DIVA TALK: The London Column

DIVA TALK: The London Column Cheerio, diva lovers! I’m back from a great week in London with some thoughts about the four evenings of theatre I attended. Enjoy! . . .

Cheerio, diva lovers! I’m back from a great week in London with some thoughts about the four evenings of theatre I attended. Enjoy! . . .

Monday, August 21
BETTY BUCKLEY in CONCERT: DIVAS AT THE DONMAR:
I’ve seen Betty Buckley in concert nearly two-dozen times in the past decade, and she never fails to impress. Combining a one-in-a-million instrument -- boasting a steely strength that is spellbinding -- with an equally rare emotional depth, Buckley is a consummate songstress, offering fully-felt interpretations of an eclectic range of material that encompass tunes from the worlds of pop, country, and, of course, Broadway. For her generous two-set show at the Donmar Warehouse, the Tony Award winner offered her standards -- a soaring “Meadowlark”; the two Sunset arias, “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye,” which would stop any show; plus the “jewel” of her collection, the wrenching Cats anthem, “Memory” -- but she also included several songs new to her repertoire, featuring the work of such up-and coming composers as Adam Guettel, Jeanine Tesori, Ricky Ian Gordon and Jason Robert Brown.


It is the last of these composers, Brown, whose work I most enjoy. He has a gift for melody that, at this point, exceeds his contemporaries, and his lyrics are equally compelling. And, he could not ask for a better interpreter than Buckley: In her hands, Brown’s “Stars and the Moon” is at once comedic and shattering -- the nuances of the song completely expressed. I also enjoyed Buckley’s delivery of Ricky Ian Gordon’s gentle tune, “Sycamore Tree,” as well as a literary section that included tunes set to the words of Dorothy Parker, Tennessee Williams, Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Other highlights of Buckley’s show included a powerful rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns,” featuring a lengthy solo by pianist Kenny Werner; Amanda McBroom’s “Dreamin’”; and Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Come On Come On,” which Buckley seems to imbue with more and more feeling each time she sings this beautiful song . . . By the way, as reported here two weeks ago and recently confirmed on Buckley’s own website, her performance at the Donmar will thankfully be recorded for CD and possibly video release. Stay tuned for more details.

Tuesday, August 22
ELAINE PAIGE in THE KING AND I:
This trip marked my third time seeing The First Lady of the British Musical Theatre, Elaine Paige, on the London stage. I first had the good fortune to catch her stunning performance as Edith Piaf, a complete transformation to the gritty, highly emotional French chanteuse, and that performance remains one of my theatre-going highlights. Just to hear Paige belt out Piaf’s signature tunes -- including “No Regrets,” “If You Love Me” and “Mon Dieu” -- would have been reason enough to make the transatlantic trek. I then caught her thrilling turn as Norma Desmond when she replaced an ailing Betty Buckley for a six-week stint in Sunset Boulevard. In that Andrew Lloyd Webber production, Paige brought an earthiness to the faded silent screen star as well as a heightened comedic element that added greatly to the award-winning musical. The way she growled, “Sit downnnnnn” to Joe Gillis or the way she bellowed “Maaaaaax” were priceless, and both the beauty (“With One Look”) and power (“As If We Never Said Goodbye”) of her voice were never more evident.


That said, I was still unsure how Paige would tackle the role of Anna Leonowens in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. Though there are certainly plenty of dramatic moments in this classic musical, Anna is not as emotionally charged a role as Piaf, Norma or even Eva Peron, Paige’s first big London role. But I had no reason to wonder -- Paige offers another superb turn, finding all the drama there is to be found while demonstrating an equally appealing gift for comedy. Just watch her face as she attempts to keep her head lower than the King’s while wearing a huge period costume. Additionally, her solo rant about the aforementioned King of Siam is a tour de force. And, of course, there is also the flawless, diction-perfect singing. Paige easily sails through such chestnuts as “Getting to Know You” and “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” and her rendition of “Hello, Young Lovers,” which builds to a full-voiced “I’ve had a love of my own like yours, I’ve had a love of my owwwwwn,” is exemplary. It is a performance not to be missed, another gem from my favorite Brit.

