DIVA TALK: Peters Goes Merman, Merman Goes Disco Plus Eder at Carnegie

News   DIVA TALK: Peters Goes Merman, Merman Goes Disco Plus Eder at Carnegie It's an exciting time for Bernadette Peters fans, as the countdown begins for the upcoming revival of Gypsy at Broadway's Shubert Theatre.
Cover art for the Ethel Merman disco album.
Cover art for the Ethel Merman disco album.

As anyone who reads this column knows, previews of the Arthur Laurents Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim musical begin March 31 with an official opening scheduled for May 1; tickets go on sale to the general public Jan. 19 via Telecharge. Two-time Tony Award winner Peters recently took part in a photo shoot for "Entertainment Weekly" to promote her latest role as (Mama) Rose, her second part — following Annie Get Your Gun's Annie Oakley — created onstage by the late Ethel Merman. That issue will hit newsstands Jan. 20.

The more I think about the prospect of seeing Peters in this role of roles, the more excited I get. For me, it's the most thrilling prospect of the season, and I really believe our Song & Dance gal is going to shock those who feel she may be too "cute" or "nice" to play the part. I was recently watching a clip of Peters singing "Last Midnight" at the anniversary concert of Into the Woods a few years back, and her performance of the Stephen Sondheim song was brimming with fury and rage, emotions she'll have to tap into again to portray the most famous of stage mothers. She'll also be a riot in the show's lighter moments: Peters is one of the most gifted comedic musical theatre performers around. And, if you check out pictures of the real Rose Hovick — they can be found in "Gypsy: A Memoir" — Peters looks remarkably like the woman upon which the character Rose is based.

Peters also received her third Grammy nomination this past week for her critically acclaimed solo recording, "Bernadette Peters Loves Rodgers & Hammerstein," co-produced by director Richard Jay-Alexander and orchestrator Jonathan Tunick (Angel Records). Other nominees in the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album category include Tony Bennett ("Playin' With My Friends: Bennett Sings The Blues"), Michael Feinstein ("Michael Feinstein With the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra"), Rod Stewart ("It Had To Be You...The Great American Songbook") and Barbra Streisand ("Christmas Memories"). It's just possible that Peters could take home a Grammy and a Tony in the same year. The 45th Annual Grammy Awards will be telecast live from Madison Square Garden on CBS-TV on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 8 PM.

And, one last BP item: "It Runs in the Family," Peters' upcoming MGM film opposite Michael Douglas, will hit screens across the country April 25. Gee, maybe it will be Tony, Grammy and Oscar?! ...

FOR THE RECORD: The Ethel Merman Disco Album:

I have to admit that I couldn't decide exactly where I should listen to "The Ethel Merman Disco Album," which was recently reissued on the Fynsworth Alley label. Having never heard the 1979 cult recording, I wasn't quite sure I wanted to share it with my apartment neighbors. I often listen to music on the subway ride home from work, but sometimes you can hear what the person next to you is listening to — did I really want other riders to know I was listening to Merman sing disco?! And, then I thought about listening while running on the treadmill at the gym. But the thought of someone asking, "What are you listening to?" was enough to dispel that idea. So, I finally decided I would listen to the recording at work; everyone here already knows my quirks, so this would be no oddity.

Merman — whose work I've grown quite fond of in the past few years — actually delivers her signature songs not too differently from the stage versions, albeit a bit faster and with less long, held notes. In fact, if you removed the disco arrangements and replaced them with simple piano accompaniment, the tracks wouldn't sound too out of the ordinary. But when you add the disco beats, the extended musical interludes and, most significantly, the background singers — who offer such lines as "Why, why, why baby?" during "There's No Business Like Show Business" and "What'cha got, hey what 'ya doing?" as a prelude to Merman's "I'm always doing something, something for the boys" — it's quite a hoot. I think I had a smile on my face the entire time I was listening to the disco tracks — "There's No Business Like Show Business," "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Something for the Boys," "Some People," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "I Got Rhythm" — including the bonus, never-before-released eighth cut, "They Say It's Wonderful." I'm not sure it's a "must-have" recording, but for Merman enthusiasts and disco-loving theatre fans, be sure to check it out!

