DIVA TALK: Peters and Piazza on Disc; Chatting with Doubt's Lenox and More

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Peters and Piazza on Disc; Chatting with Doubt's Lenox and More News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
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FOR THE RECORD

Sondheim, Etc., Etc.
"Sondheim, Etc., Etc.—Bernadette Peters Live at Carnegie Hall (The Rest of It)" perfectly illustrates why I prefer live vocal recordings over those made in the studio. Something magical happens when a great artist performs in front of a crowd. In fact, as well as someone may perform in a studio setting, there is that undeniable extra spark that comes through when an adoring audience is present.

Such is the case on Bernadette Peters' thrilling new solo recording, which features live tracks from her solo Carnegie Hall debut concert in December 1996. The 12 songs on the new disc were not included on Peters' initial, Grammy-nominated recording, "Sondheim Etc.: Bernadette Peters Live at Carnegie Hall."

About her Carnegie evening and the new recording, two-time Tony Award winner Peters recently said in a statement, "It was one of the most exciting, perfect evenings of my life. Knowing it was my solo debut at Carnegie Hall and looking out at the audience and knowing that we were all there to raise money for Gay Men's Health Crisis made the evening an extraordinary experience.

"We covered a lot of musical territory that night, and when we were putting together the initial recording in 1997, we faced many difficult decisions regarding which numbers would be included since we were limited to one single compact disc. Over the years, people have asked when — and if — songs from the rest of the evening would be released. When I asked Bruce Lundvall at Angel Records about the possibility of issuing the previously unreleased material on a second album, he immediately said, 'Let's do it!' I'm so happy people can now enjoy 'Children Will Listen' and other memorable moments from that spectacular evening, and I'm grateful that they won't be lost somewhere in the years to come or doled out as bonus tracks elsewhere." The disc begins with an "Overture" — arranged by Peters' longtime musical director Marvin Laird — that is an exciting mix of such Peters standards as "Move On," "Look What Happened to Mabel," "Broadway Baby" and "When Mabel Comes in the Room." A tongue-in-cheek announcement ("Ladies and Gentlemen, specially gift-wrapped by Santa himself, Miss Bernadette Peters!") precedes the star's entrance and her upbeat opening number, a medley of "We're in the Money" — with a section in Pig Latin, of course — and "Pennies from Heaven."

Much of Peters' delightful stage patter is also included on the disc, which features terrific renditions of two early Peters favorites, "Other Lady" and "I Never Thought I'd Break," the latter a tribute to the late Peter Allen. Peters recorded both songs on her early MCA albums, and it's interesting to hear her sing the tunes nearly two decades later. Not only is her voice stronger and richer, she imbues each tune with more emotion than ever. Peters also scores with both a slowed-down, heartfelt reading of "Faithless Love" and a superb version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Unexpected Song," forcefully belting the final verse and then soaring with the song's last, glorious high note.

Sondheim is also heavily represented with the little-known "(They Ask Me Why) I Believe in You" as well as A Little Night Music's "Later," which displays the range of Peters' soprano. A beautiful of medley of "With So Little to Be Sure Of" and "Children Will Listen" precedes the disc's final offering, an encore of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Peters' rendition is full of such warmth and heart that it makes one hope the singing actress will someday record an entire disc of holiday tunes.

For now, though, her fans can enjoy "Sondheim, Etc., Etc.—Bernadette Peters Live at Carnegie Hall (The Rest of It)," which arrives in stores Aug. 2 on the Angel Records label. (The single disc was produced by Jay Landers and executive-produced by Richard Jay-Alexander — the concert's director — and Bruce Lundvall. Chris Tergesen co-produced and mixed the recording).

 

The Light in the Piazza
On June 5 the score for The Light in the Piazza, the new musical at the Vivian Beaumont Theater, won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Original Score, and it is an honor well-deserved. Featuring music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, grandson of the late Broadway composer Richard Rodgers, the music for Piazza soars. From the gentle strains of the “Overture” through the second-act finale “Fable,” the score, which has been preserved by Nonesuch Records, offers a bounty of truly beautiful tunes. In fact, “Fable,” sung by Victoria Clark, may be the best new song to grace Broadway this season.

Clark, who won a Tony Award for her performance as Margaret Johnson — a Southern woman trying to protect her young daughter on a visit to Italy in 1953 — possesses a powerful, commanding instrument, as comfortable in her lower register as she is in her rangy soprano. She is also a consummate actress, who can make the listener laugh one moment and shed a tear the next. Just listen to the range of emotion and vocal color Clark brings to the aforementioned “Fable”: She is deeply moving as she sings, “If you find in the world/ In the wide wide world/ That someone sees/ That someone knows you/ Love! Love! Love” She brings similar depth to “Dividing Day” as well as the second-act reprise of “The Beauty Is.”

Piazza is also blessed with several other outstanding performers, including Kelli O’Hara as Margaret’s daughter Clara, whose childhood tragedy is the thrust for much of the show’s plot; and Matthew Morrison as Fabrizio Naccarelli, the young Florentine man smitten by Clara’s beauty. Both O’Hara and Morrison shine in their solos (she in two of the show’s prettiest offerings, “The Beauty Is” and the title track; he in “Il Mondo Era Vuoto” and “Love to Me”) and in their touching duet (“Say It Somehow”).

