DIVA TALK: Sing a Song of Sondheim & Schwartz

DIVA TALK: Sing a Song of Sondheim & Schwartz Hello, diva lovers! A lot of news and reviews this week plus a special bonus: Playbill editor Judy Samelson was able to attend the recent star studded Sondheim benefit in San Francisco, and her thoughts on the evening follow. Enjoy!
The Wild Party CD Cover Art.
The Wild Party CD Cover Art.

Hello, diva lovers! A lot of news and reviews this week plus a special bonus: Playbill editor Judy Samelson was able to attend the recent star studded Sondheim benefit in San Francisco, and her thoughts on the evening follow. Enjoy!

SONDHEIM: A STARRY STARRY NIGHT

With the imminent arrival on Broadway (Barrymore Theatre) of Putting It Together, starring Carol Burnett, and with the new musical Wise Guys in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future, Stephen Sondheim fans, who have been anxious for his return to the theatre, are breathing a little easier these days.

In the meantime, though, Sondheim lovers on the West Coast got a treat last week as San Francisco's Palace of Fine Arts played host to a glittering evening of the composer's music. Entitled "Help Is on the Way V: A Salute to Sondheim," the gala benefit was presented by the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation, a volunteer-run, non-profit foundation founded in 1995 by two women -- Barbara Richmond and Peggy Ermet -- who, after losing their sons to AIDS, turned their personal tragedy into positive community action. Now in its fifth year, the foundation has become a major source of funding for AIDS agencies both locally in the Bay Area and nationally. The beneficiaries of this year's event included such organizations as the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Program of Children's Hospital Oakland, Visiting Nurses and Hospice of San Francisco, and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the American theatre community's leading not-for-profit AIDS fundraising and grant making organization.

In addition to the entertaining concert, host-level ticket holders were invited to take part in a post-show cast party and a pre-show silent auction featuring items as diverse as a Lauren Bacall doodle and two roundtrip Continental Airlines tickets to anywhere in Europe or Asia. The silent auction's most cherished offering, however, came from Stephen Sondheim himself -- a hand-notated musical phrase from one of his most beautiful songs, signed and dated expressly for this evening. The lyric (from the song of the same name in Into the Woods) -- "No one is alone -- truly, no one is alone" -- could well be the motto of the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation. Ken Henderson and Joe Seiler have served as executive producers of Help Is on the Way events since their inception in 1995, and together with a team that included musical director Ron Abel, director David Galligan, production stage manager Ronn Goswick and associate producer Robert Sokol, they really know how to throw a party. Performers on the evening's star-studded program included Jill Eikenberry, who shared hosting duties with husband Michael Tucker and made her singing debut with a sweetly lyrical "Anyone Can Whistle"; Joely Fisher, who sang a dramatic medley of "Losing My Mind" (Follies) and "Not a Day Goes By" (Merrily We Roll Along); and in a bit of surreal casting, Olympic gold medal winner Brian Boitano and comic actress Mary Jo Catlett, who, on an unlikely tryst, sang Company's "Barcelona."

Standout performances that wowed a very vocal and appreciative audience were Lucie Arnaz's sultry, bluesy version of "Sooner or Later" (from the film "Dick Tracy"); Nancy Dussault's breathlessly frenzied "Getting Married Today" (Company); and -- in a one-two punch of Sondheim's odes to perseverance and survival from Follies -- there was Carole Cook, who, with her flaming red hair, saucer eyes and Mae West demeanor, belted out "Broadway Baby" for all it was worth, and Rita Moreno, whose smashing rendition of "I'm Still Here" provided ample proof of why she still is.

The evening's biggest surprise and most satisfying moment, though, came halfway through Act II as actress Sharon Gless sat center stage and delivered a spare, elegant and moving performance of what is arguably Sondheim's most beloved -- and certainly his most famous -- song, "Send in the Clowns." Gless, best known for her Emmy-winning role on TV's "Cagney & Lacey," is no stranger to the stage, having starred on the West End in Misery and Chapter Two, but this performance marked her solo singing debut. With just the right touch of sadness in her voice, tempered with wry resignation, Gless inhabited A Little Night Music's Desiree Armfeldt and held the audience rapt. It was the ideal meeting of a fine actress and a glorious song. Someone ought to find this woman a Broadway gig -- or as the aforementioned Broadway Baby might say, "Hey, Mr. Producer! I'm talkin' to you sir...."

The Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation relies on volunteer efforts and individual support. For more information about how you can help with future events, call 415-931-0317.

"Sondheim: A Starry Starry Night" by Judy Samelson; e-mail Judy at jsamelson@playbill.com

THE STEPHEN SCHWARTZ ALBUM

Easily one of the best recordings Varese Sarabande has released in the past few years, "The Stephen Schwartz Album" boasts an array of some of the finest voices the musical theatre has to offer. Most every selection is a gem, and Schwartz provides interesting, often comical notes about each song. About the oft-recorded "Meadowlark," Schwartz insists, "Yes, it's true -- David Merrick did go into the orchestra pit when The Baker's Wife was trying out in Washington, D.C., and steal the music for this song so that it would have to be cut. Nevertheless, it has survived to become one of my most often performed and recorded. It was written at a time of great personal turmoil, and I think people respond to the sort of desperate passion I was feeling as I wrote it."