Man of La Mancha:

I think the last time I heard the complete score to Man of La Mancha was during my senior year at Ocean Township High when our school mounted a production of the 1965 musical. I had forgotten just how beautiful the songs were in the Mitch Leigh (music)-Joe Darion (lyrics) score until I attended the current revival at the Martin Beck Theatre, starring Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell. For those who are only familiar with the musical's most famous song, "The Impossible Dream," it's a score you'll want to investigate, for it possesses a handful of melodic delights.

I'm happy to report that the current cast recording is now available on the RCA Victor label. Mitchell sounds wonderful on all his tracks — his rich, dark baritone a perfect fit for ballads like "Man of La Mancha," "Impossible Dream" and "Dulcinea," and his throbbing vibrato gives each of the songs new life. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio doesn't fare quite as well, although parts of her voice are quite pretty. She does better in her soprano, which reminds me of a cross between the sounds of folk singer Judy Collins and Jacques Brel interpreter Elly Stone. It's in her lower register where she seems to have a placement problem, resulting in an often forced sound. That said, however, Mastrantonio is quite stirring in "What Does He Want of Me?" and does well enough with the demanding "Aldonza." (I would love to hear Linda Eder sing the role — her earthiness and rangy belt would make a perfect Aldonza.)

There are other highlights as well, including "I'm Only Thinking of Him," featuring a trio comprising Natascia Diaz, Olga Merediz and Mark Jacoby; and Bradley Dean, Gregory Mitchell and the Muleteers on "Little Bird, Little Bird." The 20-track recording includes a 36-page booklet with complete lyrics and production photos.

QUOTABLE QUOTES:

Barbara Cook on this week's ABC program "UpClose":
"I had been this slim, very slim person, and this reasonably slim person, then this slightly overweight person, and then I had this period of not appearing very much, and coming back as a much heavier person. And God, what annoyed the hell out of me is that's what people wanted to talk about rather than the work. I had come back doing wonderful work, and they were not so interested in that as much as how much I weighed. . . . I hope most people get lost in what I'm presenting and what I'm hopefully saying to them. You know, I hope I'm reaching them, and clearly I seem to be reaching them in some deep way, so that whatever my size is, is less important to them. . . . If I start worrying about it, I won't go out of the house, and I'm not about to do that. If people don't want to look at me, they don't look; if they don't want to come, they don't want to come. There's nothing I can do about it. . . . I just have to do the best I can everyday, and that's about all I can do."

Audra McDonald discusses her "Mister Sterling" co-star Josh Brolin in Joanne Kaufman's TV Guide article ("Mister Sterling" begins Jan. 10 at 8PM on NBC):
"When we started shooting, Josh said to me, 'My kids and I went to Blockbuster last night and rented 'Tonys' Greatest Moments' and we saw your three acceptance speeches. And my daughter was so moved that she cried.' He's always busting my chops like that. I've never clicked with someone as completely as with him."

Marin Mazzie discusses working with hubby Jason Danieley in Adam Sandel's article for the San Francisco Examiner:
"I love working with him and being on stage together. We have complete confidence in each other and it's really wonderful. . . . The business is challenging. So it's a blessing that we're both in it. We understand what each other is going through and we make decisions as a team."