It is a stunning recording and score, one whose beauty is more fully appreciated on repeat listenings. The 18-track disc, now in stores, features complete lyrics, color production photos and notes from former New York Times theatre critic Frank Rich.

 

ADRIANE LENOX

I had the chance to briefly chat with new Tony Award winner Adriane Lenox shortly after she received her Tony nomination for her performance as Mrs. Muller in the Tony Award-winning Doubt. Lenox, who had been best known to New York audiences in such musicals as Kiss Me, Kate and Dinah Was, delivers a dazzling, non-musical turn in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play. In fact, her brief scene in the play casts everything that comes before in a new light. I asked Lenox whether she missed having music to sing now that she's in a straight play. "I have to tell you, I do not really," she answered laughing. "I enjoy doing musicals. I sang at the Rain Forest [benefit] the night before and had a great time. Everybody [said], 'You're fierce, you're fierce!' I was telling La Chanze, who was [also] in The Color Purple — it was almost the end of the run down there. I said, 'Ooh, La Chanze, I'm tired of singing. I gotta do a play.' And then this comes about. Isn't it beautiful how God works? It's just fantastic!"

Lenox said she won't be a part of Purple when it makes its way to Broadway, but said the show is "fantastic. We had a good time, [and] the people just ate it up. It's a beautiful piece. I think it's going to do very well." But, for now, she's happily starring at the Walter Kerr Theatre in one of the season's biggest hits, playing her award-winning scene opposite another Tony winner, Cherry Jones, who plays Sister Aloysius. About that scene, Lenox says, "It switches the dynamic of what you've seen so far. If you've had some kind of opinion, either way, when [my character] comes in and says what she says, then you're like, 'Uh huh?' It's certainly a small but very important part of the play."

 

DIVA TIDBITS

A semi-staged double bill of George and Ira Gershwin's Of Thee I Sing and Let 'Em Eat Cake will be presented June 23-25 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Part of the San Francisco Symphony's June Festival "Of Thee I Sing: Yiddish Theater, Broadway, and the American Voice," the concerts will be directed by Broadway veteran Patricia Birch. The cast includes TV personality Mo Rocca as narrator Alexander Throttlebottom with Stephen Bogardus as John P. Wintergreen, Lisa Vroman as Mary Turner, Marin Mazzie as Diana Devereaux (and Trixie Flynn in Cake), Jason Danieley as Sam Jenkins (and Kruger in Cake), Lianne Marie Dobbs as Miss Benson, Kevin Chamberlin as the French Ambassador (and General Adam Snookfield in Cake) and Charles Dean as John P. Tweedledee. The concerts will feature the San Francisco Symphony under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas as well as the voices of the San Francisco Chorus. Show time is 8 PM. Tickets for the concerts, priced $35-$107, are available by calling (415) 864-6000. Visit www.sfsymphony.org for more information. Alabama native Rebecca Luker will return home for a series of concerts in September. From Sept. 8-10 the Tony-nominated star of The Music Man will perform Rebecca Luker—Back Home Again at the Virginia Sanford Theater in Birmingham, AL. The concerts will feature songs from Luker's Broadway appearances as well as her new solo recording "Leaving Home." About her upcoming shows, Luker told The Birmingham News that she will also draw material from her recent concert for Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. "[At Lincoln Center] I wanted to do something that was special to me," Luker explained. "I feel passionate about these new songs. I wanted to do something extra along with the old-hat standards. . . I was able to do anything I wanted at that concert, so I did all-new theatre songs. It's exciting, wonderful music." Tickets for Rebecca Luker—Back Home Again are priced $48 and $68. For reservations, call (205) 251 1206; visit www.virginiasamfordtheatre.org for more information.

 

Andrea C. Ross, the 14-year-old performer who recently won the Elliot Norton Award for Outstanding Actress/Small Theatre Company, will be part of this year's Sydmonton Festival presented by composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Ross will perform a 35-minute program of classic musical theatre songs following the festival's opening-night dinner on July 8. Ross, who received the Norton Award for her performances in regional productions of A Little Night Music, The Sound of Music and Ramona Quimby, recently returned from London where she had been rehearsing with the composer of Evita, Sunset Boulevard and The Woman in White. About her recent adventures, the young performer said in a statement, "This has been a huge step for me. It’s so challenging, but it’s also so much fun to feel you’ve been able to balance school and friends with work in the theatre. And working in the theatre is definitely my passion." This year's Sydmonton Festival, the private arts festival that often premieres new Lloyd Webber works, will also include a presentation of an old musical the composer wrote with lyricist Tim Rice. In an interview on the Really Useful website, casting director David Grindrod said, "This is what we are putting together at the moment — actually with an old musical which he wrote about 40 years ago with Tim [Rice] which is The Likes of Us. There [are] a few songs and a few characters, although no script yet, and I am working with Simon Lee, the musical director, and Chris Luscombe, the director. We are getting the characters together and slowly working it through from there."

 

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

Tony Award winner Adriane Lenox in <i>Doubt</i>
Tony Award winner Adriane Lenox in Doubt Photo by Joan Marcus
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