The 16-track CD, which celebrates the career of the Grammy, Tony and Academy Award-winning composer, begins with a medley of "Beautiful City" and "Day By Day," sung by newcomer Laura Benanti. I hadn't heard Benanti sing before, but -- wow! -- does she have a beautiful voice. In fact, I regret not venturing to see The Sound of Music again when the young performer replaced Luker in the role of Maria von Trapp last season. I trust, though, that this new talent will be back on Broadway soon enough. On the second track, Guy Haines delivers a pleasant, if unremarkable version of the Pippin anthem, "Corner of the Sky."

After portraying the five-year-old Sally all winter in the now-closed revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, new Tony-winner Kristin Chenoweth has the opportunity to sing in her "adult" voice and is splendid on the plaintive "Lion Tamer" from The Magic Show. Christiane Noll and Sara Ramirez get the chance to wrap their lush voices around tunes from Disney's Pocahontas, "Just Around the Riverbend" and "Colors of the Wind," respectively. Though neither is quite as exhilarating as Judy Kuhn, who originally recorded that film's songs, both sound beautiful in their own right (Noll is especially lovely on the last line of "Riverbend").

The most exciting track on the recording is Alice Ripley's belty "West End Avenue." Even though the Side Show star sounds like she may be battling a cold, she manages to deliver an enthralling version of this driving ballad. Listen to the way she belts the song's final line, "West End Avenue, you win again!" Coming in a close second is Marin Mazzie's gorgeous pairing of Pippin's "With You" and The Baker's Wife's "Gifts of Love." Another highlight is "Chanson," one of Schwartz's most simple and affecting tunes, sung here by that other Side Show treasure, Emily Skinner. Cabaret's newest Sally Bowles, Susan Egan, takes on "Meadowlark," and although she does a fine job with this go-for-the-throat tune, building it slowly to a full-voiced climax, she doesn't quite reach the vocal or dramatic heights of "Meadowlark" predecessors, Patti LuPone and Betty Buckley.

Other high points of the recording include Brian d'Arcy James and Luba Mason's "In Whatever Time We Have"; Jason Daniely's golden tones on The Hunchback of Notre Dame's "Out There"; Dorothy Loudon's infectious version of No Time At All; and Schwartz's own emotional vocals on a poignant tune from Working, "Fathers and Sons." About "Fathers and Sons," Schwartz explains, "One of the more moving moments I have experienced was hearing my son Scott sing this song in his high school production of Working. It is one of my most personal theatre tunes, and I thank [producer] Bruce [Kimmel] for the opportunity to sing it on this recording." "The Stephen Schwartz Album" is now available in stores or by visiting the Varese website at www.VareseSarabande.com. A definite must for show-tune fans.

ELAINE PAIGE

The "First Edition" of "Elaine's Paige's," the newsletter about the multi talented "First Lady of the British Musical" arrived this week, and it features an interview with Paige conducted by her fans. I thought you would enjoy reading this quick Q&A with the award-winning performer:

Hi there Elaine. I have had a number of questions from fans, and these are a few of the most popular. (Q) What is your favorite role in any of the shows that you have starred in and why?"
(A) Evita because it was the first major role and changed my career. Also it is a challenging sing and a good acting role. She is a fascinating character to play, really rather complex and full of emotion. I also enjoyed Norma Desmond -- she is a tragic woman, extremely vulnerable and lost in her dreams. It is a great role to play. I have to say that my favorite role is always the one I'm playing in at the time because I tend to become completely immersed in it and enjoy it to the full.
(Q) If Sunset Boulevard were to start again in London or New York, would you consider repeating the role?
(A) Possibly, I would -- it is such a great one to play.
(Q) Did you really say, "I will not lose another role to that woman" regarding Madonna's interest in the supposed Piaf movie?
(A) No, but I'd like to.
(Q) What do you like to do when you have some free time?
(A) I enjoy playing tennis and dining with friends. Of course I also like to go to the cinema and the theatre and experience it from the other side for a change.
(Q) Do you enjoy travelling and if so, where do you like to go?
(A) I love travelling and enjoy a short trip to Europe or further away to the States, South Africa, Far East or Australia. Andy and I enjoyed a wonderful trip to Vietnam with a number of friends and of course that was fascinating. Off the usual tourist route you really do get a feeling of being a real "traveller" for a change. However we were fortunate enough to have the advantage of a wonderful cruise ship to make life very comfortable."

