DIVA TALK: The Diva Season on Bway: The Year of Alice Ripley?

DIVA TALK: The Diva Season on Bway: The Year of Alice Ripley? ALICE RIPLEY and THE DIVA SEASON

ALICE RIPLEY and THE DIVA SEASON

Can I just say that this season could not be more exciting if I cast the shows myself? I nearly jumped out of my seat when I heard that Alice Ripley was going to star in the Kennedy Center's production of Tell Me On a Sunday this winter (Dec. 17, 2002 - Jan. 12, 2003). Not only is Ripley one of my favorite belters of her generation, but Tell Me On a Sunday is one of the Andrew Lloyd Webber scores I most admire. And, combining the two should be thrilling! Can't wait to hear Ripley wrap her sensational voice around "Take That Look Off Your Face," "Come Back With the Same Look In Your Eyes," "Unexpected Song," "Tell Me On a Sunday," et al. And, who knows, maybe she'll even belt the high G at the end of "Unexpected Song"! There's still no word as to what version of the Lloyd Webber-Don Black song cycle Ripley will perform, but hopefully I'll have news about that shortly.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Lloyd Webber musical, here's a brief Tell Me On a Sunday history: The one-woman song cycle about an English woman who comes to America was written for West End musical theatre star Marti Webb, who had replaced Elaine Paige when Paige left the London company of Evita. At that point, Webb had already starred in London productions of Godspell, Oliver!, The Card and Stop the World, I Want to Get Off. Tell Me On a Sunday premiered as a best-selling record album and an acclaimed concert for BBC TV, which was later aired on U.S. television. Combined with Lloyd Webber's Variations, Tell Me On a Sunday became the first half of Song and Dance, a two-act concert for the theatre, which debuted at London's Palace Theatre in 1982. The first half featured Marti Webb — dressed in a man's suit and tie — singing the Lloyd Webber-Don Black score, and the second half included a company led by Wayne Sleep dancing to Lloyd Webber's "Variations," which the composer had originally written for brother Julian Lloyd Webber. A live recording was made on the show's opening night and was subsequently released as a double-LP.

Song and Dance ran for over two years in London, and Webb was succeeded by a host of actresses, including Gemma Craven, Lulu and Liz Robertson. Lyrics and song orders were changed slightly as each woman stepped into the role. The production was again recorded live (another two LP set plus a video) when Sarah Brightman, who would later become Lloyd Webber's wife (they're now divorced), became the show's star.

In order to bring Song and Dance to Broadway, the creators decided that the two halves of the show needed to seem more of a whole, rather than two separate acts. After substantial revisions — Richard Maltby, Jr. helped Don Black alter many of the lyrics — the show opened on Broadway starring Bernadette Peters as English hat designer Emma. During the first half of the show, Peters sang about her many U.S. loves; one of the louses was named Joe, a Nebraska native, who cheats on Emma — the end of their relationship precedes the title tune, "Tell Me On a Sunday." The second half of the evening featured Christopher d'Amboise as Joe, who relates his story through dance. The two reconcile at the end of the evening and sing a reprise of "Unexpected Song." Peters received a Tony Award for her performance, a star turn that prompted New York Times reviewer Frank Rich to write, "Ms. Peters is more than talented. As an actress, singer, comedienne, and all around warming presence, she has no peer in the musical theater right now." I saw Peters in the role four times, and those evenings remain high points of my theatre-going experiences. Betty Buckley assumed the role of Emma when Peters left the show, and offered a tremendously exciting vocal performance. The way Buckley belted the title tune, holding the high E in the work "take" — "Don't run off in the pouring rain, don't call me as they call your plane, taaaaaaaake the hurt out of all the pain" — was a belter fan's dream. (Melissa Manchester later starred in a national tour of the show, although her vocal performance paled in comparison to her Broadway counterparts.)

Can't wait to hear what Ripley does with the song. It really does seem to be the year for the former star of Side Show. After receiving rave reviews for her portrayal of the "Not Getting Married Today" Amy in the recent Kennedy Center production of Company, AR will also join the New York company of The Vagina Monologues beginning Aug. 20 (through Sept. 29). It also looks like Ripley will headline the forthcoming Broadway mounting of Little Shop of Horrors, too. I spoke with Ripley's agent last week, and he explained that they were expecting an offer shortly and would then begin negotiations. Let's hope Ripley lands the part — as I wrote in my July 12 column, I think she'd be the perfect Audrey.

As for other diva highlights of the season: Lea Salonga in Flower Drum Song, her first non-Boublil-Schonberg Broadway outing; Laura Benanti, following her Into the Woods triumph, in the starry revival of Nine (can hardly wait to hear Benanti's beautiful tones singing one of Maury Yeston's finest tunes, "Unusual Way"); the legendary Chita Rivera, also in Nine; Melissa Errico, going from a summer of Sondheim to an autumn of Legrand in Amour; belters Liz Callaway and Ruthie Henshall singing the work of Burt Bacharach in The Look of Love revue; and, of course, perhaps the highlight of the season to come, Bernadette Peters as Rose in Gypsy!

