Many distinguished actresses have played the role of Grizabella the Glamour Cat during the 15 years of Cats' Broadway run. Among the "Memory" singers have been (clockwise from top left) Betty Buckley (who originated the role on Broadway), Liz Callaway, Laurie Beechman, Loni Ackerman and Lillias White.
As CATS passes A CHORUS LINE to become Broadway's longest running musical, current and past GRIZABELLAs speak:
When I interviewed Betty Buckley right before her triumphant opening in the Broadway production of Sunset Boulevard, I asked her about a story I had heard that her microphone malfunctioned on her opening night in Cats .
BB related this anecdote: "It was on press night. I was so scared because I didn't know that the critics were going to be there that night. I thought they were going to be there the next night. So the afternoon of that day I found out that they were coming that night, and I just got so frightened I can't tell you. I was really not ready. I was going to be ready for the next night, but that night I didn't feel ready. So I was so nervous my microphone went out. In fact, three of them broke. They changed it three times. All three microphones broke. So I went out onstage for my first appearance as Grizabella and I had no microphone. One reviewer said that I had a strident voice. I thought, 'Yeah, you'd have a strident voice if you were trying to sing in a five-and-a-half million dollar miked musical, and you're the girl singer and you're the only one without a mike.' I was singing at the top of my lungs, and I went down to the foot mikes and sang as loud as I could just to be heard." Miked or not, Betty, of course, went on to win the Tony Award for her superior version of "Memory" in what is now Broadway's longest-running musical. In a recent article for Newsday, writer Patrick Pacheco spoke with various performers and other theatre professionals about Cats including:
Betty Buckley: Cats was like a master's thesis for me. Everything I'd learned about acting came into play with Grizabella, this Marilyn Monroe cat who is Trevor [Nunn's] symbol of homelessness, the cat who represents everybody's fear of aging, death, dying. During rehearsals I was very insecure and under tremendous pressure. I felt that I would never be able to sing "Memory" as good as Barbra Streisand had done it. Also, I was coming off of eight years on the TV series "Eight Is Enough" and this was my first exposure as a musical-theater performer to a lot of people. So I had a really tough time at first, but it was with "Memory" that I first came into awareness of myself as a singer. Now, everywhere I go, my concert audiences expect to hear "Memory," and I'm incredibly grateful to be able to deliver it to them.
Laurie Beechman: When I returned to the show in 1991, it was a personal triumph for me. I'd had cancer in 1989, another bout in 1991 and another one in 1995, and each time [the producers] Bernie Jacobs and Gerry Schoenfeld promised me that they would always make sure that if I wanted to work again they'd find something for me. I came back to the show in 1991 and 1992. Cats has been a lifeline and a family for me. It's not like I'm the Cosmic Queen or anything, but Grizabella's journey--her being shunned or misunderstood or feared--ends with a rebirth to a new life. And to step into the shoes--into the paws--of this character, to be constantly re-inspired with hope and second chances, has meant a lot to me. I just feel such gratitude to be here and alive, doing this role to the best of my ability and without compromise.
In Mark Shenton's article on Elaine Paige in the September 16, 1996, issue of Theatre Week, Paige spoke about her casting as the first-ever Grizabella in the premiere London cast of Cats: "For the first time in my career [following Evita], I'd been in a position to turn things down, and I found myself offered every musical that anybody was writing at the time. But I kept looking at these projects and thinking, 'no.' I began to think how much longer could I do that--I hoped I wasn't going to be a one-hit wonder and that's the end of it. I began to think I was never going to work again, when I was driving home one night, and heard a melody on the radio. It had no lyric to it, but it was by Andrew Lloyd Webber. As I went to open the door of my house, a bedraggled old cat was in my path, and I hoped it would cross my way, because it's good luck. It did, and I dashed into my house, and the cat followed me and stayed the night. A driving passion which was completely illogical took me over. I wanted to record that song, and I was going to ask Andrew if I could. But I didn't have to ring him, because the next morning Cameron Mackintosh rang: Judi Dench had injured herself, and would I be interested in taking over? It was a very small role--a cameo really--but it had one great song, 'Memory.' That was the song I'd heard on the radio! The cat appearing on my doorstep was another sign. People probably think 'not another Shirley MacLaine,' but it was a bit bizarre. And that's also what I mean about timing: The show saved me in some respects. It helped consolidate what I'd achieved in Evita. And it gave me another opportunity to work with Andrew."
