I wasn't able to attend this week's tribute to Betty Buckley at the 30th anniversary gala of T. Schreiber Studios, but a few loyal Buckley fans filled me in on some of the evening's highlights. Buckley was introduced by New York Magazine theatre critic John Simon, who spoke glowingly about BB's wonderful singing and acting, as well as her extraordinary versatility. Excerpts from the upcoming documentary, "Betty Buckley: In Performance" -- taped last year at the Bottom Line for presentation on the Bravo Network sometime this year -- were also shown, including Buckley's interpretations of "Meadowlark" and "Memory," which silenced the more than 200 people in attendance. In her thank-you speech, Buckley announced the formation of a new recording company, KO Records, that she has created with producer Kevin Duncan, the man responsible for her sold out Carnegie Hall performance a few years back. The company will record a new album for Buckley in the near future.
After speaking about her career and her studies, Buckley walked to the front of the stage and explained that she wanted to sing a hymn that she first sang in church when she was a very young child. Without a microphone, Buckley began singing "Amazing Grace." Dr. Mair Cantor, who was in attendance, said that Buckley's voice filled the room magnificently, and even those working in the kitchen poked their heads out to hear that glorious, one-in-a-million voice.
Here's another quote from Christine Dolen's interview with Buckley in a recent issue of the Miami Herald: "Playing Grizabella [in Cats] was one of the most pivotal learning experiences I've ever had. I did everything [director] Trevor Nunn, [composer] Andrew Lloyd Webber and [choreographer] Gillian Lynne said to do, and it wasn't working. My job assignment was to stop the show; I had done that before, but I was used to coming from the element of surprise. They kept calling rehearsals. I was interpreting them literally. My voice got worse and worse. I called [director] James Lapine, who saw it, and said, "I have no idea what you feel about the character." I went to my voice teacher, who threw a pillow onto the floor and told me to hit it. It was this kinetic exercise, but I did it. All these emotions came out. I cried. I heard this kid's voice saying, "I'm here too, I'm here too." I know it all sounds very New Age. I began following homeless people. Grizabella was Trevor Nunn's creation and his homage to homeless people. I saw a woman whose hair was exactly the color of Grizabella's wig, who wore pale powder and who moved as if she were in a dream, walking in slow motion. It was very moving and ethereal, as though she thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. So I started smearing my lipstick, and I adjusted so that I was singing the song to share the beauty I saw. I realized you can't act the result; I knew I needed to play the opposite. It became ethereal. Memory became an appeal, an act of generosity. It took two weeks to incorporate it all, and I kept telling them, "I'm in transition." Finally, Trevor said, "Yes! Yes!"
And, of course, Buckley can be seen in Nicky Silver's The Eros Trilogy currently in previews at Off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre. Buckley fans will be happy to learn that the play's first act features Buckley alone on stage, delivering a near-30-minute monologue. Call (212) 353-3366, extension 12 for tickets.
How disappointing that Patti LuPone wasn't on this week's episode of "Encore! Encore!" as originally scheduled. Let's hope that episode eventually airs featuring La LuPone as a famed wine critic. But LuPone fans, don't despair. Our Evita gal can be seen in the new independent film The 24-Hour Woman, which begins an exclusive New York engagement today, Friday, January 29. The Nancy Savoca film also stars Rosie Perez and Marianne Jean-Baptiste, and BoxOffice Magazine gave the "real-life comedy" four stars. LuPone will also appear on the "Rosie O'Donnell Show" on March 9 to promote the film, so set your VCRs! And, LuPone will bring her new concert act, Matters of the Heart, to the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert, California, on January 29 and 30, 1999. Call the McCallum's box office at (760) 340-2787 for tickets. On March 5, 6, and 7 Patti will appear with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore with Rob Fisher conducting; call (410) 783-8000 for tickets. (Also, a reminder that LuPone will join opera star Bryn Terfel for a concert version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd to be held at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall from May 4 to May 6 in the year 2000. The performers will be backed by the New York Philharmonic, and the event, which will be recorded, will celebrate Sondheim's 70th birthday.)
There was an amusing item in Tuesday's New York Post by gossip maven Liz Smith concerning this column's favorite British diva, Elaine Paige. Says Ms. Smith: ". . .[Paige] will re-create her stage triumph [in Piaf] in a movie version, either for the big screen or as a made-for video project. But the other day, Madonna announced in France that she'd love to capture the movie role of Piaf. Elaine holds the rights to the [Pam] Gems play, and she is determined not to be beaten to the screen with her version. She says, "I think Madonna's terrific, but Piaf has become such an important role to me and I don't want to lose out twice to Madonna." . . .Piaf with Elaine Paige may yet come to Broadway. Sir Peter Hall, the director, wants to develop this. An alternative could also be a straight-to-video project, because musicals on home video [Cats, the salutes to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh] have recently dominated the charts and are grossing big figures." Whether it's on stage, screen or video, let's hope EP returns to this wonderful project soon. I was lucky enough to catch her portrayal of the famed French chanteuse when she did the role in the West End, and she was truly incredible. . . There are also rumors of a few U.S. concerts in the near future, so stay tuned for more news.
The company of Annie Get Your Gun arrived in New York this week to record the cast album of the famed Irving Berlin musical. In my recent interview with Peters, the multi-talented actress revealed that the recording will be released on EMI/Angel Records, the label that produced her two most recent recordings, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" and "Sondheim Etc." AGYG will begin previews at the Marquis Theatre this Tuesday, February 2 and will officially open Thursday, March 4. (The Bway performance schedule is as follows: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 PM with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 3 PM Tickets are priced at $35 - $75; call TicketMaster at (212) 307-4100.)
