I was very excited to read on her official website that Alice Ripley — one of this column's very favorite gals — has already landed another stage role. Ripley, of course, was scheduled to star in the Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors but lost the role of Audrey when the show hired a new director (Jerry Zaks) after the developmental engagement in Coral Gables, Florida. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to see the Florida run, but friends and diva lovers who e-mailed me about the musical all agreed that Ripley's performance was spellbinding. Wrote one diva lover, "When we saw the show, all 20 of us agreed, of all the cast, Alice was the one we would not have replaced under any circumstances. She was so sweet and charming and genuinely funny, and when she sang, the air around you crackled with intensity. We were all blown away. She was the biggest impression in the show — that's saying a lot, considering the 23 foot plant behind her! The control she had in every phrase was the kind other singers would be in awe of." That said, I'm sure the new Little Shop production will be wonderful, but for this diva lover — who was eagerly awaiting Ripley's belty renditions of "Suddenly Seymour" and "Somewhere That's Green" — it will be a bittersweet experience.
But, getting to Ripley's newest role. The multi-talented actress-singer has landed a lead in the newest comedy from award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig. On her official website, Ripley posted this message, "I am ecstatic to deliver the good news that I have been cast in a new play by Ken Ludwig called Shakespeare in Hollywood, which will play at the Arena Stage in D.C. this fall. When I got the news, I put my face in my hands and cried with happiness. The play is hilarious."
Shakespeare in Hollywood will play the Arena Stage Sept. 5-Oct. 19. The Arena stage website describes the Ludwig play thusly: "In an enchanted wood on a Hollywood soundstage, a comedy of errors is brewing. While Groucho Marx and Tarzan rush through the commissary, a lovely up-and coming starlet dreams of fame and love on the set of A Midsummer Night's Dream. She is immediately smitten with the mysterious and beguiling Oberon — but like his Shakespearean counterpart, this spellbinding fellow causes rapturous mayhem wherever he goes." For more information, visit www.arena-stage.org.
The big-voiced Roz Ryan, a veteran of the Broadway company of Chicago, is currently touring in that classic Kander and Ebb musical as Matron "Mama" Morton. Ryan, who made her Broadway debut in Ain't Misbehavin', also played Effie White in the original Broadway company of Dreamgirls. Ryan replaced Jennifer Holliday in that vocally challenging role, and her performance was eventually recorded for the Lincoln Center video archives. I had the chance to chat with Ryan last week while she was in Washington for the D.C. engagement of Chicago. The effervescent actress-singer chatted about her role as Mama, which she has played all over the world, as well as her time in Dreamgirls and her upcoming TV series for the WB Network.
Question: How is the Chicago tour going?
Roz Ryan: Excellent!
Q: How long are you playing Washington?
RR: We leave on Monday [June 30] and we go to Charlotte next.
Q: Do you enjoy touring?
RR: Not necessarily — I think I'm getting a little too old for it — but I'm loving this one.
Q: You've played Mama on Broadway and on the road . . .
RR: Five times! Five times on Broadway, Las Vegas and Portugal.
Q: Do you find any difference between the audience reaction on Broadway and around the country?
RR: I'm telling you I wish that we could take — I love New York audiences because they demand the best — but I wish we could take this D.C. audience everywhere we go. Every night they come to party. We haven't had a bad one yet, we've been here two-and-a-half weeks. They come to party!
Q: Do think the movie winning the Academy Award has affected people's reaction to the show?
RR: It's kind of half-and-half. A lot of people that I talk to haven't even seen [the film], which I find is amazing. But now they want to see it now that they've seen the show. And some have seen it, and then they see the show, and they love 'em both in different ways.
Q: Did you get to see the movie? What did you think?
RR: Oh yeah. I thought it was excellent. I just should have been Mama, but other than that it was cool. [Laughs.] No, I thought it was excellent. Catherine Zeta-Jones just blew me away, and Richard Gere was one of the slickest Billy Flynns I've ever seen. I really enjoyed it.
Q: What do you think of the character of Mama, having played her so often?
RR: I love her! She loves me! I am Mama. [Chicago producer] Fran Weissler was here last night, and she said, 'You're just Mama. There's nothing we can do about it.' I love [Mama], she's such a helpful hustler.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the show as Mama?
RR: One of my absolute favorite moments in the show is not my moment. It's "Razzle Dazzle." That's my favorite moment in the show. I love my moments, but I could just never get tired of watching "Razzle Dazzle," especially now because Walter Bobbie and Gary Chryst came in and did this one, and it's really a circus. There're stunts going on, and it's just so fascinating.