Another round of applause to columnist Liz Smith, who manages to plug our favorite ladies whenever she has the chance. In Smith's June 17 column, she not only mentioned that Betty Buckley would be attending Lena Horne's upcoming 80th birthday celebration on June 23, but she also plugged La LuPone's performance in Master Class. Smith writes: "Quite a rave for Patti LuPone in last week's Variety, commending her performance in the London version of Master Class. This Terrence McNally play certainly brings out the best in its stars--Zoe Caldwell won a Tony Award when she originated the Maria Callas role on Broadway, and LuPone, Dixie Carter and Faye Dunaway have all triumphed with McNally's witty, lacerating tale of the opera diva's sunset years." And, in today's column, June 20, Smith reports, "Patti LuPone called from London to say thanks for reporting on her London triumph in Master Class. The star sounded great, full of enthusiasm. . .But what did Patti really want? Why, what everybody else in the world wants--the inside dish on what broke up Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow. . ."
Hope you New York diva lovers caught Elaine Paige on "Showstoppers" last Saturday night, which aired on New York's WLIW Channel 21. The program, which was hosted by the West End musical theatre star Gary Wilmot (who currently stars in The Goodbye Girl through June 28), featured songs from a diverse group of musicals, including two shows that starred EP, Anything Goes and Piaf. Paige delivered a forceful "If You Love Me" from Piaf and joined host Wilmot for "Friendship" from Anything Goes. Hopefully EP will be back in the U.S. soon to reprise her critically acclaimed performance as Edith Piaf.
I recently received a copy of The Boston Globe review of Paige's U.S. concert debut with the Boston Pops. Thought you'd be interested in reading the critique of her performance this past May. Globe staff writer Richard Dyer wrote: ". . .One of the points of interest was the American concert debut of Elaine Paige, the brightest star of the London musical stage. 'I was the last Norma Desmond,' she reminded us, 'but the first Evita.' Paige is a real theatrical personality and a powerhouse singer who put three Andrew Lloyd Webber songs into their original context, which makes them sound better. She was raddled old Norma Desmond as she sang 'As If We Never Said Goodbye,' power-hungry Eva Peron as she sang 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina.' She also portrayed Edith Piaf, and performed two songs associated with Piaf the only way a non-Frenchwoman should, by singing them in English and forgetting the way Piaf did them. . .Paige was good humored. Unable to climb up onto a stool in her tight, sequined dress, she said, 'Oh well, I'll just lean.' She mentioned that two of her characters, Piaf and Peron, shared her own initials. 'I'm waiting to be asked to do Elvis Presley,' she said. After the Evita song, she said, 'One of these days I'm going to have to see that movie.' Significant Pause. 'But not until after I've seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' She did make her name in Cats. The audience adored her, so she offered an encore, 'Grow Young,' which was appealing because she didn't go into Lloyd Webber sob-in-the-throat overdrive at the climax."
Hope you caught the always-fetching Bernadette Peters on Tom Snyder's talk show this week. Peters, who was in L.A. to perform in concert at the Universal Amphitheatre, spoke about her recent marriage, her most difficult director (Otto Preminger, whom she worked with when she was nine!) and even treated us to a slowed-down, emotional reading of Stephen Sondheim's "No One Is Alone."
And, as reported last week, the air dates have been set for BP's appearance on the "RuPaul Show," which airs on VH1. The program will feature Peters' sensual take on Sondheim's "Sooner or Later" and will first air on Monday, July 14 at 11 PM, with repeat broadcasts on Tuesday, July 15 at 7 PM, Saturday, July 19 at 11 PM and Monday, July 21 at noon.
Gravitte, who is currently holding court at the plush New York cabaret room Rainbow & Stars, will be a guest on Stan Martin's cabaret show this Monday, June 23rd at 4 PM. Martin, who is one of the greatest friends to our favorite ladies, can be heard weekly on WQEW 1560 AM from 4-7 PM. Gravitte is scheduled to sing live at 4 PM.
I will be catching Gravitte's act at R & S this week and will report on her show in next week's column. For those of you who would also like to catch this Tony-winning dynamo in action, show times are Tuesday-Saturday evenings at 8:30 PM and 11 PM, and there is a $40 cover charge, with dinner required at the early shows. For information/reservations, call (212) 632-5000.
Karen Mason currently stars in Boston in the Huntington Theatre Company production of Company as Joanne, the role originated on Broadway by Elaine Stritch. In this week's Variety, Markland Taylor reviewed the musical, which co-stars Davis Gaines, of Phantom and Whistle Down the Wind fame, as Bobby. About Mason Taylor writes: "[Gaines'] performance climaxes in the musical's pivotal scene, which is set up magnificently by Mason's guillotine-sharp, martini-dry interpretation of 'The Ladies Who Lunch.'"