Wednesday and Thursday, August 23 and 24 WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND and THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK:
I’m not quite sure what it implies that I left The Witches of Eastwick humming the title tune from Whistle Down the Wind, which I had seen the previous evening. Actually, I think I do. While Witches seems more ready to entertain audiences, its score (by John Dempsey and Dana P. Rowe) -- while adequate -- is quite unmemorable. In fact, neither the friend I traveled with, nor I, could remember any of the musical’s tunes. Whistle, on the other hand, possesses a few lovely songs, although the direction, staging and overall assembly of the show need a bit rethinking. The production now onstage seems more like a work-in-progress than a final product. That said, however, there is a lot right with Whistle: some wonderful tunes, dynamic performances and a plot rife with dramatic possibilities. The scene that works best is a trio in the second act, “A Kiss Is a Terrible Thing To Waste,” featuring Amos (Mark McGee), The Man (Jerome Pradon) and Swallow (Laura-Michelle Kelly).


Witches, to me, though, was the more enjoyable evening, a light, comedic musical that is, of course, based on the film of the same name. What is missing, though, as stated before, is a good score or even a few tunes that really excite the listener. It’s a serviceable score but not the kind that makes for a great musical. What it also lacks are truly moving moments, which even a musical comedy needs (i.e., the first act finale of The Music Man). An attempt in the second act to connect the death of Jennifer’s (Caroline Sheen) father with Sukie’s (Maria Friedman) loss of her own dad seems forced.


What Witches does provide are several great performances from its leading ladies. Lucie Arnaz lends star power and comedic skill; Maria Friedman, with her huge Goldie Hawn-like eyes, is the most enjoyable to watch, a warm, humorous actress who can switch from dramatic to comedic moments with ease; and Joanna Riding, who possesses the best singing voice of the three, offers the most convincing and striking transformation of the evening. There are a few numbers that do work well, especially Friedman’s tongue-twisting solo, “Words Words Words,” and a second-act dance number, “Dance with the Devil.” The show could also benefit from a bit more magic and witchcraft: It’s a treat to watch the three women -- Arnaz, Friedman and Riding -- fly through the auditorium at the close of the first act, and one wishes for a few more similar moments. Ian McShane works hard in the role of Darryl van Horne, played on screen by Jack Nicholson. His performance is skillful, even if it never lifts off in the way one would like. It’s hard to determine how Witches would fare on Broadway, although if the producers could secure three female stars, it might have a good chance.

IN OTHER LONDON NEWS: Julie Wilson will headline London’s leading cabaret space, Pizza in the Park, from Sept. 4 through Sept. 16. Call 020-7235-5273 for reservations . . . Karen Akers and Steve Ross will then perform their highly acclaimed act, April in Paris, from Sept. 18 through Sept. 23 in this same space . . . Former Evita and Song & Dance star Marti Webb will perform her evening of show tunes, The Magic of the Musicals, on Sunday, Oct. 29 at 7:30 PM at the London Palladium. Webb will be joined by singer Dave Willetts, and tickets are available by calling 020-7494-5540 . . . The current Mrs. Andrew Lloyd Webber and writer/director Ruth Leon have started a new theatre magazine/program, which will be available in several West End theatres beginning in October. Entitled Theatregoer, the first issue of this full-size magazine boasts articles by several top writers and a restaurant column by none other than Andrew Lloyd Webber. . . . Speaking of ALW, there are posters all over town promoting his upcoming musical, The Beautiful Game, which inside sources say is one of his darkest works, but a winner . . .

THIS JUST IN . . . Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone will bring her acclaimed concert act, Matters of the Heart, to the Vivian Beaumont Theater for 19 performances only, beginning Sunday, Oct. 15. La LuPone will perform her newest show, which was recorded on the Varese Sarabande label, on Sunday and Monday evenings through December 17. Tickets will be available on Saturday, Sept. 9 by calling (212) 239-6200 . . . Former Baby and Miss Saigon star Liz Callaway will perform her concert of show tunes on Sept. 7, 8 and 9 at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, IL. Call (847) 577-2121 for tickets.