Q: They restaged it?
RR: Yeah, they enhanced it. They added to it, and it's good stuff.
Q: Was it always your goal to be on Broadway?
RR: Never. My goal was to have a hit record — when I was a young girl in Detroit.
Q: How did Broadway come about?
RR: Ain't Misbehavin' was in Detroit, and I went and auditioned for it, and [director] Richard Maltby came in and brought me to Broadway — a Cinderella slipper.
Q: Who were some of the singers who influenced you as a child?
RR: Gladys Knight, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday. I grew up in Motown, but I listened to a lot of jazz at the time. I was not really a Motown buff. My mom had a record collection that was just off the hook.
Q: What did your mom like?
RR: She liked Billie and Carmen and Sarah Vaughn, some of the male artists [also] and I got hooked on them, and I started singing that kind of music in the clubs, matter of fact.
Q: You were also in one of my favorite musicals, Dreamgirls. Tell me about that experience.
RR: Well, it was my first spoken part because Ain't Misbehavin' was all music. And, I remember I was scared, I was really terrified at first, but Ben Harney and Cleavant [Derricks] kept telling me, 'You're a natural, you're a natural,' and then I did the show, and [director] Michael Bennett once told me, 'You're a natural,' and I said, 'Okay, I believe you.' So I started my first speaking role.
Q: And you eventually played Effie?
RR: I played Effie — I closed the show as a matter of fact. I'm in the Lincoln Center archives.
Q: What was that role like to perform?
RR: That was the most awesome thing that I've ever done in my entire life. It was my life because I was a nightclub singer in Detroit, and it was part of my life.
Q: What was like it getting to sing "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going"?
RR: The song! There were times when I truly enjoyed it, and there were times when I wanted to find Jen [Holliday] and just jump on her head for creating it and making it so rough on us! It was really a test, and it was so awesome. She did such a fabulous job in the way she did that song, and it was a hard act to follow.
Q: And, now you're going to be in a new television show.
RR: I got another one! I told André De Shields it has something to do with him. Every time I see him or speak to him, I get a sitcom.
Q: How did this sitcom come about?
RR: Marco Pennette, who is the executive producer of my show, "All About the Andersons," is a big Broadway fan. And he, apparently — I didn't know this — was a big fan of mine, and he and Anthony Anderson and Adam Glass wrote this sitcom for Warner Bros., and he had me in my mind. And he asked Monica Swann where I was, and she told him I was on Broadway doing Chicago. And he flew into New York, and he put me on tape, and he took the tapes back to the suits, and everybody said okay. It's really Cinderella again.
Q: And when will you start filming the show?
RR: August 4.
Q: And you'll stay in Chicago through. . .
RR: August 3. I'll be there through Houston.
Q: Any other projects in the works?
RR: Well, I think that's gonna be enough! [Laughs.] I just went to North Carolina yesterday because I'm doing the Carolina Arts Festival with Terrence Mann, and I went to North Carolina yesterday at nine o'clock in the morning, and I came back to Washington, D.C. at five o'clock — but they were so wonderful, and everything is so well-organized, and it's this huge amphitheatre that holds like 7,000 people, so that's on July 3.
Q: Do you ever get stage fright?
RR: You know, I think with my schedule I don't have time. [Laughs.] I think if I had time to think about it, maybe. I get a little anxiety when my parents are in the audience or my brothers and sisters.
Q: Were your parents big supporters of your career?
RR: Oh, since the beginning. I sang in nightclubs when I was 15, and my manager became my legal guardian and took me from the dressing room to the stage, from the stage to the dressing room. And my mom said I could do that as long as I maintained a B average. And, then, when I did that and I graduated, they were like, "Well, go ahead, you seem very serious about this, so go ahead." And ever since they've been a hundred percent supportive. They love it — they're very happy.
Q: When people hear the name Roz Ryan, what would you like them to think?