Mason will also star in the second part of Maryann Lopinto's Cabaret-On the Record Volume IV, which will take place on Thursday, July 24 at 8 PM at the Triad. Other performers who will join Mason for the evening that benefits Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS include Mary Cleere Haran, David Campbell, Steven Brinberg and Tom Anderson. There is a $15 cover and a $10 food-drink minimum. Call the Triad at (212) 799-4599 for more information.
Maureen McGovern will be the featured guest on an America On-line Live Chat next week. McGovern is scheduled to "chat" with her many fans on Thursday, June 26 at 10 PM EST.
Also, McGovern is set to co-host a PBS fundraiser saluting great movie musicals on June 28 on Los Angeles's KCET from 12-2:30 PM Other summer plans for McGovern include a tribute to Doc Severinsen on July 8 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. MM will also be part of the Bel Air Jazz Festival on July 5 in the Catskills.
ANOTHER BOULEVARD CLOSES. . .
As one Andrew Lloyd Webber musical celebrates a milestone, another one shuts its doors, the Australian production of Sunset Boulevard. Our diva lover down under, who attended the second-to-last performance of Debra Byrne and company, sent us the following critique and assesses the premature closing of SB: "When the audience rose to its feet for Debra Byrne's penultimate curtain call as Norma Desmond, she raised a triumphant fist above her head. This gesture spoke a thousand words, and meant that, in spite of all the controversy and negative publicity that's plagued the Melbourne season of
Sunset Boulevard, Debra's performance was truly awesome. She made us laugh, she made us cry, her two arias were spine-tingling, and her final mad descent down the staircase was totally heart-breaking.
So why did Sunset close early? Debra blames the show's publicity. The public was given the perception that she had missed a lot of performances. In fact she only missed six; the rest were days off when the alternate Norma, Maria Mercedes, was scheduled to perform. But the ticket-buying public wasn't told this until well into the run. Debra also thinks the 'spectacular sets and dazzling costumes' advertising campaign led people to believe they would be seeing another Beauty and the Beast, whereas Sunset is a much darker, adult story without a happy ending.
Post Norma, Byrne is taking a five-week break before touring Australia with her band (repertoire undecided), and there is talk of a new
album of pop/rock songs. Will she miss Norma? 'Yes, very much!' She'll also miss her co-stars, especially Hugh Jackman, She won't miss the make-up ritual, nor the staircase, although she is quite proud of the way she has mastered the 'glide' up and down the stairs. She most looks forward to having a normal dinner with her family without having to start getting wound-up into a Norma frame of mind at 6:30 each night."
For those of you who would like to hear Byrne's wonderful interpretations of Norma's big arias from Sunset Boulevard, they are available on her recently released recording, New Ways To Dream. In addition to "As If We Never Said Goodbye" and "With One Look," Byrne also has recorded "Surrender" and a host of other Broadway tunes. For a more complete review, see the April 25 Diva Talk column.
Betty Buckley continues her triumphant concert tour, with a stop at the Power Center in Ann Arbor on June 25; call (313) 747-3327. Be sure to stop by the Betty Buckley website, located at Playbill On-line. New photos were recently added.
If you're in London, LuPone's critically-acclaimed portrayal of Maria Callas in the West End production of Master Class at the Queens Theatre (Shaftesbury Avenue) is a must-see; call the box office at 0171-494 5040 for further information. The London theatre listing now states "must close June 28," so go!
Lacey will take part in a six-week tour of the music of Jerry Herman this summer. The tour dates follow (tickets can be booked beginning in June for most summer playhouses):
July 21-August 2 at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT
Aug. 4-16 at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, ME
Aug. 18-30 at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, MA
Be sure to catch Runolfsson's act at Eighty-Eights. Her final two performances are Saturday, June 21 at 8:30 and 11 PM. There is a $12 cover charge and a two-drink minimum. Call (212) 924-0088. Eighty Eights is located at 228 West 10th Street in New York City.
A very Betty special event: Betty Buckley, who just recorded her latest album for Sterling Records (to be released this fall), will be a part of "Stan Martin & Friends" in the near future on WQEW. BB will co-host Martin's radio program, playing some of her favorite music of other artists. Stay tuned for more details...
To keep you thinking: Which one of our favorite divas will be performing a special Christmas concert this December?
That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!--
By Andrew Gans
e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org