REMINDERS:

SARAH BRIGHTMAN
U.S. Concert Schedule:
Sept. 19 in Portland, ME
Sept. 20 in Rochester, NY at the Auditorium Centre
Sept. 22 in New York, NY at the Theatre @ MSG
Sept. 23 in Atlantic City, NJ at the Mark G. Etess Arena
Sept. 24 in Wallingford, CT at the Oakdale Theater
Sept. 26 in Providence, RI at the PAC
Sept. 27 in Lowell, MA at the Memorial Auditorium
Sept. 29 in Philadelphia, PA at the Mann Center
Sept. 30 in Washington, DC at the Patriot Center
Oct. 2 in Norfolk, VA at the Scope Arena
Oct. 4 in Miami, FL at the AA Arena /Nat. Car Rental Arena
Oct. 5 in Tampa, FL at the Ice Palace
Oct. 6 in Atlanta, GA at the Civic Center
Oct. 8 in New Orleans, LA at the Saenger Theatre
Oct. 9 in Dallas, TX at the Reunion Arena/Starplex Amph.
Oct. 10 in Houston, TX at the Aerial Theatre
Oct. 13 in Columbus, OH at the Nationwide Arena
Oct. 14 in Detroit, MI at the Palace
Oct. 15 in Cleveland, OH at the CSU Convocation Centre
Oct. 17 in St. Paul, MN at the Minn. Wild Arena
Oct. 20 in Las Vegas, NV at the MGM Grand
Oct. 21 in Santa Barbara, CA at the Santa Barbara Bowl
Oct. 22 in San Diego, CA at the SDSU Open Air Theatre
Oct. 24 in Los Angeles, CA at the Universal Amphitheatre
Oct. 26 in Sacramento, CA at the Arco Arena
Oct. 27 in San Jose, CA at the San Jose Arena
Oct. 29 in Portland, OR at the Rose Garden
Oct. 31 in Seattle, WA at the Paramount/Key Arena
Nov. 5 in Spokane, WA at the Arena
Nov. 7 in Salt Lake City, UT at the Delta Center
Nov. 8 in Denver, CO at the Magness Arena
Nov. 11 in Chicago, IL at the Chicago Theatre
Nov. 13 in St. Louis, MO
Nov. 14 in Grand Rapids, MI at the Van Andel Arena
Nov. 15 in Milwaukee, WI at the Riverside Theatre

BETTY BUCKLEY
Several new concert dates have been added to BB’s always-growing schedule:

Now through Sept. 3 Donmar Warehouse in London, UK
Sept. 9 & 10 Robert Park Auditorium in Taunton, MA
Sept. 15 Southern Theater in Columbus, OH
Sept. 16 Stranahan Theatre in Toledo, OH
Oct. 6 & 7 Scottsdale Center for the Arts Theatre in Scottsdale, AZ
Oct. 28 Univ. of Texas Cowan Fine & Perf. Arts Center in Tyler, TX
Nov. 10 & 11 University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT
Jan. 5, 2001 Koger Center for the Arts (Univ. of SC) in Columbia, SC
Jan. 6 Georgia Institute of Technology Center for the Arts in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 19-28 Florida Condo Tour in Florida
March 3 at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA
May 12 at the College of Staten Island’s Center for the Arts in Staten Island, NY
June 17 at the Le Petit Theatre in New Orleans, LA

BARBARA COOK
Cook’s concert itinerary follows:

Sept. 14 at the Poway Center for the Perf. Arts in Poway, CA
Sept. 21 & 22 at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia
Sept. 28 - Oct. 1 at the Orange County Perf. Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
Oct. 20 & 21 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC
Dec. 5 at the Papermill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ
Feb. 2, 2001 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Feb. 23 and 24 with Michael Feinstein at the Cerritos Center for the Perf. Arts in Cerritos, CA

LINDA EDER
Eder in concert:
Sept. 26 at the Jones Hall w/Houston Symphony in Houston, TX; call (713) 224-7575
Nov. 4 at the Westbury Music Fair in Long Island, NY; call (516) 334 0800
Nov. 17 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ; call (732) 246-SHOW
Nov. 18 at the State Theatre in Easton, PA; call (610) 252-3132
Nov. 19 at the Strand-Capitol Theatre in York, Penn.
Jan. 12 & 13, 2001 in Charlotte, NC at the North Carolina Blumenthal Performing Arts Center; (704) 372-1000
Jan. 21 in Naples, FL at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts; (941) 597 1900
Feb. 1 & 2 in Phoenix, AZ at the Orpheum Theatre
Feb. 15-17 in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; (202) 467-4600
March 8 in Clearwater, FL at the Ruth Eckerd Hall; (727) 791-7400
March 9 in Sarasota, FL at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall; www.vanwezel.org
March 10 in Melbourne, FL at the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts; (407) 242-2219
May 31-June 3 in Pittsburgh, PA at Heinz Hall; call (412) 392-4900

