DIVA TALK: More Holiday Memories with Blackhurst, Clark, Harada, Larsen, Malone, McCartney, McGovern and Ripley

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: More Holiday Memories with Blackhurst, Clark, Harada, Larsen, Malone, McCartney, McGovern and Ripley
 
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Leading ladies (from top) Klea Blackhurst, Victoria Clark, Ann Harada, Liz Larsen, Beth Malone, Liz McCartney, Maureen McGovern and Alice Ripley.
Leading ladies (from top) Klea Blackhurst, Victoria Clark, Ann Harada, Liz Larsen, Beth Malone, Liz McCartney, Maureen McGovern and Alice Ripley.

HOLIDAY MEMORIES PART 2

This week we checked in with a few more fabulous gals and asked them to share their favorite holiday memories.

KLEA BLACKHURST burst on to the cabaret scene in 2001 with her Ethel Merman tribute Everything the Traffic Will Allow. This year she also drew raves for her Vernon Duke program, Autumn in New York: Vernon Duke's Broadway, which was subsequently released on CD by Ghostlight Records. And, now she can be seen eight times a week Off-Broadway in the new musical comedy Bingo, about a group of women who can’t get their fill of that classic game, at the St. Luke's Theatre.

Blackhurst describes one of her favorite holidays this way: “As a little girl, dressed in velvet, sporting a pixie cut, I enjoyed sitting with my little sister reading ‘Santa Mouse’ in front of the Christmas tree. Do kids still read ‘Santa Mouse’? Also, my Salt Lake City roots lead me to fond memories of listening to ‘The Osmond Family Christmas Album.’”

As for this holiday season, Blackhurst says, “Happily, I have a job playing Bingo this year! Okay, I’ll take Christmas Day off, enjoy some hog and then I’ll head right back to spread joy to the masses via out super-cool Bingo board.” The New Year will find Blackhurst continuing to “spread the Gospel of Merman here and there. I will also be playing the New Jersey Performing Arts Center [in Newark, NJ] on Jan. 28 with my Vernon Duke show in celebration of my new CD.”

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VICTORIA CLARK, who won the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award for her beautiful, moving performance as doting mother Margaret Johnston in the equally beautiful and moving Light in the Piazza at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, readily admits, “I love the holidays!”

The actress — who also made her New York directorial debut this past year with the Lyrics & Lyricists concert Serenade in Blue: The Lyrics of Mack Gordon — says her mom and grandmother were fantastic cooks and bakers. “One of [our] traditions,” explains Clark, “was the three of us piling up in the kitchen, covered in flour, making — and, of course, testing — the cookies. We would make hundreds of cookies every year and give many away and then keep the leftovers for our family. I still have the cookie tins from my childhood, some with the state of Texas and holly coming out of the panhandle, and some with bluebonnets, the Texas state flower.

“I guess the tradition never dies. Almost every Monday on my day off, my son and I do a little baking. Just this morning I sent him to school with oatmeal cookies for the class and teachers to fortify everyone for the winter concert tonight at his school!”

Clark is looking forward to simple holiday plans this season. “We will stay in New York and enjoy quiet days, go see some movies and, of course, attend both the candlelight Christmas Eve service and the Sunday morning Christmas Day service. Lots of church, lots of singing, lots of eating and a little bit of resting!”

As for future plans, the singing actress says, “I have one big event I am already preparing, my American Songbook concert, at the Allen Room for Jazz at Lincoln Center, on February 10 [at 8:30 and 10:30 PM]. Ted Sperling will music direct, and that will be a very fun evening. I can't wait!” And, Clark adds, “Of course, I'm so lucky to continue to be able to take a wonderful journey each night through Italy in Adam and Craig's The Light in the Piazza.

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ANN HARADA, who brings impeccable coming timing and a rangy, powerful belt to her role as Christmas Eve in the Tony-winning musical Avenue Q, says that one of her favorite holiday memories “revolves around a felt stocking that my parents made for me the year I was born — one of those craft kits that come with the sequins and thread and templates, and you cut out the felt and applique/glue stuff on to the stocking. I loved my stocking, which features an elf with a fuchsia sequin beaded outfit — kind of reminiscent of what Liza Minnelli would wear if she was an elf — and I hauled it around with me when I went to college [and when I] moved to NYC. I've hung it up every year.