The newsletter also lists some upcoming worldwide Paige concert dates:
Oct. 30 and 31: Sun City Superbowl in South Africa
Nov. 5: Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town, South Africa
Jan. 21 and 22, 2000: with the Utah Symphony Orchestra at the Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah

IN OTHER NEWS

Die-hard Side Show fans may want to head to Somerset, New Jersey, some time this month. The Bill Russell-Henry Krieger musical is currently being performed through Aug. 21 at the Villager's Theatre, which is only 45 minutes from New York. There are performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Tickets are priced at $15 and $17 and may be purchased by calling (732) 873-2710 . . . Two cabaret favorites, Bistro Award winner Barbara Fasasno and MAC Award winner Rich Jensen, are appearing tonight (Aug. 6) and tomorrow evening at The Downstairs Cabaret Theatre in Rochester. The program will include songs from each of their new CDs, Fasano's "The Girls of Summer" and Jensen's "Spring Harvest." The Downstairs Cabaret Theatre is located at 20 Windsor Street, Rochester, NY; for reservations call 716 325-4370. REMINDERS

BETTY BUCKLEY

A host of new concert dates have recently been announced for the multi talented actress and singer:
Aug. 20: Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV
Sept. 24 Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, PA
Oct. 2: South Street Theater Company in Morristown, NJ
Oct. 9: Tilles Center in Greenvale, NY
Oct. 23: Foellinger Great Hall in Urbana, IL
Oct. 24: Sangamon State University Aud. in Springfield, IL
Oct. 27: Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, NY (Benefit dinner)
Nov. 6: State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ
Nov. 12: Grand Opera House in Wilmington, DE
Nov. 14: Music Hall in Cincinnati, OH
Dec. 13-14: St. Barth's Church in New York, NY
Dec. 17: City Center in Coral Springs, FL
Dec. 18: Atlantic University Aud. in Boca Raton, FL
Dec. 31: Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT
Feb. 5, 2000: Stillwell Theatre in Kennesaw, GA
Feb. 6: Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Marin, CA
Feb. 8-9: Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall in Las Vegas, NV
Feb. 11: Center for the Arts at George Mason Univ. in Fairfax, VA
Feb. 12: Palace Theatre in Louisville, KY
March 18: Folly Theatre in Kansas City, MO
March 19: Macomb Center for the Perf. Arts in Detroit, MI
April 24: Nancy Lee & Perry R. Bass Performance in Fort Worth, TX
April 26: Coronation 2000 in San Antonio, TX
May 4: Poway Center in Poway, CA
May 5-6: Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos, CA
May 7: Haugh Performing Arts Center in Glendora, CA
May 8: Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA

On Aug. 18 at 9:30 PM, PBS stations in the metropolitan area will begin airing "Yours for a Song: The Women of Tin Pan Alley," which features Buckley's wonderful interpretations of classic tunes.

And, "Bravo Profiles: Betty Buckley," an insightful documentary that includes an interview with the Tony Award-winning actress as well as footage from Buckley's recent sold-out Bottom Line concert will air on Bravo Nov. 1 at 10 PM.

PATTI LuPONE

LuPone's third solo disc, "Matters of the Heart," will be released on Sept. 21 on the Varese Sarabande label. Also, LuPone will join opera star Bryn Terfel for a concert version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd to be held at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall from May 4 to May 6 in the year 2000. The performers will be backed by the New York Philharmonic, and the event, which will be recorded, will celebrate Sondheim's 70th birthday.

KAREN MASON

Mason's Christmas album, simply titled "Christmas! Christmas! Christmas!" will be available this fall. The busy chanteuse will again join Greg Edelman for a European tour of Broadway music that will play Stockholm (Sept. 1-4); Birmingham, England (Sept. 5); and the Barbican in London (Sept. 8). . . Also, on Sept. 25 Mason will perform in concert to benefit Dallas Children's Theatre Fairmont Hotel, Dallas.

MAUREEN McGOVERN

Through the end of the month, McGovern will appear in a production of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the Sundance Summer Theatre in Sundance, Utah. Other concert dates follow:
Aug. 14: Maureen McGovern and the Duke Ellington Orchestra (100th Anniversary Salute), The Great Auditorium at Ocean Grove, NJ
Aug. 19-20: Midway Stage at 1776, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Aug. 23: Kenley Centennial Amphitheater in Layton, Utah
Aug. 24: SCERA Amphitheater in Orem, Utah
Sept. 5-6: Jerry Lewis Telethon (check local listings)

BERNADETTE PETERS

Bernadette Peters in Concert, the thrilling performance taped live in London, will begin airing on PBS stations around the country this weekend. And, of course, the two-time Tony winner currently stars as the gun-toting Annie Oakley in the acclaimed revival of Annie Get Your Gun at the Marquis Theatre.

DIVAS AT THE DONMAR

Patti LuPone is the first diva at the Donmar Warehouse, performing her new concert act, "Matters of the Heart," from Aug. 9 through Aug. 21. Audra McDonald's reign runs from Aug. 23 to Aug. 28, and Sam Brown will open on Aug. 31 and close Sept. 4. The performance schedule is Monday through Saturday at 8 PM with matinees on Saturday at 4 PM. Tickets go on sale Monday, May 17; call 011 44 171 637 9041 for reservations.

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

by Andrew Gans
e-mail me at agans@playbill.com