DIVA TALK: Remembering Nell Carter, Cook on DVD, More Normas and More

DIVA TALK: Remembering Nell Carter, Cook on DVD, More Normas and More I'd like to dedicate this week's column to Nell Carter, who passed away suddenly this week at age 54.

I was a big fan of the sassy performer, whose unique belt voice was filled with emotion and went straight to the listener's soul. About belting a song, Carter once said, "You're afraid you might hyperventilate or crack, but you do it for the excitement of it. Head singers have to hold everything tight to get the note. I like belters, people who have that non-control but control."

I only had the chance to chat once with the spirited singer-actress, in Dec. 1999 when she released the benefit CD, "Misbehavin' with Nell Carter and The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus." During the conversation, Carter spoke about her brother, the late Dr. Bernard Taylor, a gifted conductor/pianist who died from AIDS over a decade ago. Carter spoke lovingly about her late brother — "the best friend I ever had in my life" — and the healing power of music: "I think music and laughter are the two things that can keep you alive. Someone who is really depressed, tell them a joke, and they may come out of it for even just a moment. Or play them something. For me, you can put on something by Bach, and I'll feel better. Or put on 'Sexual Healing' or anything by Eric Clapton."

Carter, herself, had been blessed with the gift of music, possessing a voice that could swing with the sounds of Waller or Duke Ellington or belt out a Broadway show-stopper. Her way with a song can be seen in the video of "My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies," which aired on PBS stations back in '99. Carter delivered a no-nonsense, straight-to-the-heart version of "Mean to Me," her signature tune from Ain't Misbehavin'. About that starry evening of diva worship, Carter told me at the time, "All the performers were glad to be together, rooting for each other. I shared a dressing room with Bebe [Neuwirth] and Linda [Eder] . . . Everyone had a dressing room, but everyone hung out in the big green room and applauded for each other and wished each other on. It was a really, really great night."

BARBARA COOK How exciting that Barbara Cook's thrilling Mostly Sondheim concert will be released on DVD/VHS in a few months. I chatted with a DRG spokesperson earlier this week, who informed me that "Barbara Cook Mostly Sondheim — Live in Concert" will hit stores April 22.

In addition to the concert, which was filmed live at SUNY Purchase's Pepsico Theatre, the DVD (not the VHS) will also boast several other features, including one of Cook's legendary master classes (taped at the Kennedy Center in August), an interview with the singer-actress as well as her complete discography for DRG. The song list for "Mostly Sondheim" follows:

"Everybody Says Don't"
"Buds Won't Bud"
"I Wonder What Became of Me?"
"The Eagle and Me"
"I Had Myself a True Love"
"Another Hundred People"/"So Many People"
"In Buddy's Eyes"
"I Got Lost in His Arms"
"You Can't Get a Man With a Gun"
Medley: "Hard Hearted Hannah"/"Waiting for the Robert E. Lee"/"San Francisco"
"When in Rome (I Do As the Romans Do)"
"Happiness"
"Loving You"
"You Could Drive a Person Crazy"
"Send in the Clowns"
"Ice Cream"
"Not a Day Goes By"
"Losing My Mind"
"The Trolley Song"
"Anyone Can Whistle"

Cook also recently announced a new list of concert dates:

Jan. 31 at the Tilles Center at Long Island University & C.W. Post Campus
Feb. 14-15 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburg, PA
Feb. 28-March 9 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, CA
March 21 at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT
Sept. 7-9 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA (concert with Marilyn Horne)
Oct. 2 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (concert with Marilyn Horne)

MORE NORMAS!

With the announcement that Liza Minnelli is being considered for a film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, last week I asked for your thoughts about those you'd like to play the aging silent screen star on screen. Thanks for all your responses, some of which follow . . .

Steve from L.A. writes: "The difficulty of playing Norma Desmond is not limited to singing and acting, it's also 'age.' That immediately limits our choices. I do not think Glenn Close's 'bigger-than-life' performance would work on film. I recently bought the DVD release, and it's a very difficult role to play on the giant silver screen. You need the audience to see Norma as both 'pathetic,' yet still remain 'sympathetic.' It was easier for Swanson, because the public knew she was a silent screen star, so they accepted her interpretation without question. Any remake, stage or screen, musical or drama, has to have a lead that can 'bridge' the time warp and capture emotions that came automatically with the casting of Swanson. If there is to be a film version of the musical, it must be cast with a 'singer who can act' and not an 'actress who can sing.' Why? If we accept great acting and an OK voice, why bother with the remake? To put the music in second place would be a huge miscalculation. I am not a great fan of Liza Minnelli. To her credit, Liza brings 'history' and 'baggage' to the part. She has a past . . . Liza's past baggage, however, is still very much a part of her present. It might prove too much of a problem to overcome. Streep can do almost anything, but she cannot create a 'past' like Liza. So my suggestion: Don't do it, leave it for the stage. Some things just won't work."

James writes: "Responding to your article commenting on which screen actress would make an ideal Norma Desmond, I believe that Joan Allen would make an ideal choice. Among contemporary film actresses, no one can match Allen's capability to capture both steely determination and vulnerability through a look (my second choice—Angela Bassett). And if they can't already sing, I believe that either of these actresses can be suitably trained vocally."

