DIVA TALK: Praising Benanti and Foster, Plus News of LaMott, Eder, Kuhn and More

DIVA TALK: Praising Benanti and Foster, Plus News of LaMott, Eder, Kuhn and More TWO DIVAS

TWO DIVAS

I thought I'd devote the first part of this week's column to two "divas" whose performances particularly impressed me in the last few weeks. One is a young woman whose work I've enjoyed several times before, and the other is totally new to me.

The former is Laura Benanti, who is currently portraying Cinderella in the revival of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods at the Broadhurst Theatre. I had first heard Benanti sing on a Stephen Schwartz compilation recording ("The Stephen Schwartz Album") a few years ago. I remember listening to the CD prior to perusing the list of performers, and when Benanti's medley of "Beautiful City" and "Day By Day" began, I thought, "Wow, whose beautiful voice is this? ... So, that's Laura Benanti! What a glorious voice." The first time I saw Benanti onstage was in Swing!, the musical that earned the 22-year-old actress her first Tony Award nomination. [One suspects she'll be garnering her second nomination on Monday.] Then, I saw the actress perform the role of Eileen opposite Donna Murphy's Ruth in the terrific City Center Encores! presentation of Wonderful Town, which deserves a Broadway run. Although she was cast in the less showy role, Benanti scored with her rendition of "A Little Bit of Love" and her first-act duet with Murphy, "Ohio." But, getting back to the Woods. Benanti was, for me, the only member of the current cast who rivaled the original, stellar Broadway company. Not only is Benanti's voice beautiful—a full, rounded tone that she seems to produce effortlessly—but she is a captivating actress as well. She manages to explore her role for all its comedic and dramatic potential, and she is also a terrific listener. That is, when she's not speaking or singing, her reactions to the other characters and what's going on around her are always completely true to her character. Quite simply, she goes deeper and more interestingly Into the Woods than anyone else around her, and when she's onstage — singing, talking or observing what's happening in the forest around her — it's hard to take your eyes off Benanti.

The other young diva of note is Sutton Foster, who currently stars in the title role of the new musical Thoroughly Modern Millie. Admittedly, I have never seen the movie upon which the musical is based, but I found the evening at the Marquis Theatre a joyous experience. It's a funny, witty musical that raises your spirits through terrific musical numbers and performances, including those by Harriet Harris, who stars as the evil Mrs. Meers; Marc Kudisch, who plays Millie's boss and gets to deliver one of the best numbers of the evening, "The Speed Test"; and the aforementioned Foster, who reminds me of a young, more gawky Mary Tyler Moore with a great, rangy, exciting belt. Foster offers a high-energy, charming performance in a huge and potentially difficult role, but, from the moment she appears in the show's opening number, "Not for the Life of Me," she is in complete control of the stage. In fact, whether she's singing, dancing or hamming it up, Foster is a thoroughly marvelous Millie, and her second-act show-stopper, "Gimme, Gimme," is thrilling.

Don't miss your chance to see two of the finest young musical theatre performers in action. And, be sure to let me know what you think! KAREN AKERS

I had planned on attending Karen Akers' Wednesday evening Algonquin performance, but due to a pulled back muscle — that'll teach me for going to the gym — I had to cancel. I will catch Akers' show sometime during its run, but until then, I thought you'd like to see her eclectic song list, which follows.

"As Long As I Live" (Arlen/Koehler)
"I See Your Face Before Me" (Dietz/Schwartz)
"They Were You" (Schmidt/Jones)
"Try To Remember" (Schmidt/Jones)
"Queen Elizabeth" (Rodgers/Hart)
"Ah, But Underneath" (Sondheim)
"She's Always A Woman" (Joel)
"Padam Padam" (Piaf)
"When Love Speaks To You" (King Wouk)
"You Left Too Soon" (King Wouk)
"Stop All The Clocks" (Lord)
"Marieke" (Brel)
"If We Only Have Love" (Brel)

**Through May 25, Akers — star of Broadway's Nine and Grand Hotel — will play Tuesdays-Thursdays at 9 PM at the Algonquin (59 West 44th Street) and Fridays and Saturdays at 9 and 11:30 PM. There is a $50 cover charge and a $15 food/drink minimum. Reservations may be made by calling (212) 419-9331.

FOR THE RECORD:

I received a copy of Donna McKechnie's debut solo recording, "Inside the Music," in today's mail. I'll give you my thoughts next week about the new Fynsworth Alley release, but I thought you'd be interested in some of the other upcoming discs, also on the Fynsworth Alley label. On May 7, Fynsworth will release "Broadway Inspirations," a collection of some of the theatre's most inspiring songs rendered by Liz Callaway, Michelle Nicastro, Debbie Gravitte and the late Laurie Beechman. May 21 will see the release on CD of the original Off-Broadway cast recording of I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road, which starred Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford. "Wall-to-Wall Richard Rodgers," which was taped live at the recent Symphony Space concert, is scheduled for a June release and will include excerpts from that day-long event. Jerry Herman fans will be excited to learn that his short-lived Broadway musical, The Grand Tour, will finally find its way to CD this summer. The Fynsworth recording boasts special bonus tracks of Herman performing songs cut from the original show. And, the Gwen Verdon vehicle Redhead will also be released by Fynsworth Alley this summer.