*Tell Me On a Sunday will play The Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater from Dec. 17, 2002, through Jan. 12, 2003. For information, call (202) 467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: As previously announced, Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, who both nabbed Tonys for their work in the original Broadway production of Evita, will reteam for a concert at the Charles W. Eisemann Center in Richardson, TX. Word has it that the Sept. 14 concert will feature a host of duets for the dynamic duo. Some of the songs that will be featured include "Move On" (Sunday in the Park with George), "Do You Love Me?" (Fiddler on the Roof) as well as selections from Evita and other musicals. LuPone and Patinkin also hope to perform their duets concert at other venues throughout the country. Stay tuned for more . . . I received a copy of Audra McDonald's newest recording, "Happy Songs," this week. McDonald's third solo recording for Nonesuch, "Happy Songs" is scheduled for a Sept. 17 release. I'll have a review for next week's column, but after one listen, I think it may be my favorite of the three-time Tony winner's solo works. Until next week, here's the track listing: "Ain't It De Truth?," "Tess's Torch Song," "I Must Have That Man!," "Bambalele," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," "Supper Time," "Ill Wind (You're Blowin' Me No Good)," "Beat My Dog," "On a Turquoise Cloud," "More Than You Know," "See What I Wanna See," "He Loves and She Loves," "I Double Dare You," "Lose That Long Face." . . . Coleen Sexton, who eventually succeeded Linda Eder in the Broadway company of Jekyll & Hyde, will play another character named Lucy in the upcoming production of Dracula: A Chamber Musical at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. Ron Bohmer stars in the title role, and the remainder of the cast includes James Moye as Jonathan Harker, Glory Crampton as Mina, Robert Hunt as Dr. Seward, Eddie Korbich as Renfield, Robert Jensen as Dr. Van Helsing and Melissa Rouse and Lauren Wagner as the Dancers/Brides. Tickets are priced between $24 and $62 and may purchased by calling (978) 232-7200 or by going to the theatre's website, www.nsmt.org . . . Lauren Kennedy will be a part of "An Evening with Jason Robert Brown" at London's Bridewell Theatre on Sunday, Aug. 25. The one-night-only concert to support the Bridewell's commitment to new musical theatre will feature the Tony Award-winning composer performing his own new and old tunes. Concertgoers can expect to hear such Brown works as "Stars and the Moon," "I'm Not Afraid of Anything," "The Old Red Hills of Home" and "Goodbye Until Tomorrow." In addition to Kennedy, who starred in the earlier versions of Brown's The Last Five Years, the evening will also boast performances from We Will Rock You's Golda Rosheuvel, who appeared in the Bridewell production of Brown's Songs for a New World; and Jenna Russell, who currently stars in BBC's "Born and Bred." The Bridewell Theatre is located on Bride Lane in London. Tickets, priced between £12.50 and £17.50, are available by calling the theatre's box office at 011 44 020 7936 3456. In related news, Kennedy is currently working on an all Jason Robert Brown CD. "Diva Talk" will feature an interview with the recent South Pacific star in an upcoming column.

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:
Sept. 20 and 21 in Brisbane, Australia
Sept. 28 at the Haugh Performing Arts Center in Glendora, CA
Oct. 3-6 at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, TX
Oct. 22-Nov. 9 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 16 at the Performing Arts Center of SUNY-Purchase in Purchase, NY
Dec. 6 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC

Liz Callaway in Concert

August 16 & 17 at the Stackner Cabaret Theatre in Milwaukee, WI
August 18-23 in workshop of The Mistress Cycle at Barrington Stage Co.
September 1 at U.S. Open Tennis Tournament
September 23 at the 100th Anniversary of Macy's Herald Square in New York, NY
September 30 in the Merrily We Roll Along Reunion Concert in New York, NY
October 5 with the Westchester Philharmonic concert of Richard Rodgers music
May 16, 2003 in "Broadway Showstoppers" with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops in Philadelphia, PA Barbara Cook in Concert:

Now through Aug. 26 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York, NY (Mostly Sondheim)
August 14-18 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, DC
Oct. 19 at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA
Nov. 2 at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts in Brooklyn, NY
Nov. 17 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN

Linda Eder in Concert

Aug. 16 at City Lights Amphitheatre (with Burt Bacharach) in Denver, CO
Aug. 17 at the Mountain Winery (with Burt Bacharach) in Saratoga, CA
Sept. 19 at Humphrey's By the Bay in San Diego, CA
Sept. 21 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
Oct. 25 & 26 at the Ovens Auditorium in Charlotte, NC
Nov. 1 & 3 at the Kimmel Theatre in the Verizon Center (with Peter Nero and Philly Pops) in Philadelphia, PA
Nov. 2 at the War Memorial (with Peter Nero and Philly Pops) in Trenton, NJ
Nov. 8 at the Providence Performing Arts Center in Providence, RI
Dec. 1 at the Bass Hall in Austin, TX
Dec. 20 & 21 at the Symphony Hall (with Atlanta Symphony) in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 3 & 4 at the Meyeroff Hall (with Baltimore Symphony) in Baltimore, MD

Patti LuPone in Concert

Sept. 14 at the Charles W. Eisemann Center ("An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin") in Richardson, TX
Oct. 4 at the Tillis Center at Long Island University in Greenvale, NY ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
March 27, 2003 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:

Sept. 1-2 MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon in Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 20-22 with the Grand Rapids Symphony at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, MI
Sept. 26 - 29 with the North Carolina Symphony at Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, NC
Oct. 24 at the annual Cabaret Convention in New York, NY
Oct. 30-Nov. 3 at the American Music Therapy Association Conf. in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 2 at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 9 at the Landmark Theatre Gala in Port Washington, NY
Nov. 10 at the Hanford Civic Auditorium in Hanford, CA
Nov. 19-Dec. 1 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9 Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Dec. 14 at the Boca Pops Big Band Series in Boca Raton, FL

Bernadette Peters in Concert:

Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at the Morton H. Meyerson Hall in Dallas, TX
Sept. 28 at the Weidner Center in Green Bay, WI
Oct. 5 Sundome Center in Sun City West, AZ
Oct. 24 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis, IN
Oct. 26 at the Kleinhans Auditorium in Buffalo, NY

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


—By Andrew Gans