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Tony Award winner Betty Buckley will return to her downtown haunt, the Bottom Line, for Valentine's Day concerts Feb. 14. BB, who recently took part in a workshop of the new musical Diner Stories, will offer two concerts at the famed nightclub Feb. 14. Show times are 7:30 and 10:30 PM; doors will open at 7 PM for the first concert and at 10 PM for the second. It's a busy time for Buckley who can also be seen on the final season of the acclaimed HBO series "Oz." The Bottom Line is located in New York City on the corner of West 4th and Mercer Streets. Tickets are priced at $25 and are available by calling the box office at (212) 228-6300. For more information, go to www.bottomlinecabaret.com . . . Theatrical legend Barbara Cook will discuss her love of opera during the upcoming radio broadcast of Die Fledermaus Jan. 11. Cook, who received a 2002 Tony nomination for her one-woman concert Mostly Sondheim, will be featured during the first interval break of the opera, which will be aired in the metropolitan area on WQXR, 96.3 FM from 1:30 to 4:30 PM . . . Emmy Award winner Megan Mullally, who starred opposite Matthew Broderick in the Broadway revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, will perform in the Alterknit Lounge of California's Knitting Factory on Jan. 17 and 18. Show time for both concerts is 8 PM, and tickets are priced at $7. Mullally will present songs from her new CD, "Megan Mullally and Supreme Music Program: Big As a Berry," which was recently released on the Fynsworth Alley label. The Knitting Factory is located at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California. Call (323) 463-0204 for more information . . . Recent Amour star Melissa Errico will release her debut solo recording, "Blue Like That," February 25. The recording (Manhattan Records), produced by Arif Mardin, features a selection of modern American standards, including "I Still Love You," "Never Saw Blue Like That," "When He Loved Me," "Keep It To Myself," "He Was Too Good To Me," "Love Junkyard," "Night Ride Home," "Hot In Here," "Company," "Diamond In The Rough," "And So It Goes" and "As I Long As I Have You." Errico will also perform in concert at the Barns of Wolf Trap on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 7:30 PM. The Barns of Wolf Trap can be found at 1635 Trap Road in Vienna, VA. Tickets for "An Evening with Melissa Errico" are priced at $30 and can be purchased by calling (703) 938-2404 . . . And, finally, former Jekyll & Hyde star Linda Eder will return to Carnegie Hall for her third solo concert Feb. 19. The evening at the famed hall will also launch the debut of Eder's latest solo recording, a salute to Broadway, which is aptly titled "Broadway My Way." The Atlantic Records CD will feature such tunes as "Some People," "Anthem," "I Am What I Am," "I'll Be Seeing You," "Unusual Way," "A New Life," "The Impossible Dream," "Edelweiss," "Don't Rain On My Parade," "On the Street Where You Live," "Man of La Mancha" and "Gold." Tickets for "Linda Eder at Carnegie Hall" are priced at $35, $50 and $75 and will go on sale Monday, Jan. 13 at 11 AM. Call the Carnegie Hall Box Office at (212) 247-7800.

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:

May 31, 2003 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA

Liz Callaway in Concert:

Feb. 14-15 Stephen Schwartz and Friends at the Edison Theatre at Washington University in St. Louis, MO
Feb. 3 at the Wintergarden in the NYC World Financial Center in New York, NY
May 16 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA

Barbara Cook in Concert:

Jan. 31, 2003 at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Long Island, NY
Feb. 14-16 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, PA

Linda Eder in Concert:

Jan. 25 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT
Jan. 30 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, CA
Feb. 1 at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek, CO
Feb. 14 at the Proctor's Theatre in Albany, NY

Patti LuPone in Concert

Now through Jan.12, 2003 at the Mohegan Sun Cabaret in Uncasville, CT March 27 at the East County Performing Arts Center in Cajon, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 28-29 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 30 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

Maureen McGovern in Concert

Jan. 30-Feb. 2 at Orchestra Hall with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in Detroit , MI
Feb. 7-9 at the San Diego Museum of Art in San Diego, CA
Feb. 14-16 at the Marcus Center with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee, WI
March 4-15 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York City
April 12-13 at Center Stage—Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, CA
April 14-19 at Founder's Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
May 30 - 31 at the Palmer Events Center with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Austin, TX
June 7 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!