I thought you would enjoy reading a few quotes from a recent review of the show written by Brad Hathaway for Musical Stages On-line. Hathaway had this to say about Peters' wonderful performance as the sharp-shooting Annie Oakley: "Annie Get Your Gun has always been a star vehicle. Its original star was a dominant force -- Ethel Merman. Mary Martin brought it to the TV screen while Betty Hutton took over for an ailing Judy Garland for the bigger screen. Kim Criswell produced a recording of astonishing power.
"Now Annie Get Your Gun is back and on its way to Broadway and it brings with it a star of wonderful and unique qualities. Watch Ms. Peters sell "There's No Business Like Show Business," clown through "Doin What Comes Natur'lly," "You Can't Get A Man With A Gun" or "Anything You Can Do," or croon "Moonshine Lullaby" or "Lost in His Arms" and you can't help but fall under her spell. She isn't recreating the character of Merman, Martin, Hutton or Criswell. She's creating an Annie of her own. And, you know what? It is an Annie that fits the story better than the brassy Merman version did.
"When she's not singing, her presence is so strong and her characterization both so stylishly constructed and so consistent that it looks almost too effortless. I know they always say `never let them see you sweat,' but at least there should be a bit of tension that indicates that she has to work at it. No one should be able to be this good just by showing up.
"As long as Bernadette Peters is willing to appear in the new Annie Get Your Gun there should be audiences willing to buy the tickets and fill the seats. They will get what they pay for. They will get the pleasure of seeing that rarity of late: the true star whose very presence lights up a stage; whose voice can fill the house; whose grace and charm can entrance everyone in the hall. Who could ask for anything more? . . ." IN OTHER NEWS Among the cast of the City Center Encores! production of Babes in Arms (Feb. 11-Feb. 14) are Priscilla Lopez and Donna McKechnie . . . The delightful Alison Fraser has recorded Lizzie Borden, the Christopher McGovern musical she performed to critical acclaim this past fall at the American Stage Company. Lizzie will be released in mid-February on the Original Cast Records label . . . Congratulation to this year's Olivier Award nominees for Best Actress in a Musical. They are: Krysten Cummings for Rent, Maria Friedman for Chicago, Josefine Gabrielle for Oklahoma! and Sophie Thompson for Into the Woods. The Oliviers will be presented on Feb. 12 at the Royal National Theatre. The BBC will broadcast the event on Feb. 15. . . Mary McCormack will replace Jennifer Jason Leigh in the role of Sally Bowles in the hit revival of Cabaret on Tuesday, March 2. McCormack, who will be making her Broadway debut, has appeared Off Broadway in My Marriage to Ernest Borgnine as well as on screen in Howard Stern's "Private Parts" and "Deep Impact" . . . Diva sighting: London's Ruthie Henshall was in the audience at a recent reading of Burning Blue, the acclaimed London play by DMW Greer. The reading of the emotional work featured Michael Hayden, Robert LuPone, Melissa Bowen, Jodie Markell, Christa Kirby, Andrew Halliday and J.C. Montgomery . . . . Beauty and the Beast is only a month a way for Andrea McArdle, who will replace Tony Braxton in the role of Belle beginning March 3 . . . As previously announced, this year's NOTHING LIKE A DAME concert to benefit the Phyllis Newman Women's Health Initiative of The Actors' Fund of America will be held on Monday, March 1 at 7 PM at the Shubert Theatre (225 West 44th Street). At this point, the remarkable one-night-only event will feature these "dames": Loni Ackerman, Joy Behar, Kate Burton, Ayodele Casel, Lea DeLaria, Dorothy Delay, Patricia Elliott, Melissa Errico, Amanda Green, Uta Hagen, Joan Hamburg, Dee Hoty, Anne Jackson, Marcia Lewis, Tisidii Le Loka, Nancy Lemanger, Anna Manahan, Saeka Matsuyama, Sally Mayes, Anne Meara, Donna Murphy, Bebe Neuwirth, Phyllis Newman, Christiane Noll, Nancy Opel, Christine Pedi, Daisy Prince, Faith Prince, Denise Roberts, Mary Testa, Marisa Tomei, Rachel York and female cast members from virtually every show. For tickets, call the DAME LINE at 1-888-DAME-TIX (1-888-326-3849); tickets range from $40 to $1,000.
BB concert line-up:
Feb. 6 at the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, CA
April 17 at the Lehman Center for the Perf. Arts in Bronx, NY
April 23 at the College of New Jersey in Erwing, NJ
May 3 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, Ill.
Karen Mason is one busy lady these days. Having just returned from Sweden where she performed four "Broadway" evenings with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Mason has a host of new concert dates lined up. On Feb. 5 the talented chanteuse will perform at the National Arts Club dinner honoring Skitch Henderson. March 12 brings Mason to the Tilles Hall at Long Island University. Her 8 PM concert is sold out that evening, but tickets are available for the 10 pm show; call (516) 299 3100. And, Karen will return to the Davenports Cabaret in Chicago for a three-week run beginning March 17. Call (773) 278-1830 for reservations.
McGovern in concert:
Feb. 4 at Carnegie Hall (a tribute to Alan & Marilyn Bergman)
Feb. 5 and 6 at Lincoln Center (a tribute to Harold Arlen)
Feb. 20 with the Louisville Symphony in Louisville, KY
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!
by Andrew Gans
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Diva Talk is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard, 1976- 1998.