DIVA TALK: Patti Kisses Critic / Critics Kiss Elaine

DIVA TALK: Patti Kisses Critic / Critics Kiss Elaine Divas galore, this week! Enjoy . . .
Florence Lacey is Currently Thrilling Audiences in Les Miserables

Florence Lacey is Currently Thrilling Audiences in Les Miserables

(Photo by Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Divas galore, this week! Enjoy . . .

PATTI LuPONE

* Many items on the Patti front. This first article ran in the August 30 New York Daily News. I thought you would enjoy it, so here it is in its entirety. The piece, entitled "Don't Cry for Me, Howard Kissel" was written by theatre critic Kissel.

"Occasionally critics get angry letters from people they review. Sometimes they get phone calls. Monday night, for the first time, I got a kiss.

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It had been a wearying day. Late at night, looking more rumpled than usual, I stood at the bus stop on 45th and Eighth Ave., suddenly seized with fear that I might not have enough money to get downtown the next day. Like the most naive tourist, I took out my wallet and was relieved to count three dollar bills. As I put it in my pocket, I heard a voice say, "Mr. Kissel, I have to kiss you." Before I could even see who it was I felt two lips on mine. It happened so quickly I dropped my book bag to the sidewalk.

When I saw who it was, I was amazed. It was Patti LuPone.

I was, of course, humbled. As I said to her, it was unusually sweet of her to make the gesture since I had not always written kindly about her. Last fall, when she did her solo show, I criticized an unflattering dress she wore. A reader wrote me, "Anyone who looks like an unmade bed--every day--has no right to criticize the way anybody else looks." (Had he signed the letter, we would have run it.)

Only recently a reader chastised me for having noted, in my positive review of LuPone's portrayal of Maria Callas in Master Class, that she had "the zest of an Italian peasant."

LuPone herself must not have taken offense. Hence her effusive gesture, which startled the equally rumpled group of theatregoers waiting for the No. 10.

Could she have known how easily I get flustered? Is that why she did it? If so, it sure worked. She quickly saw how incoherent she had rendered me, took pity and rushed off to join some friends, watching with wry expressions.

Dazed, I crouched to pick up my book bag. How, I wondered, would this affect my critical objectivity when I next had to review her? Am I obligated to pan her for having so brazenly abridged the traditional distance between performer and critic?

After much cogitation, I decided I do not have to be severe with her. The kiss, after all, was not pre-meditated. It was entirely spontaneous and playful. The announcement that she "had" to kiss me gave her gesture an air of irony that theatricalized it.

Moreover, there was nothing clandestine about it. It was a public statement. And so I feel no compunctions about declaring that kissing critics should be encouraged.

We live in times when all power relationships are being revised. Only by throwing off traditional restraints can we find healthier, more meaningful roles to play. We hear all this blather about encouraging "dialogue" between adversaries. In this area, there has been all too much talk. It's time for something more imaginative. Patti has set an important precedent."

* There is also a special Patti treat in store for you midwesterners... Patti will be performing her one-woman concert at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, Illinois on November 20 at 8pm. The Hall, which is located at 220 S. Michigan Avenue, is the home of the Chicago Symphony, although La LuPone will not be singing with the symphony but with her own group of musicians. Tickets may be obtained by calling 312-435-6666. * And, reruns of "Life Goes On," the television series that featured Patti as mom Libby Thatcher will be shown this season on various channels. Check your TV guides for listings. Patti did get a chance to show off her musical side on a few episodes, singing such songs as "More Than You Know," "Wind Beneath My Wings," "Broadway Baby," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and a few others.

* And, still more. . . There was an item in Liz Smith's gossip column on September 9 that mentioned our lady. It read:

"Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington's sensational and controversial book about the stormy life of Maria Callas is finally being readied for the big screen. And insiders at New Line say the role of Aristotle Onassis. . .will be played by none other than Al Pacino. . .But more fascinating to contemplate is, who will play opera's great diva, Maria Callas?

Singing ability is not required; we can assume Callas' own voice will be used in the operatic sequences. But the actress must be young enough--or look young enough--to impersonate Maria convincingly as a girl. And she must have the dramatic ability and flair to essay the explosive, tragic Callas of later years.

I simply cannot think of a suitable younger actress. If my intelligent readers have any ideas, please write me.

However, to play Maria in her full maturity, let's say from 30 onward, how about Patti LuPone, who is now having a career high-point on Broadway in Terrence McNally's Master Class?. . .I say it's time for Patti on the big screen. After all, she missed out on Evita and (thanks to Faye Dunaway's fast moves) missed out on the film version of Master Class.

The movie of Arianna's book might be just the perfect vehicle for Patti."

BETTY BUCKLEY

While Playbill On-line is in the last few stages of assuming operation of Betty Buckley's website, Ms. B has begun her eagerly awaited concert tour in conjunction with the release of her new album, Live at Carnegie Hall. The album, which showcases Buckley's interpretative skills and soaring voice, will also benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS; in fact, a portion of all the proceeds from the recording will go to this worthy organization.

Betty's newest Sterling release is a wonderful recording, showcasing Buckley's exquisite musicianship. She pours out her voice throughout the evening with terrific renditions of her two big Sunset numbers, plus breathtaking versions of "Rose's Turn" and "Pirate Jenny" as well as the beautiful "Come On Come On" by Mary Chapin Carpenter and "Build My House" from Peter Pan. Most every track is sheer joy.