“Then when I got pregnant, the first thing I thought was ‘I've got to make the baby a stocking.’ But I didn't want to jinx it, so I waited till the fall to buy a kit online — elves were not available, alas. I told my parents I had bought the kit and that we could work on it together for [Elvis’] first Christmas only to find they had already thought of it and were halfway done, but didn't tell me because they didn't want to jinx it. Thinking about how excited and anxious we were makes me cry — and also laugh that we were so focused on the baby having a stocking when, you know, he didn't have a crib yet. So this year, I plan to hang up our stockings and have a quiet Christmas with family and friends.”

“Of course,” Harada adds, “that's after the bucket of tears I'm planning to shed on Christmas Eve when I do my last show with [Avenue Q co-star] Stephanie [D'Abruzzo]. On the last show before my leave of absence [when I was pregnant], I got so choked up doing the first verse of ‘Ruv Someone,’ a song Stephanie and I believe we have performed more than any other song in the universe, possibly including ‘Happy Birthday,’ I could barely whisper the words, and [now I’m thinking], ‘Oh God, how am I ever going to get through her last show?’ I guess we'll find out.”

Harada will play her own final performance as Q's wisecracking therapist Feb. 26, 2006. Before that, however, you can catch her in Three Loud Chicks, a Jan. 9 concert at Birdland that also features fellow belters Liz McCartney and Leah Hocking.

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LIZ LARSEN, who was one of the highlights of the 1992 revival of The Most Happy Fella — earning a Tony nomination and a Drama Desk nomination for her performance as Cleo — says her favorite holiday was “the day I woke up and saw the biggest dollhouse I had ever seen. I sat in front of it all day!”

Larsen, who can currently be seen Off-Broadway in Bingo, says this year she will “be up all night Christmas Eve with my husband [fellow actor Sal Viviano], wrapping gifts for my two boys. We will tell them not to wake us ‘til 7 AM [but] they will wake us at 5!”

And, the comedic actress has a few minor hopes for 2006: “I plan to get hired to do my own television series and do a movie opposite Robert DeNiro.”

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It’s a busy time for BETH MALONE, who also co-stars in the Off-Broadway musical Bingo. Malone, who plays Alison in that production, will make her Broadway debut later this season in Ring of Fire at the Barrymore Theatre.

Malone, who has been seen in regional productions of Guns, Grand Hotel and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, says her favorite holiday memory is the year she was four when she received “a Shirley Temple doll – it’s all I wanted!” This year’s plans include “Bingo, Bingo and more Bingo!

In addition to Bingo and the forthcoming Ring of Fire, Malone says that she also has “a few commercials either running or in-the-can — Progressive Insurance, J.C. Penney and SBC Pacific Long Distance.”

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LIZ McCARTNEY, who drew cheers nightly when she belted out “Talk Amongst Yourselves” in the short-lived musical Taboo, is currently back onstage in the Off-Broadway musical comedy Bingo at the St. Luke’s Theatre on West 46th Street. McCartney says her favorite holiday was “the year my oldest sister brought home the class gerbil, and our cat came down the stairs Christmas morning with it in her mouth. While everyone was off chasing the cat — [including] my sister, who wanted to kill the cat — I sat and opened everyone’s presents!”

This year, McCartney says her two-year-old daughter “is the center of all the plans. She was too young last year, and this year everything is met with a ‘Wow!,’ except for the obligatory visit to Santa, which was met with screams!”

As for McCartney’s upcoming projects, the former star of Mamma Mia! and Dance of the Vampires, will join Ann Harada and Leah Hocking Jan. 9 for the aforementioned Three Loud Chicks concert at Birdland. And, McCartney adds, “hopefully The Little Mermaid. I did a workshop last summer, and it was one of the most exciting projects I’ve ever done.”

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After winning wonderful reviews for her haunting performance in Broadway’s Little Women, which included her show-stopping rendition of “Days of Plenty,” MAUREEN McGOVERN is currently sharing her Marmee with audiences around the country in the national tour of the musical based on the Louisa May Alcott novel. One of McGovern’s favorite holiday memories concerned the year she turned 14 and “I received my first brand-new guitar for Christmas. It was a $50 J. C. Penny guitar. The strings were about three miles above the frets, but I loved it as much as if Segovia had given it to me.”

This holiday season will find McGovern in the 32-city tour of Little Women. She says, “Our cast, company and crew have adopted a Katrina survivor family who has been relocated to the Detroit area, and we're also helping the host family. There are two single mothers and children ages 4, 5, 8 and 10 who will hopefully have some joy in their hearts with toys, clothing, household goods, food and tickets to our show.”

As for the New Year, the lush-voiced performer explains, “The Little Women tour ends in August. I will take some time off afterwards and then record and produce another project for my Works of Heart Foundation for Music and Healing and resume my busy concert, lecture and master class schedule in the fall.”