PATTI LUPONE
Several concert dates have been added to Patti LuPone’s ever-growing schedule. What follows are La LuPone’s confirmed concert appearances as of this week:
Sept. 9 ("Matters of the Heart") at the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, Ohio; (419) 242-2787
Sept. 23 at the University of Maine in Orono; (800) 622-8499
Oct. 7 ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda") with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in Birmingham, Alabama; (205) 458-8401
Nov. 3 ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda") with the Louisville Symphony Orchestra in Louisville, Kentucky (502) 583-4555
April 8 ("Matters Of The Heart") at Duke University’s Page Auditorium in Durham, North Carolina; (919) 684-4444
Jan. 5-7, 2001 at the Morton J. Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX (214) 871-4000

KAREN MASON
Sept. 6 - Oct. 15 Returns to Arci’s Place, 450 Park Avenue South; NYC; (212) 532-4370
Oct. 17 Appearance at ASCAP evening at the Cabaret Convention at Town Hall, NYC
Nov. 1-12 Appearance at The Plush Room in San Francisco’s York Hotel; (415) 885-2800
Dec. 6-10 Karen performs her Christmas Show at Davenports in Chicago, IL (773) 278-1830

AUDRA McDONALD
Audra McDonald’s most recent concert listing follows:
Sept. 28-30 with the National Symphony Orchestra
Oct. 7 in Atlanta, GA (venue to be announced)
Oct. 14 in Hershey, PA (venue to be announced)
Oct. 21 in Los Angeles, CA at UCLA’s Royce Hall
Oct. 22 in San Diego, CA (venue to be announced)
Oct. 28 in Fort Worth, TX (venue to be announced)
Dec. 30 in West Palm Beach, FL at the Kravis Center

MAUREEN McGOVERN
Sept. 3 & 4 Jerry Lewis Telethon in Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 6 Tribute to Mel Torme at the Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 8 to Oct. 14 at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, NY
Oct. 23 Lauri Strauss Leukemia Foundation Benefit Concert with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Dec. 8-11 Holiday concert with the Oregon Symphony in Portland, OR
Dec. 12 Holiday concert with the Oregon Symphony in Salem, OR

BERNADETTE PETERS
The two-time Tony winner will conclude her run in Annie Get Your Gun on September 2, when she will begin a U.S. concert tour:
Sept. 15 at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City (with symphony)
Sept. 22 at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia
Oct. 6 at the Einsenhower Hall Theatre in West Point, NY
Oct. 7 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Oct. 13 at the OnCenter War Memorial in Syracuse, NY
Jan. 5, 2001 at PAC in Tulsa, Oklahoma (with symphony)
Jan. 11 at the Leon County Civic Center in Tallahassee
Jan. 13 at the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater
March 29 at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, NY
April 6 at the Bass Perf. Hall in Fort Worth, TX (with symphony)
April 7-8 at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston, TX
April 19 at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto (with symphony)
April 28 at the Pasquerilla PAC in Johnstown, PA
May 11-12 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN (with symphony)
May 18-20 at the Myerson Hall in Dallas, TX (with symphony)

CHRISTIANE NOLL
Former star of Broadway’s Jekyll & Hyde, Christiane Noll will be hitting the concert circuit, performing throughout the USA. Noll will join other Broadway names in this concert tour, backed by some of the world’s greatest orchestras. Her complete schedule follows:
Sept. 22 with the Nashua Symphony in Nashua, NH; (800) 639-3101
Oct. 14 with the Cape Symphony Orchestra at the Barnstable Performing Arts Center in Hyannis, MA (508) 362-1111
Dec. 2 with Doug LaBrecque and Michael Maguire and the New London Symphony in New London, CT
Dec. 7-17 The Magic of Christmas with the Portland Symphony in Portland, ME; (207) 842-0800

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

By Andrew Gans