My only quibble: the deletion of the Carrie numbers. At least the title song from that cult musical is available on one of Linzi Hateley's solo album, but their hair-raising duet "And Eve Was Weak" has never been recorded. Perhaps Buckley will rectify this situation on her next studio recording and invite Hateley in to record a track or two from the ill-fated but gloriously scored musical.

Also, exciting news from BB herself. Betty informed us that her critically praised performance in Sunset Boulevard was finally videotaped for the Lincoln Center archives during her last week in the show. Thankfully, her star turn as Norma B has been preserved.

ELAINE PAIGE

More reviews are in for our favorite West End theatre star finally making her Broadway debut in Sunset Boulevard:

Greg Evans in Variety:

"Glenn Close was demented, Betty Buckley vulnerable. So what's to do but go for the laughs? Elaine Paige, Broadway's latest Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, brings a British musical-hall comic flair--and a very big voice--to the role that has become the theatre's equivalent of wet cement, just waiting for the next imprint. Paige, London's premier musical-comedy actress, has a sizable cult following in the United States despite having never appeared on Broadway. With her bell-clear voice and a stage presence that dwarfs her tiny 4-foot-something height, the West End's original Evita and Grizabella doesn't disappoint her enthusiasts--one row of fanatics at the reviewed performance was in tears from the first staircase descent to the last.


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Finding laughs in places her predecessors didn't (or couldn't), Paige gives the musical's first act an altogether lighter tone than New York audiences have seen. That's not to say that she misses the heartbreak quotient entirely, but she certainly doesn't project the emotionally fractured soul of Buckley's Norma. Nor does Paige come off as the bizarre loon that Close mimed. Instead we have a Norma whose outsize gestures seem less the byproduct of neurosis than leftover affectations of the silent screen. Fortunately Paige's powerhouse voice keeps the show-stoppers--"With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye"--stopping the show.

There have also been a few feature articles on EP in some of the New York dailies. The first to appear was in The New York Post. Here are some of the choice quotes from Larry Worth's article entitled "Finally it's Paige's turn": On climbing those stairs:

"Those Sunset stairs are a complete nightmare. The ones onstage are bad enough. But the steep ones backstage, which you climb while wearing those heavy, beaded costumes, are the real killer-dillers. Betty [Buckley] warned me about them, and my knee is already bothering me."

On her stature and those big New Yorkers:

"I'm under 5 feet tall, so everyone seems tall to me. I must look like a little pinprick onstage. But even on the streets, everyone--and I mean everyone--strikes me as big and statuesque."

On taking over a role created by someone else:

"These roles, for women my age, do not come flying through the door every day of the week. You can't get involved in egos. A great role is a great role. And that's all I want to play."

On working in the U.S. vs. England:

"In England, one's instantly pigeonholed. But that doesn't seem to be the case here. It's more like anything's possible. I'd like to think America will be kind and afford me plenty of opportunities. But all of that's way in the future. Right now, I'm completely focused on Sunset."

DIVA, DIVA, EVERYWHERE

During the next few weeks, I will start including a few items about some of the other great divas of our time, while still primarily focusing on Patti, Betty, Bernadette and Elaine. . .

One of our favorite ladies and Evitas, Florence Lacey--who was recently the vocal high point of the Hello, Dolly! Broadway and touring revival, giving a thrilling, belty rendition of "Ribbons Down My Back"-- is now starring as the doomed Fantine in Les Miserables, where she is bringing down the house with an electric version of "I Dreamed a Dream." Lacey, who can be heard on the cast albums for Hello, Dolly! , The Grand Tour and Evita (Deutsch Grammophon), is a truly moving performer, and we hope that she gets to add her name to the impressive list of Norma Desmonds somewhere down the line. She headlined the European tour of Evita, so how about the European tour of Sunset? She would surely ignite Norma's two big arias. And, also, why hasn't this lady received her own solo album? Oh, Varese Sarabande, are you listening?.

Speaking of which, Varese Sarabande's new cast recording of the hit revival of The King and I is scheduled to hit record stores on Tuesday, September 24. The revival, which stars Lou Diamond Phillips and Passion's Donna Murphy, was recorded on August 26 and 27 at the Hit Factory in New York City. This recording is Murphy's third cast album after the Grammy Award-winning Passion and Hello Again. Murphy can also be heard on the recently-released tribute to Leonard Bernstein entitled Bernstein's New York. Some of the classic tunes Murphy will wrap her luscious vocals around on The King and I recording include "Getting To Know You," "Hello, Young Lovers" and "Shall We Dance?"

Okay, so he's not a diva, but Andrew Lloyd Webber has probably given our ladies more terrific songs than any current composer. Many of our favorites can be heard on the newest compilation of Webber tunes called The Very Best of Andrew Lloyd Webber on Polydor Records. Some of the tracks include Yvonne Elliman's "I Don't Know How To Love Him," Sarah Brightman's "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," Betty Buckley's "Memory," Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin's "High Flying Adored," Barbra Streisand's "As If We Never Said Goodbye" and many more.

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

-- By Andrew Gans

(My e-mail address is andrew_gans@playbill.com.)