DIVA TALK: The Infinite Joy of Divas

News   DIVA TALK: The Infinite Joy of Divas TONY, TONY, TONY

TONY, TONY, TONY

As everyone who would read this column knows, on May 7 the 2001 Tony Award nominees were announced by Annie Get Your Gun’s Reba McEntire and The Music Man’s Eric McCormack, and this year’s list seems about as equitable as is possible for such events. I’ve spent a good part of the past two weeks writing short bios (between 70 and 80 words) for each of the nominees for our annual Tony Awards program, which is distributed the night of the awards ceremony at Radio City Music Hall. What follows are these short bios for the Best Actress in a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical categories . . . And, of course, don’t forget to tune in to the Tonys on Sunday, June 3 at 8 PM (PBS) and 9 PM (CBS). . .

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Blythe Danner, Follies
An accomplished actress of both stage and screen, Ms. Danner received a Tony Award for her work in Butterflies Are Free as well as Tony nominations for both Betrayal and A Streetcar Named Desire. Her other theatrical credits include Much Ado About Nothing, The Philadelphia Story, Sylvia, Blithe Spirit and The Miser (Theatre World Award), and she has played at the Williamstown Theatre Festival for 22 seasons. Her film and TV credits are numerous.
Christine Ebersole, 42nd Street
Ms. Ebersole was also on Broadway this season in Gore Vidal’s The Best Man and appeared in the Encores! production of A Connecticut Yankee. Her other Broadway credits include Getting Away With Murder, Harrigan ‘n Hart, Camelot, Oklahoma!, On the Twentieth Century and Angel Street. Ms. Ebersole’s Off-Broadway and regional credits are extensive, and her film/TV work feature “Will & Grace,” “Saturday Night Live,” Tootsie, Amadeus and ‘Til There Was You.
Randy Graff, A Class Act
Ms. Graff garnered Tony and Drama Desk awards for her dual roles in City of Angels as well as a Helen Hayes nomination for her performance as Fantine in Les Miserables. Her other Broadway credits include High Society, Moon Over Buffalo, Laughter on the 23rd Floor and Falsettos. Ms. Graff has also worked on TV and film, including roles in Keys to Tulsa, “Mad About You,” “Law & Order” and “Drexel’s Class.”
Faith Prince, Bells Are Ringing
As Adelaide in the hit revival of Guys and Dolls, Ms. Prince won the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for her performance. Her other Broadway credits include James Joyce’s The Dead, Little Me, Jerome Robbins’ Broadway (Tony and Drama Desk noms.), Nick and Nora (Outer Critics Circle Award) and The King and I. Television audiences will recognize Ms. Prince from her work on “Spin City” and “Now and Again.”
Marla Schaffel, Jane Eyre
A graduate of the Juilliard School Drama Division, Ms. Schaffel has appeared on Broadway in Titanic and Les Miserables as well as the national tour of Evita. Her other theatre credits include Enter the Guardsman, Christina Alberta’s Father, Lucky in the Rain, West Side Story and A Little Night Music. Ms. Schaffel was seen in the film I Love You! Don’t Touch Me and can be heard on The Prince of Egypt soundtrack.

BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Polly Bergen, Follies
Ms. Bergen has enjoyed an illustrious career spanning five decades of appearances on stage, screen, TV, radio and recordings. Her previous Broadway productions include Champagne Complex, First Impressions and Love Letters. She has accumulated more than 300 film and TV credits, including Cape Fear, “The Helen Morgan Story (Emmy Award), “The Winds of War” (Emmy nom.) and “War and Remembrance” (Emmy nom.).
Kathleen Freeman, The Full Monty
Ms. Freeman has directed, composed and performed for The Circle and Players Ring Theatres in Los Angeles, and she has starred in the national tours of Deathtrap, Annie and Woman of the Year. Ms. Freeman has appeared in more than 100 films and several hundred TV shows. Some of those include ten classic comedies with Jerry Lewis plus “The Golden Girls,” “Murphy Brown,” “Mama’s Family,” “Hogan’s Heroes” and “Topper.”
Cady Huffman, The Producers, the new Mel Brooks musical
Ms. Huffman received a Tony nomination for her role in The Will Rogers Follies and has also appeared in the Broadway companies of La Cage aux Folles, Big Deal, Steel Pier and Dame Edna: The Royal Tour. Her other theatrical credits include Big Rosemary, Italian-American Reconciliation, Gemini, As You Like It and Cymbeline. Her TV and film credits feature roles in Hero, Throw the Hoolihan, Space Marines, “Mad About You” and “Pig Sty.”
Kate Levering, 42nd Street
On Broadway Ms. Levering was seen in The Music Man, Annie Get Your Gun, The Life and A Christmas Carol. Off-Broadway she played Eve in Exactly Like You, and she has appeared in the tours of Chicago and West Side Story. Ms. Levering’s TV credits include “Home Improvement” and “One Life to Live,” and she is scheduled to play Therese Raquin in the new Susan Stroman/Harry Connick Jr. musical Thou Shalt Not, coming to Broadway in the fall.
Mary Testa, 42nd Street
Ms. Testa garnered a Tony nomination (and an Obie Award) for her work in the revival of On the Town and has also appeared on Broadway in Marie Christine, ...Forum, The Rink, Marilyn and Barnum. Off Broadway she has appeared in The Vagina Monologues, The Wax, From Above (Obie Award), Lucky Stiff, In Trousers, Tartuffe, The Knife and A New Brain. Ms. Testa’s film and TV credits include Sleepers, Two Bits, “Sex and the City,” “Law & Order” and “Cosby.”

