DIVA TALK: Roses For Betty; Lillias Heads Off-Bway

DIVA TALK: Roses For Betty; Lillias Heads Off-Bway BETTY BUCKLEY
Curtain up! Light the lights! Rehearsals are now underway for the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Gypsy, which stars Betty Buckley as Mama Rose and Deborah Gibson in the title role. One inside source says Buckley "is so thrilling I can't even explain," and next week the press is invited to an open rehearsal, featuring a few songs from the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents work. I hope to cover the event and report on it for next week's column... For a sneak preview of Buckley and Gibson in costume, check out the wonderful ad in today's (Friday, Aug. 28) New York Times (page E2).

BETTY BUCKLEY
Curtain up! Light the lights! Rehearsals are now underway for the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Gypsy, which stars Betty Buckley as Mama Rose and Deborah Gibson in the title role. One inside source says Buckley "is so thrilling I can't even explain," and next week the press is invited to an open rehearsal, featuring a few songs from the Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim/Arthur Laurents work. I hope to cover the event and report on it for next week's column... For a sneak preview of Buckley and Gibson in costume, check out the wonderful ad in today's (Friday, Aug. 28) New York Times (page E2).

Also, in mid-September there will be a by-invitation-only screening of "Betty Buckley: In Performance & In Person, " a 90-minute documentary that will blend performance clips and biographical information. The program, to be broadcast on cable television in the not-too-distant future, includes footage from Buckley's most recent appearance at The Bottom Line -- the famed New York City cabaret -- as well as interviews with the Tony Award-winning actress and many who have worked with Ms. B over the years. Among those making cameos in the documentary are actors F. Murray Abraham and Ellen Burstyn, playwright Peter Stone, producer Rodger Hess, composer Stephen Schwartz, Bottom Line owner Alan Pepper, pianist/musical director Kenny Werner, and Kevin Duncan, who produced Buckley's Carnegie Hall benefit for BC/EFA. Stay tuned for broadcast dates and times.

LILLIAS WHITE
I thoroughly enjoyed catching Lillias White this past weekend in the Off Broadway production Dinah Was. White recently replaced Yvette Freeman, who originated the role of R&B/blues singer Dinah Washington in the musical at the newly-renovated Gramercy Theatre. White, who won the 1997 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her work in The Life, brings her thrilling voice and superb comic timing to the demanding role. Although she was still growing into the part at the performance I attended, her singing of "What a Difference a Day Makes," "I Wanna Be Loved," "I Won't Cry Anymore," "This Bitter Earth" and other Washington tunes were exemplary. And the second-act pairing of Washington with waitress/singer Violet remains a highlight of the show, as the two performers let their voices soar in "A Rockin' Good Way."

Included in the press kit for White was a wonderful interview with the actress that ran in Show Music Magazine during her run in Cy Coleman's The Life. Written by Gregory Angelo, the article profiled White's theatrical career, and I thought you would enjoy some of her candid comments about the many musicals in which she has starred:

Barnum:
"Barnum was my first Broadway show, and Terri White literally took me by the hand and showed me every nook and cranny of the theatre, introduced me to all the stagehands, took me to her favorite hangout, and just had everybody meet me and she said, 'Take care of her, she's new on the block,' and I never forgot that." Once On This Island:
"I remember doing that show and thinking how big a blessing it was to be able to hear Milton Craig Neely boom out that song 'Rain' every night. It just was so exciting to me, a very moving show to me."

How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying:
"Des McAnuff was very tight with his directing. We were not allowed to be too creative in what we did. . .[but I was allowed to] do a different scat every time [in "Brotherhood of Man"], and I loved doing that. I try to make the best out of any situation, and that's what I did with How to Succeed... There were people weeping in the audience during ['Brotherhood of Man'], and this is that kind of upbeat song you wouldn't think people would get emotional [about]. But people would come to me after and say, 'I was crying, and I couldn't figure out why!' And I'd laugh, because I had done my job. I've moved you, I've gotten you. Anything that can move you like that -- that is true art."

Cats:
"I think I was miscast, and I wasn't allowed to be creative. I am very flexible but I like to be creative, and I was totally stifled as Grizabella. . .I just didn't enjoy it. All that makeup -- nobody knows who the hell you are -- you don't get any kind of billing as far as the Playbill or the marquee; nobody knows you are -- just a cat! [laughter] . . .I've seen people who have done really well working for Cats four, five, six, ten years. I only had a six-month contract and that's all I wanted to do. I was totally not happy there and it's not good for me not to care. I did not give a damn about a cat after that. In fact, I had a cat in my house and I gave it away."

