations. . . . And, finally, Jamie deRoy will celebrate her "annual" 30th birthday with a host of stars from the worlds of Broadway and cabaret. Those joining deRoy for her yearly celebration on Nov. 22 include Grammy-winning songwriter Julie Gold, best known for the Bette Midler hit "From a Distance"; the three-person group Modern Man, featuring David Buskin, Rob Carlson and George Wurzbach; Australian sensation Shaun Rennie; Terry Burrell, the current Muzzy standby in Thoroughly Modern Millie; MAC Award winner Tom Andersen; and vocalists Lynelle Johnson and Simone Wells. Barry Kleinbort will direct the evening with musical direction by Lanny Myers. There is a $20 cover charge ($10 for MAC members) and a two-drink minimum for the concert, which will be held in the West Bank Cafe's Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 West 42nd Street. Call (212) 695 6909 for reservations.
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Through Nov. 8 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 22 at the Dominican University in River Forest, IL
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Nov. 8 with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in Hartford, CT
Nov. 10 in The Three Leading Ladies of Broadway in Washington, DC
Dec. 13 in Arlington, VA
Jan. 17, 2004 in Asheville, NC
Jan. 31 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 8 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
Feb. 14 with Jason Graae in Palm Springs, CA
Feb. 26-28 with Jason Graae in West Palm Beach, FL
April 24-25 with Jason Graae in San Rafael, CA
May 1 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Nov. 22 in Mostly Sondheim Revisited at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Nov. 29 in Mostly Sondheim at the Paramount Theatre in Peeksill, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
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:
Nov. 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!