BETTY BUCKLEY That Tony-winning dynamo, Betty Buckley, has just released a new slate of concert performances. What follows is Buckley’s performance schedule as of Friday. If Buckley should come to your neck of the heads, be sure to catch this mesmerizing performer in person! You will not be disappointed.

May 20: at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, KS
May 24 at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, MA
June 17: at the Le Petit Theatre in New Orleans, LA
July 27 and 28: at the Bottom Line in New York, NY
July 29: at the Provincetown Town Hall in Provincetown, MA (Fund raiser for Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater)
Aug. 25: at the Great Waters Music Festival in Wolfeboro, NH
Oct. 6: at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ (with Michael Feinstein)
Nov. 10: at the Naperville North Central College Performing Arts Center in Naperville, IL (with Michael Feinstein)
Nov. 24: at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ (with Michael Feinstein)
Dec. 6; at Abravenal Hall with the Utah Symphony in Salt Lake City, UT (Xmas program)
Dec. 7: in Logan, UT (Venue to be announced)
Dec. 27: at the Academy Theatre in Philadelphia, PA (with Michael Feinstein)
Jan. 4 & 5, 2002: at the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford, CT
March 15 & 16, 2002: with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, NC
March 30: at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA

FOR THE RECORD: THE SONGS OF WILLIAM FINN

The new CD “Infinite Joy: The Songs of William Finn” clearly demonstrates two notions: one, that William Finn, composer of Falsettos, A New Brain and Romance in Hard Times, is one of the geniuses in the composing world, a man who writes ravishing melodies and equally attractive lyrics; and, two, that this multi-talented man should, perhaps, not sing in public (or at least on CD). Of course, breaking convention is exactly his point, so I’ll just have to get past his exasperatingly rendered opening, “Mister, Make Me a Song.” After that, however, the recording is, excuse the phrase, an infinite joy. Some of the greatest voices on Broadway take part in this Finnfest, including Liz Callaway, she of the creamy tones; Lewis Cleale, whose powerhouse voice is not heard often enough on The Great White Way; Norm Lewis, whose rich voice remains one of the most beautiful instruments around; Carolee Carmello, whose intensity and vocal prowess are a constant joy to hear; and 42nd Street’s Mary Testa, who can belt with the best of ‘em.

Finn’s songs are often one-act plays unto themselves, with a definite character journey from beginning to end. The emotional impact of his songs also tend to sneak up on you: You’re busy laughing at a witty lyric, and all of a sudden it’s that “punched in the stomach feeling” as the harsher realities of life are explored (i.e., “sometimes joy has a terrible cost” in “And They’re Off,” etc.). Highlights of the 21-track recording, which was recorded live at Joe’s Pub and features introductions by Finn himself, include Stephen DeRosa’s comic antics in “How Marvin Eats His Breakfast” (who else but Finn could write “I dreamt all night of hips and legs, now I want some eggs, something I can relate to”); Liz Callaway’s smooth-as-silk version of one of my favorite Finn tunes, A New Brain’s “Sailing”; Lewis Cleale’s impressively delivered “Hitchhiking Across America,” my pick for song of the month and his equally emotional version of “And They’re Off”; Carolee Carmello’s impressive belting on “I Have Found”; Callaway’s heartfelt rendering of the disc’s title tune, “Infinite Joy”; Norm Lewis’s reprise of that same song; and even Finn’s vocals (not sure you can call them that) on “Stupid Things I Won’t Do,” where he asserts his life principles. DeRosa also presents a one-man version of Falsettos’ “The Baseball Game,” based on a performance he saw at the East Milford Jewish Community Center. One can only imagine how hilarious his performance was in person, as it’s a riot even without the visual.

This is a definite must for musical theatre lovers. “Infinite Joy: The Songs of William Finn” is now available in stores from RCA Victor.

HAIR-Y THOUGHTS

To be honest, I was not expecting to enjoy the Encores! production of Hair as much as I did. Although I am familiar with many of the songs, the score has never been one of my favorites, so it was with great surprise that I found myself delighted and thoroughly moved by the recent limited run at City Center. I caught the Sunday evening performance, and I think I was more stirred by this musical than anything I’ve seen in the past year. In particular, I found Luther Creek’s performance as Claude a revelation; it’s exactly the kind of performance I find thrilling: beautifully sung (an Encores! recording would be great) and acted with complete sincerity -- neither underacted nor over-the-top. His face also has an innate sadness, and the finale, which finds the company forcefully singing “Let the Sun Shine In” as Creek disappears into oblivion at the back of the stage, was one of the moving moments of the season past. Tom Plotkin also did well in the more showy role of Berger, and if Idina Menzel has yet to find a role that suits her as well as Rent’s Maureen, her belty delivery of the ballad “Easy To Be Hard” was exciting.