RR: I would want them to think that she's well-rounded and a very gifted and giving performer.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters will sit down for a chat with hosts Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa on "Live with Regis and Kelly." Peters is scheduled to appear on the morning chat show Tuesday, July 8. "Live with Regis and Kelly" airs in the metropolitan area on WABC-TV, 9-10 AM ET. Check local listings for broadcast times. Peters will also re-team with her Goodbye Girl co-star, Martin Short, for the new TNT movie "Prince Charming," which premieres July 13. An updated version of the timeless fairy tale, "Prince Charming" also stars Tony Award winner Andrea Martin as well as Christina Applegate, Billy Connolly and Sean Maguire. Short stars in the title role and Peters plays, of course, a Broadway diva. "Prince Charming" debuts July 13 at 8 PM ET on TNT. Subsequent airings are scheduled for July 13 (10 PM), July 14 (midnight), July 17 (9 PM), July 18 (10:30 PM), July 20 (midnight), July 23 (11 PM) and July 26 (9:30 AM). . . . Recent Tony nominee Melissa Errico, who is currently starring in the Williamstown Theatre Festival's production of The Threepenny Opera, will offer a host of concerts this summer. On July 8, Errico will be backed by a full band at Joe's Pub, the intimate cabaret space at the Public Theater. Errico will offer a 9:30 PM concert, featuring tunes from her recent solo debut CD, "Blue Like That." From Aug. 5-9, Errico will play Feinstein's at the Cinegrill, located within the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, CA. Errico will perform 8:30 PM shows Aug. 5-9 with additional 10:30 PM shows Aug. 8-9. The actress, who scored a Tony nomination for her work in the short-lived Michel Legrand musical Amour, will then perform a free outdoor concert Aug. 13 (7 PM) at the Madison Square Park in New York City, and she will return to Joe's Pub Aug. 21 at 7:30 PM. Tickets for Errico's Joe's Pub concerts are priced at $20; call (212) 539-8776. Tickets for her Feinstein's at the Cinegrill run are $35; call (323) 769-7269 or (800) 950-7667. . . . Kerry Butler, who is the vocal highlight of this season's runaway hit, Hairspray, has been offered the lead role of Audrey in the aforementioned Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors. Butler's agent confirmed to me earlier this week that the ever-busy actress-singer is currently in negotiations to star as the ditzy plant-shop worker with a heart of gold. Butler will continue to star in Hairspray through the end of July, when rehearsals for Little Shop's Broadway debut are scheduled to commence. Little Shop begins Broadway previews Aug. 29 with an official opening Oct. 2. . . . Tony Award winner Donna McKechnie will bring her acclaimed concert, My Musical Theatre Life, to Southern New Jersey's Surflight Theatre July 14. McKechnie will offer two performances of the concert, at 2 and 8 PM. My Musical Theatre Life traces McKechnie’s award-winning theatrical career, which includes roles in such Broadway musicals as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying; Promises, Promises; Company; and A Chorus Line. The one-woman evening was written by playwright Christopher Durang and features direction by Thommie Walsh. The Surflight Theatre is located at Engleside and Beach Avenues in Beach Haven, NJ. Tickets for McKechnie's concert are priced at $25 (adults) and $15 (children 12 and under); call (609) 492-9477. For more information visit www.surflight.org. . . . Tony nominated sisters Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway will reteam for a series of concerts of their acclaimed cabaret act in 2004. The Callaway sisters will perform their award-winning program — titled "Sibling Revelry" — Jan. 31, 2004, at the Cambridge Theatre in Boston, MA. They are also scheduled to bring their show to the Dominican University in River Forest, IL (Feb. 8), the Maine Center for the Arts in Orono, ME (May 1) and the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College in Purchase, IL (May 8). The concert, which was recorded live for DRG Records, features such tunes as "It's Today," "The Sweetest Sounds," "Friendship," "Meadowlark," "My Heart Is So Full of You," "The Nanny Named Fran" as well as "The Huge Medley," which features a host of classic duets reinterpreted by the talented siblings. . . . And, finally, Tony Award winner Heather Headley will make a rare New York City concert appearance July 7 at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill. Presented by MBK/Power 105, the evening is entitled "R&B Live" and will feature the talents of Headley as well as special guests Javier and Leela James. Headley will perform selections from her R&B recording "This Is Who I Am," which was released last year on the RCA label. B.B. King Blues Club & Grill is located in Manhattan at 237 West 42nd Street. Tickets — $20 (advance), $25 (at the door) — are available by calling (212) 997-4144.
Liz Callaway in Concert:
July 18-19 in 101 Years of Broadway at the Lenape Center in Marlton, NJ
Aug. 29-30 at the Stockbridge Cabaret in Stockbridge, MA
Jan. 31, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
May 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
July 19 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, CA
Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Aug. 22-23 in Passion at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Jan. 23, 2004 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jan. 24, 2004 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
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
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!