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK One of my all-time favorite singers, the late Nancy LaMott, will be the subject of a special May 19, four-hour fundraising edition of the radio program "Everything Old Is New Again." The show will feature interviews with both David Friedman, who composed many of LaMott's signature tunes, and Christopher Marlowe, LaMott's musical director and pianist. "Everything Old Is New Again" airs Sundays beginning at 9PM over WBAI 99.5FM and on the internet at http://www.2600.com/offthehook/hot2.ram . . . Cabaret singer Anna Bergman, who has played New York's Arci's Place and the FireBird Cafe, has a host of upcoming engagements. May 1: "A Celebration of Song from Berlin to Bizet" at the Frances & Armand Hammer Auditorium in Washington, D.C.; May 4: "Great American Songwriting Teams" (with John Hancock and Christiane Tisdale) at the New York Festival of Song in Ossining, NY; May 13 31: "The Theatre Guild's 'Theatre at Sea' Mediterranean Cruise" (with Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands, Jerry Orbach, Patricia Neal, Lee Roy Reams, George Dvorsky and Susan Powell); June 9 at the Mabel Mercer Foundation's First Cabaret Convention at the Prince Theatre in Philadelphia, PA; June 13 "My Heart Stood Still: Rodgers & Hart in London" (with Steve Ross, Heather Gilchrist, Barry Day and others) at the Bruno Walter Auditorium at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center in New York, NY; June 30: "Fascinating Gershwin" (with George Dvorsky and Peter Howard) at the John Drew Theatre at Guild Hall in Easthampton, NY; Sept. 17: "Waltz of My Heart: The Music of Ivor Novello" (with Barrie Ingham) at the Players Club in Gramercy Park, NY; and Sept. 20 and 21: "A Concert of Broadway & Operetta" (with Cris Groenendaal) at the Academy Theatre in Meadville, PA. . . . Tony-winning The Life star Lillias White will be among the performers at the May 17 Kennedy Center event "Songs for the New Millennium." Featuring songs by Cy Coleman and Marilyn and Alan Bergman, the one-night-only songfest will also include the vocal artistry of Carl Anderson, Patti Austin, Janis Siegel and Steve Tyrell. "Songs for a New Millennium" begins at 8:30 PM at the Kennedy Center's concert hall, and tickets — $10-$27 — are available by calling (800) 444-1324. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is located in Washington, D.C., at 2700 F. Street. For more information, go to www.kennedy-center.org. . . . Linda Eder will be the subject of an upcoming episode of the acclaimed "Bravo Profiles" series on the Bravo Network. The former Jekyll & Hyde star will be profiled on the May 12 broadcast of the series, which airs at 7 PM EST. Eder will also tape a segment for "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" to air on June 25. Her "Bravo Profiles" feature will be rebroadcast on May 13 at midnight and May 19 at 11 AM EST . . . The glorious-voiced Judy Kuhn will host the second annual Bound for Broadway evening on Monday, May 13. The once-a-year event presents sneak previews of several new musicals by some of the theatre's hottest young writers, including Jeff Blumencrantz, Charles Bloom, Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich. In addition to selections from ten different works, the evening will also include interviews with the writing teams. Among the performers set to sing tunes from these new musicals are Heather Mac Rae — of Falsettos fame — and Andre Garner, who starred in the revival of Meredith Willson's The Music Man. Bound for Broadway will be held at the Merkin Concert Hall, which is located in the Abraham Goodman House at 129 W. 67th Street. Tickets, priced at $20, are available at the hall's box office or by calling (212) 501-3330. For more information, go to www.ekcc.org.

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:
May 4 at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago, IL (Benefit for Goodman Theatre)
May 11 at the Virginia Samford Theatre in Birmingham, AL
June 27-28 at the Zellerbach Theatre in the Annenberg Center of the University of Pennsylvania in PA (with Jay Leonhart — "Betty and the Bass")
June 29 at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY
July 7 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, NM
Sept. 28 at the Haugh Performing Arts Center in Glendora, CA
Oct. 3-6 at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, TX
Oct. 22-Nov. 9 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 16 at the Performing Arts Center of SUNY-Purchase in Purchase, NY
Dec. 6 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC
Dec. 31 at the Tilles Center at CW Post University in Glen Cove, NY

Barbara Cook in Concert:
May 14 Cook receives the New Dramatists’ Lifetime Achievement Award at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in New York, NY
May 19-20 with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA
June 5-9 and June 12-16 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, DC
June 23-Aug. 26 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York, NY (Mostly Sondheim)
July 5 at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts in Long Island
August 14-18 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, DC
Oct. 19 at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA
Nov. 2 at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts in Brooklyn, NY
Nov. 17 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ

Maureen McGovern in Concert:
May 10 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts Gala in Houston, TX
May 17-18 "Works of Heart" Seminar in New York, NY
June 22 "Music by the Lake" in Lake Geneva, WI
June 29-Aug. 17 Dear World at Sundance Theater, Sundance, UT
July 4 at the Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts at the Venetian Theater in Katonah, NY
Aug. 7 at the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival in Salt Lake City, UT
Sept. 1-2 MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon in Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 20 - 22 Grand Rapids Symphony at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, MI
Sept 26-29 North Carolina Symphony, Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, NC
Oct. 30-Nov. 3 American Music Therapy Association Conference in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 2 at the Rialto Center in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 9 at the Landmark Theater in Port Washington, NY
Nov. 19-Dec. 1 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8 at Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9 Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit, Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Dec. 14 Boca Pops Big Band Series in Boca Raton, FL

Bernadette Peters in Concert:
May 17 at Harrah's in Atlantic City, NJ
June 7 at the Ravinia Pavillion in Highland Park, IL
June 19 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY
June 28 at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, CA
July 2 at the Interlochen Center in Interlochen, MI
Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at the Morton H. Meyerson Hall in Dallas, TX
Sept. 28 at the Weidner Center in Green Bay, WI
Oct. 24 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis, IN
Oct. 26 at the Kleinhans Auditorium in Buffalo, NY

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

By Andrew Gans