The Life:
"[Cy Coleman]'s an angel. He's so easy to work with, because he recognizes the talent and the creativity in the people that are picked to do his work... He knows that if you let the artist go, they're only going to enhance what he's already done, what is already written. Cy works out of a place of love, and that's where creativity starts, to me. He's totally open to the creative process, and I live for that... It's the biggest honor of my career, because I created this role. [Sonja's] not like anybody I really know, except maybe influences in myself -- this funny, sarcastic, self-sacrificing part."

UTE LEMPER
The stunning six-foot chanteuse, Ute Lemper, will make her Broadway debut Sept. 8 as Velma Kelly in Chicago when she replaces Tony Award winner Bebe Neuwirth. Lemper received the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her work in the London production of the Kander and Ebb classic, and critics and audiences alike were wildly enthusiastic about her performance. In fact, one reviewer described her "shimmering... incandescent presence, which leaves the audience gasping with admiration and lust."

In conjunction with Lemper's New York theatre debut, London/Decca Records will release (on Sept. 1) her latest solo album, "All That Jazz," a compilation of songs from Lemper's various CDs. The recording begins with a spirited version of the album's title tune, "All That Jazz," and then Lemper delves into "Don't Tell Mama," demonstrating why she received raves and a Moliere Award for her performance as Sally Bowles in a European tour of Cabaret. (When Lemper concludes her run in Chicago, perhaps she can move a few streets over to the current Broadway revival of Cabaret...) A heavy dose of Kurt Weill can also be found on the new CD as well as songs made famous by two other legendary songstresses, Marlene Dietrich and Edith Piaf. The complete song list from "All That Jazz: The Best of Ute Lemper " follows:
"All That Jazz"
"Don't Tell Mama"
"Mon Légionnaire"
"Whenever We Get Close"
"Careless Love Blues"
"Mack the Knife"
"Alabama Song"
"Nannas Lied"
"Bilbao Song"
"Surabaya Johnny"
"Le Grand Lustucru"
"My Ship"
"Want To Buy Some Illusions"
"They Call Me Naughty Lola"
"L'Accordénoiste"
"La Vie En Rose"
"Psalm"
"When The Special Girlfriend"
"The Smart Set"
"I Am a Vamp!"
"The Lavender Song"


HEY MR. PRODUCER!
In the last two weeks PBS stations around the country have been airing the wonderful, star-studded tribute to Cameron Mackintosh, "Hey Mr. Producer, " which was recorded live at London's Lyceum Theatre in June. This past week, Phillips Music Group released the double-CD set of the evening, which contains all the songs heard on TV as well as many numbers omitted due to time constraints. Some songs not heard on the PBS broadcast but found on the CDs include Ellen Greene and Teddy Klemper's "Suddenly Seymour"; the company singing Stephen Schwartz's Godspell anthem, "Day By Day"; Marion Montgomery and Laurie Holloway dueting on Cole Porter's "I Get a Kick Out of You"; Bernadette Peters' soaring version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Unexpected Song," which she introduces with a portion of "Second Letter Home," also from Song and Dance; Hugh Jackman performing "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" from the current London revival of Oklahoma!; several songs from another Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel; a version of "Broadway Baby" sung by three divas: Maria Friedman, Julia McKenzie and Bernadette Peters; and more.

My personal favorites? David Campbell forcefully singing the revised lyrics to "Martin Guerre; Hugh Jackman's "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'"; Elaine Paige's impassioned "Memory"; Lea Salonga's beautifully shaded performance in the Miss Saigon sequence and her moving "On My Own"; and whatever Bernadette Peters sings -- that is, "Unexpected Song," "Broadway Baby" "You Gotta Have a Gimmick" and her thrilling "Being Alive." Well...what did you think I would say?!

IN OTHER NEWS...
Lynn Redgrave and Patrick Stewart will be the featured vocalists for an upcoming Hollywood Bowl concert featuring songs from Camelot, Sweeney Todd and The King and I. The orchestra will also perform tunes from Chicago, Cabaret, The Lion King, The Sound of Music and Ragtime. Call (213) 480-3232 for tickets... The sheer beauty and majesty of Patti Cohenour's voice will bowl you over on her first solo recording, which has recently been released by Sterling Records. On "To An Isle in the Water," Cohenour lends her luscious vocals to 18 poems by William Butler Yeats that have been set to music by John Aschenbrenner; Paul Gemignani conducts the American Theatre Orchestra... Emily Loesser will star in a tribute to Vincent Youmans on Sunday, Sept. 27 at Don't Tell Mama (343 West 46th Street). Youmans' great nephew, William Youmans, will join Loesser in the salute, which is entitled I Want To Be Happy. You can expect to hear such Youmans tunes as "More Than You Know," "Without a Song," "Tea for Two" and more. Call (212) 757-0788 for reservations... Amanda McBroom and Tom Andersen (whose beautiful new CD, "Journey," is available on the Other Music label) are just two of the stellar performers lined up for Maryann Lopinto's "Cabaret on Record," a Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS benefit Oct. 6 (10:30 p.m.) at The Triad, 158 W. 72nd Street. Call (212) 799-4599 for reservations.