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That belter of belters, ALICE RIPLEY, who would make a wonderful Evita for the upcoming London revival — she possesses the pipes, the beauty and the emotional depth — says her favorite Christmas memory is “the Christmas I found out there is no Santa Claus. My sister and I were in our bunk beds on Christmas Eve, and we caught my mom in the hallway making Santa's sleigh noises using coins in a glass jar! Well, we did have a beautiful tree that year.”

As for holiday season 2005, the multi-talented performer plans spending her time “listening to birthday messages I collect every December (29, again!); rehearsing [with my band] RIPLEY; making presents; readying for [The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber concerts] in Toronto with Liz Callaway Jan. 4-8; and reading Diva Talk!” No wonder Ripley is one of this column’s very favorite gals!

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STOCKING STUFFERS
Well, the holidays are almost here. For those last-minute shoppers, here are two ideas for the diva lover on your special list.

Barbra Streisand: The Television Specials is over five hours of pure viewing pleasure. The DVDs, which come in a terrifically packaged set on the WEA/Warners label, boasts Streisand’s legendary TV appearances in the sixties and seventies. The five DVDs include "My Name Is Barbra" (1965), "Color Me Barbra" (1966), "The Belle of 14th Street" (1967), "Barbra Streisand: A Happening in Central Park" (1968) and "Barbra Streisand . . . And Other Musical Instruments" (1973). Watching these wonderfully filmed TV specials and live concerts one truly understands why the singer-actress-director took the country by storm in a way no one has since. For more information visit www.barbratvshows.com.

Another luscious-voiced singer, the late Nancy LaMott, can be heard on Nancy LaMott: Just in Time for Christmas, which has thankfully been reissued for the holiday season. LaMott’s disc is my favorite holiday recording and features her sublime renditions of “Some Children See Him,” “A Child Is Born,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “The Christmas Song” as well as a wonderful, heartfelt medley of “I Saw Three Ships” and “Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella.” LaMott also delivers the best rendition you’ll ever hear of David Friedman and David Zippel’s “Just in Time for Christmas,” which may be my favorite holiday tune. And, if you want to buy LaMott’s disc for a bunch of friends, there is a special holiday offer — with every five discs purchased, the sixth is free! Visit www.nancylamott.com for details.

A HOLIDAY CONCERT
This past Monday’s holiday concert at Birdland — produced by Robert Diamond to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS — offered a host of theatre favorites performing mostly holiday fare. If the concert was not quite as exciting as some of Diamond’s Standing Ovations evenings, there was plenty to enjoy as well as a holiday warmth that seemed to spread over the sold-out crowd at the famed jazz club. The evening began with Sean Curley, one of the Broadway Kids, who thoroughly charmed the audience with “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” which featured Billy Weeden as Santa and Natalie Joy Johnson as the naughty mom. Billy Porter riffed his way through “What’s Goin’ On?,” and John Tartaglia, fresh from his Vegas Avenue Q stint, delighted with a little-known holiday ditty. Mandy Gonzalez — of Dance of the Vampires fame — lent her rangy belt to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which built to an exciting climax. Erin Leigh Peck drew laughs with the comedic “Christmas in Miami,” and Ron Bohmer offered a terrific, dramatic pairing of “Silent Night” and Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Tonight.” The Woman in White performer was then joined by upcoming Wedding Singer star Felicia Finley for a duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Natalie Joy Johnson demonstrated the power of her belt with a great reading of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song.” Rob Maitner’s fierce, comical delivery of Maltby and Shire’s “I Don’t Remember Christmas” was one of the evening’s highlights, and Joey Dudding also did well with “Jingle Bell Rock.” Richard Jay-Alexander, who put his director cap aside to lend his voice to the fundraising evening, offered a moving speech before tenderly singing Flaherty and Ahrens’ wonderful holiday tune, “All Those Christmas Cliches,” and Andrea McArdle, as usual, impressed with her pure, dynamic tones in a medley of tunes that included Annie’s “N.Y.C.” McArdle’s accompanist, Ben Toth, went solo on “Christmastime is Here,” and then McArdle returned to offer back-up vocals to brother Michael’s powerful “Celebrate Me Home.” I especially enjoyed watching McArdle’s loving expression as her brother took centerstage. Felicia Finley concluded the evening with a rousing “Oh, Holy Night,” and then the entire cast returned for Jonathan Larson’s “Seasons of Love.”

Well, that's all for now. Happy holidays, and happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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