DIVA TALK: The Final Sunset; Bernadette on Radio

DIVA TALK: The Final Sunset; Bernadette on Radio ELAINE PAIGE
Fans of Elaine Paige, fans of Sunset Boulevard and fans of both packed the Minskoff Theatre last Saturday night for the final New York performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black/Christopher Hampton musical. To many in attendance, it marked the end of an era, a brief period where three of the top female musical theatre performers of our generation got a chance to strut their stuff as Norma Desmond: Patti LuPone in London and Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige in both London and New York. Others who donned Norma's turban include screen star Glenn Close (Los Angeles and New York), Helen Schneider (Germany), Diahann Carroll (Canada), Rita Moreno (London), Debra Byrne (Australia), Petula Clark (London), Linda Balgord (road company) and their standbys.

One could sense the excitement from the audience on Saturday, awaiting the strains of Lloyd Webber's music to come from the orchestra. Nearly every scene received a huge round of applause; even scenes that usually blend into each other without a response from the audience were acknowledged. And, when Elaine Paige appeared onstage for the first time, the audience went wild, and it was a few moments before she could utter her first onstage words for the evening: "Any laws against burying him in the garden?"

ELAINE PAIGE
Fans of Elaine Paige, fans of Sunset Boulevard and fans of both packed the Minskoff Theatre last Saturday night for the final New York performance of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black/Christopher Hampton musical. To many in attendance, it marked the end of an era, a brief period where three of the top female musical theatre performers of our generation got a chance to strut their stuff as Norma Desmond: Patti LuPone in London and Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige in both London and New York. Others who donned Norma's turban include screen star Glenn Close (Los Angeles and New York), Helen Schneider (Germany), Diahann Carroll (Canada), Rita Moreno (London), Debra Byrne (Australia), Petula Clark (London), Linda Balgord (road company) and their standbys.

One could sense the excitement from the audience on Saturday, awaiting the strains of Lloyd Webber's music to come from the orchestra. Nearly every scene received a huge round of applause; even scenes that usually blend into each other without a response from the audience were acknowledged. And, when Elaine Paige appeared onstage for the first time, the audience went wild, and it was a few moments before she could utter her first onstage words for the evening: "Any laws against burying him in the garden?"

When Paige finished her eloquent ode to her dead monkey in "Surrender" and announced, "I am big. It's the pictures that got small," the audience burst into another round of applause. Paige then began her first major song of the evening, "With One Look." She was in great voice for her final performance, and I noticed more than ever her exceptional phrasing--she really makes the most of every word she sings or every line she speaks. After blasting the last few lines of "With One Look," the crowd again screamed its approval delaying the show from continuing for quite awhile.

The entire night's performance was greeted like an old friend. It was as much the performer's last night as it was the audience's, many of whom have seen the musical numerous times. Other songs that received especially enthusiastic response included Alan Campbell's impassioned version of the title song; Paige's second-act aria, "As If She Never Said Goodbye," which brought the audience to its feet; and the Joe-Betty love duet "Too Much In Love To Care." Interestingly, Alice Ripley, who has been with Sunset since its Los Angeles run, missed the show to attend her brother's wedding, and Kristen Behrendt portrayed Betty.

When the musical ended, the audience couldn't wait for Paige's entrance to rise. People started standing during the chorus members' curtain call, and by the time George Hearn and Alan Campbell reached the stage, the entire audience was standing and cheering. Only when Paige appeared did the cheers from the theatre get even louder. After a minute or so, Paige stepped forward to speak, and I thought you would like to read her gracious curtain speech:

"May I say a few more words, Mr. DeMille? Ladies and gentlemen, the winning lottery number is... I can't tell you how relieved I am not to have to negotiate that staircase. I wanted to very early on in this piece, I suggested to do something that I really wanted to do, which was to slide down the bannister. . . Ladies and gentlemen, you know this evening is a very emotional time for us, obviously, because it's our last performance as you, of course, know of Sunset Boulevard. And I know I can speak on behalf of the entire company when I thank everybody connected with this production. I'm not going to go naming names because I'm bound to forget somebody and that just won't do. Over the years in the theatre I've learned many things, but one thing that I've learned is that it's all about teamwork, and I have been very, very fortunate to be able to make my New York debut here with this extra, extra special group. I would like just to mention a couple of names, Edgar Dobie and Nina Lannan, who have run this show so incredibly well since I've been here. . . I've forgotten completely what I wanted to say--There are a couple of other people I would like to mention, who have made a huge contribution to this show, and a little bird told me before the performance that they're here tonight--and those people are Miss Glenn Close and Miss Betty Buckley. I don't want to ramble on, so there's one final thing I would like to say and that's to thank all you wonderful people out there in the dark."

And then the curtain came down for the final time on 10086 Sunset Boulevard.

P.S. When's the revival. . .and who will star in it?

BERNADETTE PETERS
Hope you were able to catch Bernadette Peters on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" on Monday. Peters delivered a full-voiced, electric version of Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive," and during her interview, O'Donnell alluded to a forthcoming Broadway production in which Peters will appear. There's no definite word yet, but it does set the mind spinning as to what musical it will be. O'Donnell let it slip that Fran Weissler was the person who informed her about Peters' upcoming return to The Great White Way. A season or so ago, the Weisslers were scheduled to produce a revival of Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate, and Peters was one of the names mentioned at that time. Peters also took part in the recent workshop of Kander and Ebb'sSkin of Our Teeth. Since the Weisslers are producing the current Kander and Ebb hit Chicago, perhaps this could be the vehicle for Peters. Peters would also be perfect for a revival of One Touch of Venus, which was performed last season as part of City Center's Encores! series starring Melissa Errico. I'll keep you posted as I hear any news. . .

For those of you who can't wait for Bernadette's Broadway return, you can get a dose of the megatalent this Monday, March 31 on WQEW 1560 AM. BP is scheduled to sing live at 4pm. And, if you haven't bought her latest CD, Sondheim, Etc.: Bernadette Peters Live at Carnegie Hall, what are you waiting for?

BETTY BUCKLEY
Last week I posted my review of Betty Buckley's wonderful new show at Maxim's. There was also a rave review in the New York Post for Buckley's Maxim's stint. I thought you would like to read some of Chip Deffaa's critique:

". . .At her best, she is both thrillingly theatrical and utterly convincing in a way that is extremely unusual.
When Kenny Werner vamped a few familiar introductory notes, I thought, "Surely she's not going to take on 'The Man That Got Away.'" We're talking Judy Garland here. Signature song. Near-sacred text. But Buckley was devastating. Her understanding was complete; the song felt like self-confession.
With almost frightening intensity, she tore into "Come Rain or Come Shine," hitting those words "happy together/unhappy together" in such a way that you could imagine this woman making you both very happy and, at other times, very unhappy. "And won't it be fine?" she asked with such sweet fierceness, the happiness/unhappiness seemed impossibly to deny.
She followed Stephen Sondheim's "Pretty Women" with haunting film songs about said topic: "Laura" and "Ruby." Werner's gorgeously loose, flowing jazz accompaniment was first rate.
The above songs have got to be recorded, and on one CD; they are coming from the same emotional place. She offered effectively, too "The Miller's Son," "But Not for Me" and--a surprising choice, but she imbued it with near-mystical significance "Just Around the River Bend." . . .

PATTI LuPONE
For those of you who will be lucky enough to get to London during Patti LuPone's run in the West End production of Terrence McNally's Master Class, here is some information to order tickets in advance. LuPone begins previews as Callas on April 18, with an official opening at the Queens Theatre (Shaftesbury Avenue) on May 6. The performance schedule is Monday through Saturday at 8pm and Saturday at 3pm. Tickets range from £7.50 - £30.00, and the box office telephone number is 0171-494-5040.

That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!

-- By Andrew Gans

e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com