Roman from Texas writes: ". . . Patti LuPone should be asked to play the movie version of Sunset. If anything, it would be divine justice that Patti get the role. . . However, that being extremely unlikely, Meryl Streep would be an excellent choice. After all, she sought the role originally during the 1992 Sydmonton Festival, when Patti won the role."

Jim wrote: "Who should play Norma? I asked around and these are the names that popped up: Barbra Streisand, Cher, Madonna, Bernadette Peters, Catherine Zeta-Jones. I have never heard Meryl Streep sing, but I think the casting people could do better. I have a special fondness for Elaine Paige. But it's doubtful, she'd get to plat the part on the big screen."

Lyle writes: "You said you'd love to know who we think should play Norma Desmond in the film version, well, I don't know if she'd want to, or if she can still sing, but for years I have thought Doris Day would be the perfect choice. In her time she did it all — singing, comedy, drama . . . If only someone could talk her into it . . . I think Liza could be a good choice, it's hard to predict. I'd rather see it tried with her than with Glenn Close — her singing left much to be desired. Not a fan of Barbra as Norma. Saw Patti do it in London and loved her. Saw Petula do it and liked her, but not for the big screen. I'd love to see Doris!"

CHRISTIANE NOLL

Former Jekyll & Hyde star Christiane Noll recently released a host of new concert dates through the end of the year. These appearances follow:
Feb. 14 Fort Meyers, FL Southwest Florida Symphony with Doug Webster
Feb. 15 Fort Meyers, FL Southwest Florida Symphony with Doug Webster
Feb. 20 Carnegie Mellon Alumni Event in NYC with David Budway
April 5 Springfield, MA with Springfield Symphony
April 9 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
April 21 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
May 24 Williamsburg, VA with the Virginia Arts Festival
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines,IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK One of this column's favorites, Alice Ripley, will team up with Robert Evan for an evening of Broadway Romance Feb. 14 in Alabama. The one-night-only concert at the Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, will feature a mix of theatre tunes as well as the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. Tickets are priced at $25 for the 8 PM concert, with special student seats at a discounted $10. Tickets may be purchased by calling (205) 251-7727 or by going on-line to www.alabamasymphony.org. . . . Tony nominee Louise Pitre will vacation from the Broadway cast of Mamma Mia! at the end of February. Pitre will take a week off from the international hit musical, Feb. 24-March 3. Pitre, as previously announced, will headline a concert celebrating the French chanson on March 7 at New York's Town Hall. The Canadian actress will welcome singer-songwriter Amanda McBroom as well as French singer Michel Hermon at the one-night-only event, which is being dubbed French Cabaret: Viva La Chanson. The evening will feature tunes made famous by Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour and other French-speaking and singing artists. Tickets are priced at $30 and $35 and are available by calling (212) 307-4100 or by visiting the Town Hall box office. Town Hall is located in Manhattan at 123 W. 43rd Street . . . . Over the past decade cabaret leading lady Andrea Marcovicci has tackled the works of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern as well as songs from classic films, tunes made famous during the World War II era and even songs by more modern composers—Joni Mitchell, the Beatles, James Taylor and others. Marcovicci will now turn her attention to the work of Frank Loesser, whose musicals include Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, Where's Charley? and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Marcovicci will workshop her newest show, "If I Were a Bell: The Music of Frank Loesser" this April at The Gardenia in Los Angeles, CA. She will then present a month-and-a-half-long run of the Loesser show at San Francisco's Plush Room, Sept. 9- Oct. 18. . . . Tony Award winner Lea Salonga, now starring in Flower Drum Song at the Virginia Theatre, returns to the CBS daytime drama "As the World Turns" this month. Beginning Jan. 28, Salonga will reprise her role of Lien Hughes, a part she played on the award-winning soap from Feb. 2001 to May 2001. When she returns to the long-running series, her character will have news about Marshall Travers' (Lamman Rucker) missing daughter. Chris Goutman, executive producers of "As the World Turns," said, "We are thrilled to have Lea back on board with us to help move this story forward. The search for Marshall's missing daughter provided us with the perfect opportunity to bring Lien back to the show." . . . Stars are lining up to take part in Sing for a Cure: A Valentine Cabaret Salute to Richard Rodgers, scheduled for Feb. 10 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. The one-night-only event will benefit The Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association Greater New York Chapter, otherwise known as ALS-NY. As of press time, those taking part in the evening include Salonga, Rebecca Budig, Catherine Crosby, John Dossett, Marvin Hamlisch, Sheldon Harnick, Tripp Hornick, Cady Huffman, Peter Jason, Nicholas King, Kathleen Landis, Jose Llana, Andrea Marcovicci, James Naughton, Robert Newman, Marni Nixon, Charles Osgood, Michelle Pawk, Dennis Parlato, Dana Reeve, Tamara Tuni, Kim Zimmer and the cast of Off-Broadway's Forbidden Broadway. Tickets for Sing for a Cure are priced between $100 and $500 with benefit-level seating beginning at $1,000. Cocktails will be served at 6 PM with the performance scheduled for 7 PM. The Richard Rodgers Theatre — currently the home of Movin' Out — is located in New York City at 226 W. 46th Street. Call (212) 619-1400 or (212) 744-0799 for tickets.

REMINDERS Betty Buckley in Concert:

Feb. 14 at the Bottom Line in New York, NY
May 31 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
March 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

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!