IN OTHER NEWS That Tony and Olivier Award-winning actress and singer, Patti LuPone, will return to Carnegie Hall on February 28, 2002, for her second solo concert at the famed hall. Stay tuned for more details. Speaking of La LuPone, it was recently announced that she will reprise her role as Mrs. Lovett for Sweeney Todd in Concert performances this July 19 to 21 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. The concerts will also feature George Hearn, Lisa Vroman and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra . . . Cabaret artist Andrea Marcovicci, whom the Philadelphia Inquirer once described as “the Callas of cabaret,” will return to her New York home base, The Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, from May 22 through June 26. Marcovicci’s new show is entitled “Double Old-Fashioned: The Cool World of Cocktails and Cafe Society” and features Shelly Markham on piano. Show times are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 9 PM. On Friday and Saturday nights at 11:30 PM, Marcovicci will perform her other recent show, “Ten Cents a Dance.” The Algonquin is located at 59 West 44th Street; for information and reservations, call (212) 840-6800 . . . This week Decca Broadway released four classic Broadway musicals on CD: Call Me Madam, Stop the World--I Want to Get Off, Destry Rides Again and Lost in the Stars. Of special interest to diva fans are Call Me Madam, which stars the inimitable Ethel Merman and features four bonus tracks from another of her hits, Panama Hattie; and Destry Rides Again, which boasts the glorious vocals of Dolores Gray.

REMINDERS:

BARBARA COOK

July 9: at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL LINDA EDER

Eder in concert:
May 31-June 3: in Pittsburgh, PA at Heinz Hall; call (412) 392-4900
July 7: at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion at the Woodlands in Houston, TX, (713) 629-3700
Sept. 15: at the Eisenhower Hall Theatre at West Point, (845) 938 4159
Oct. 19 and 20: at the Atlanta Symphony Hall, go to www.atlantasymphony.org
Nov. 3: at the Youngstown Symphony Center in Youngstown, OH, (330) 744 4269
Nov. 16 and 17: at Jacobs Symphony Hall in Jacksonville, FL, (877) 662 6731

PATTI LuPONE

The Tony and Olivier Award-winning actress has also just released a whole new slew of concert dates, which follow:
May 26: with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra at Brown University (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
May 31: at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. With the National Symphony (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
July 7: at the Performing Arts Center in Westhampton Beach, NY (“Matters of the Heart”)
Aug. 3-4: at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Los Angeles, CA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Sept. 15: at the Rialto Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia (“Matters of the Heart”)
Sept. 20-23: at Bass Hall with the Ft. Worth Symphony in Ft. Worth, Texas (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 10: at Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts (“Matters of the Heart”)
Feb. 9, 2002: at the Tilles Center with the Long Island Philharmonic (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Feb. 22-23, 2002: at the Kleinhaus Hall in Buffalo, NY with the Buffalo Philharmonic (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)

KAREN MASON

What follows is Mason’s up-to-date performance schedule:
Now through May 20 at Davenports cabaret in Chicago, IL

BERNADETTE PETERS

The two-time Tony winner, who recently concluded her run in Annie Get Your Gun, is now on a U.S. concert tour:
June 8-9: in Minneapolis, MN
June 23: in Johnston, PA

DIVAS AT ARCI’S PLACE

Beginning May 29, 15 Tony nominees and/or Tony winners will perform at Arci’s Place (450 Park Avenue South), one of New York’s newest cabaret rooms. First up is the Tony-winning star of A Chorus Line, Donna McKechnie, who will take to the intimate stage of Arci’s on May 29 at 8:30 PM. Reservations for the cabaret shows ($30 cover; $15 minimum, which may be applied to dinner) can be made by calling Arci’s Place at (212) 532-4370. The complete list of divas follows:


Tues., May 29: Donna McKechnie (8:30 PM)
Wed., May 30: Priscilla Lopez (8:30 PM)
Thurs., May 31: Tovah Feldshuh (8:30 PM)
Fri., June 1 & Saturday, June 2: “Sibling Revelry” with Ann Hampton Callaway & Liz Callaway (8:30 & 11:30 PM)
Tues. June 5: Pamela Myers (8:30 PM)
Wed., June 6: Alison Fraser & Keith Hermann (8:30 PM)
Thurs., June 7: Lillias White (8:30 PM)
Thurs., June 7: Sally Mayes (11 PM)
Fri., June 8: Sharon McNight (8:30 PM)
Fri., June 8: Tsidii Le Loka (11 PM)
Sat., June 9: Debbie Gravitte (8:30 PM)
Sat., June 9: Tsidii Le Loka (11 PM)

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

By Andrew Gans