THE PHANTOM'S DIVAS
On Jan. 26 the Andrew Lloyd Webber megahit, The Phantom of the Opera, celebrates its tenth anniversary on Broadway, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a look at where some of the many divas who have appeared in that musical are today.
Brightman was the first to play Christine Daae in both the New York and London companies. In fact, Lloyd Webber, who was married to Brightman at the time, wrote the score with her wide-ranging voice in mind. Actors' Equity attempted to bar Brightman from repeating her role in the New York production, but eventually, after much drama, she was allowed to open the New York production. Since that time Brightman has appeared in both the London and New York companies of another Webber work, Aspects of Love, and she has also toured extensively in concerts saluting his vast output of songs.
Many were surprised that Brightman continued to champion Lloyd Webber's music after their divorce, but Brightman had this to say to PLAYBILL in December 1990, just after her marriage ended: "While we were married, we always managed to keep our work separate from our private lives, so there's no reason why we shouldn't continue to manage that in divorce."
This year Brightman released a classically-oriented album, entitled Time To Say Goodbye, for Angel Records. I recently spoke with her representative at Angel who told me that Brightman is now focusing solely on classical opera and hopes to work more as a classical opera singer. She has been studying with various voice teachers in Europe, and she is scheduled to record another album of classical music, which may be released some time this summer. Also, Brightman plans to tour the U.S. in concert in 1999.
Judy Kaye received the Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical for her work in the original Broadway cast of The Phantom of the Opera. She first burst onto the Broadway scene in 1978 as Agnes in On the Twentieth Century and then stepped into the role of Lily Garland that was created by Madeline Kahn in that same show. A decade later, she was cast in Phantom in the role of opera diva Carlotta Guidicelli, and at the time she worried about what she could bring to a part that had already been developed in the London production. She told PLAYBILL at the time: "After Hal [Prince] hired me, I went to see the show in London. And I thought, 'Why did I take this job? There's really nothing for me to do.' I went back to Hal and said, 'I have some ideas, but they might not be appropriate. They may be too much.' And he said, 'No, we want this person to emerge more.' So he set me free. That's the way Hal works. He hires people he thinks can do the job, and then he wants to see what you have to offer."
It's taken a decade more to get Kaye back to Broadway, but she has returned in another musical that is the highlight of the theatre season, Ragtime. Kaye stars as Emma Goldman, a role she created for the Los Angeles production and now performs eight times a week at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Kaye has played a variety of roles in theatres throughout the country, including Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, the title role of Shirley Valentine, Sally in Stephen Sondheim's Follies, Maggie in The Man Who Came to Dinner and many others. Last year, she released her first solo CD, Diva by Diva, a tribute to the many talented women of the musical theatre, and she will follow that recording in Feb. with another salute to the divas, The Hollywood Divas. Her new recording will also be on the Varese Sarabande label.
Rebecca Luker is blessed with one of the finest soprano voices on Broadway, and she has been a wonderful presence in such shows as The Secret Garden, Show Boat and last season's Encores! production of The Boys from Syracuse. Luker's first Broadway role, however, was Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, succeeding Patti Cohenour in 1989. She acquired the part soon after her arrival in New York, and Luker recently spoke to PLAYBILL about her first year in the city: "Looking back now, I should have been scared to death. But when you're younger, you have that tenacity. You think you're going to be okay. I just went to auditions as they came along. Growing up, I didn't know anything about Broadway. I'm from Alabama. I never went to the theatre. I didn't see a Broadway show until I came to New York. My first was My One and Only, with Tommy Tune, and he was out of the show that day I saw his understudy. "
Beginning Feb. 6 at the Martin Beck Theatre, Luker will star as Maria in the first Broadway revival of The Sound of Music, a part that was originated on Broadway by Mary Martin and then made famous on screen by Julie Andrews. I couldn't think of a better choice for this revival than Luker, whose combination of a glorious voice, charm and unaffected sweetness seem ideally suited for this classic Rodger and Hammerstein music. It should be a thrill to hear her wrap her voice around such classics as "The Sound of Music," "My Favorite Things," "Edelweiss" and more. For another dose of Luker, check out her first solo album on Varese Sarabande that salutes the work of Cole Porter; she can also be heard on the new recording Aria.
Patti Cohenour was the first Christine Daae to play the role at "certain performances" in order to give Brightman a break from the vocally demanding role. Cohenour went on to appear in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and last season she starred in the City Center Encores! production of Sweet Adeline. Cohenour can also be found in the Broadway revival of The Sound of Music, portraying The Mother Abbess.
-- By Andrew Gans