REMINDERS:

BETTY BUCKLEY
Betty Buckley will star as Mama Rose in Gypsy at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, beginning on Sept. 9. The official opening date is scheduled for Sept. 13, and the show will run through Oct. 25. Tickets, which range from $25 to $55, are available by calling (973) 376-4343... BB has also scheduled a few concerts at The Bottom Line. She will perform Oct. 30 & 31 at 7:30 & 10 PM, and Nov. 1 at 4 pm (the "songs by request" concert) and 8:30 PM. The Bottom Line is located at 15 West 4th Street, and tickets will be on sale at the Bottom Line box office in the near future.

PETULA CLARK
Before Petula Clark begins touring as Norma Desmond in the second national company of Sunset Boulevard, she has a few concerts lined up in the U.S. and in the U.K. First up is a performance at the Resorts International Hotel (1-800-322-SHOW) in Atlantic City, NJ from Sept. 2-7. Then, Clark will perform in the U.K. in the following areas:
Sept. 15 Cheltenham Town Hall (01242 227979)
Sept. 16 Rhyl Pavilion (01745 330000)
Sept. 18 Leamington Spa Royal Spa Centre (01926 334418)
Sept. 19 Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall (01892 530613)
Sept. 20 Worthing Pavilion (01903 820500)
Sept. 21 Reading Hexagon (0118 9606060)
Sept. 23 Bexhill-on-Sea De La Warr Pavilion (01424 787900)

DONMAR DIVAS
There will be a four-week season of "Divas at the Donmar" -- London's Donmar Warehouse, the theatre that first premiered the current incarnation of Cabaret. As previously mentioned, Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway kicked off the season Aug. 10-22. Barbara Cook currently holds fort through Aug. 29, and Imelda Staunton and Her Big Band will finish the diva season Sept. 1-5.

PATTI LuPONE
LuPone will perform in concert this weekend (Aug. 28 and 29) at The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles; call (562) 916 8500. KAREN MASON
Karen Mason will finish her critically-acclaimed run as Mama Rose in Gypsy (801-225-4100) at Robert Redford's Sundance Theatre in Utah on August 29. On Sept. 10, the former Sunset Boulevard standby-to-the-stars will perform at The Manor ((973) 731-2360) in West Orange, New Jersey, and she will follow that by opening the Bay Street Theatre season on Sept. 26. An appearance at the upcoming Cabaret Convention brings Mason to New York's Town Hall Oct. 13. Mason will teach a master class at UCLA Oct. 14, and then she will sing at that University Oct. 17, in a concert being presented by Michael Kerker and ASCAP. And, from Nov. 4-14, Mason will open Davenports, a new cabaret space in her home town of Chicago.

DONNA MURPHY
Donna Murphy will take part in a staged reading of By George!, one of four entries in the Drama Dept.'s Third Annual Reading Series. By George! will be performed Sept. 3 and 4 at 8 PM at the Greenwich House Theater on Barrow Street. Call (212) 541-8441 for tickets.

AUDRA McDONALD
Audra McDonald will perform in concert with the San Francisco Symphony on Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 8:30 PM. Brian Stokes Mitchell and opera singer Frederica von Stade will also perform at Davies Hall that evening; call (415) 864-6000.

BERNADETTE PETERS
Sept. 11-12 in Nashville, TN at the Andrew Jackson Hall
Oct. 10 in Spring, TX at the Centrum
Oct. 16-17 in Atlanta, GA at the Rialto Theatre
Feb. 13, 1999 in Birmingham, AL (venue to come)
Feb. 20, 1990 in Toledo, OH (venue to come) Apr. 9-10, 1999 in Kansas City, Missouri Dec. 31, 1999 in Colorado Springs, CO (venue to come)

RAINBOW & STARS
Cybill Shepherd Sept. 8 - Sept. 19.
Kathie Lee Gifford Oct. 6-Oct. 10.
David Campbell Oct. 13-Oct. 31.
Ann Hampton Callaway Nov. 3 - 14.
Karen Akers Nov. 17-5


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

-- By Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com