There are good singers, and there are great singers. In fact, there are many good singers. Walk into most any cabaret in the city, and you’ll hear plenty of good, strong voices. That said, I would argue that there are precious few great singers. What distinguishes one from another? I’m not sure it’s something that can be put into words, but you certainly know a great singer when you hear one. Into the second category, Bernadette Peters most certainly falls. Listen to the way she breathes new life into the 13 songs that compose her newest album, Bernadette Peters Loves Rodgers & Hammerstein. Peters does not act a song -- she embodies it -- and the result is always entrancing.
The CD’s first track, “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” is the perfect opener, for the recording is filled with an overflow of grand singing and superlative arrangements by the legendary Jonathan Tunick. Peters spreads her creamy, sometimes smoky, and always emotion-filled tones among some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best-known works as well as lesser-known gems like the beautifully optimistic “So Far” from Allegro. The two-time Tony winner manages to find both the charm and longing in State Fair’s “It Might As Well Be Spring,” and her version of Oklahoma!’s “Out of My Dreams” is equally heartfelt. Other highlights include a marvelously nuanced reading of “Mister Snow”; a spirited, jovial version of “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame”; and a belty, uplifting version of the Carousel anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
I’ve been a BP fan since high school, but when I listened to her newest recording, I fell for her all over again. To borrow a title from another of the disc’s gems, Bernadette Peters Loves Rodgers & Hammerstein is, simply, “Something Wonderful.” (Co-produced by Richard Jay-Alexander and Jonathan Tunick, the CD will hit record stores on March 12 on the Angel Records label.)
Tonight, February 8, Liz Callaway will perform her solo cabaret show at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Connecticut. The former star of Baby and Miss Saigon has also recently inked a deal to star in the new Off Broadway musical, The Lady in Penthouse B, which will play at the York Theatre at St. Peter’s Church. The Lady in Penthouse B begins performances on April 30 and runs through June 9. Before that begins, however, Liz will join her sister, Ann Hampton Callaway, for their award winning cabaret act, Sibling Revelry, which they will perform at the Queens Theatre in the Park in N.Y.C. on March 23 and 24; tickets are available by calling (718) 760-0064. And, Ms. Liz will fly to California to join Jason Graae for two concerts at the Hoytt Theater in San Rafael on April 20 and 21. Tickets, which are priced at $35, can be ordered by calling (415) 444-8000. One final Liz tidbit: the cast recording of The Spitfire Grill has been recorded and should be available this spring. FOR THE RECORD
West Coast actor/singers Kristen Benton and Stan Chandler have collaborated on a new recording just released from LML Records that taps into their real-life relationship. Chandler, who starred in the original cast of Forever Plaid, and Benton, a Los Angeles Drama Critic’s Circle Award winner, have titled their CD “A Quiet Thing,” and the 11 track recording features an array of tunes from both the pop and musical theatre worlds. The duo have chosen to present gentle renditions of both familiar and less-known material that reflect an intimate tone. Chandler possesses a sweet tenor that is particularly moving on Billy Joel’s “She’s Got a Way,” and Benton’s smooth alto is well-suited to the Fred Uhry/Robert Waldman ballad “Sleepy Man” from The Robber Bridegroom. Their voices also blend quite well together, especially in a terrific pairing of “I Will” and “Maybe I’m Amazed” as well as the disc’s title tune, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s “A Quiet Thing.” Another high point is a medley of three other theatre tunes: Sondheim’s “Not a Day Goes By,” Kander and Ebb’s “Sometimes a Day Goes By” and Jerry Herman’s “Time Heals Everything.” . . . Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Fynsworth Alley has released a collection of 15 love songs under the title A Broadway Valentine. Some of the stars and titles include Petula Clark (“Here We Are”), Mary Cleere Haran (“I Married an Angel”), Laurie Beechman (“No One Is Alone”), Judy Kaye (“Mr. Right), Jane Krakowski (“Sooner or Later”), Judy Kuhn (“Time After Time”) and Liz Callaway/Gary Beach (“Take Me to the World”). For more information, go to www.fynsworthalley.com.
IN OTHER NEWS: This Sunday’s episode of “Oz,” HBO’s gritty jailhouse series, will feature musical performances from many of its stars. You can expect to hear Tony winner Rita Moreno sing Janis Ian’s “Days Like These” as well as a host of other tunes. As creator Tom Fantana recently joked, “I guess we're all getting in touch with our inner Broadway diva.” And, another reason to watch: the one-and-only Betty Buckley is currently giving a beautifully shaded, intense performance as one of the inmate’s mothers . . . London’s leading musical theatre actress, Elaine Paige, will give two concerts to celebrate the opening of the Winter Olympics. Paige is set to sing with the Utah Symphony at Salt Lake City’s Abravanel Hall on February 15 and 16. Then, she’s off to California to make her L.A. concert debut on February 20 and 21 at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Don’t miss your chance to see one of the theatre’s most exciting performers live . . . Chicago favorite Alexandra Billings will star in “Off-Broadway Baby” at New York’s Don’t Tell Mama on Sundays, March 10, 17, 24 and 31 at 8:30 PM. There is a $12 cover charge and a two drink minimum. Billings is moonlighting from her role as Gertrude in Melancholy Baby at the Ars-Nove Theater, 511 West 54th Street. Written by Michael Thomas and Jeff Richmond, the musical is a retitled version of Hamlet, the Musical, the critically acclaimed production that has run in Chicago for years. Melancholy Baby began performances on Feb. 7 and will run for six weeks . . . In conjunction with the release of Linda Eder’s new CD, “Gold,” Bravo Profiles will air a one hour program on the former Jekyll & Hyde star in March. The title track from “Gold,” which hits stores on Feb. 12, will be heard at the opening of the Winter Olympics . . . Cameron Mackintosh, Ltd. recently launched the My Fair Lady website at www.myfairladythemusical.com. To celebrate the site’s debut, visitors will have the opportunity to win two tickets for London’s My Fair Lady at the Drury Lane Theatre on Feb. 14. Simply log on to the site and explain who you would bring as your date to the musical and what they mean to you (in 25 words or less). The person with the best response will win the theatre tickets . . . One of my favorite cabaret spaces in the city, Arci’s Place, has declared “A February Love Fest” for the remainder of the month. Donna McKechnie returns to the intimate stage for three performances of “My Musical Comedy Life” on Feb. 11, 18 and 25 at 8 PM. Baby Jane Dexter will hold court “With Arms Wide Open” on Feb. 13, 14, 15 and 16. Robert Evan, who starred as Jekyll & Hyde, performs his “Cabaret Rocks” program on Feb. 12, 19 and 26 at 8PM and on Feb. 8, 15 and 22 at 11 PM. And, former Joe Gillis John Barrowman will make his New York cabaret debut from Feb. 20 through March 2 with a show entitled “Reflections from Broadway.” Arci’s Place is located at 450 Park Avenue South at 30th Street . . .
QUOTABLE QUOTE Elaine Stritch discusses “The Ladies Who Lunch” in Marc Peyser’s Newsweek article, “A Stritch in Time”: “One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had in my life was when Sondheim said to me, ‘You’ve turned what I thought was just a simple saloon song into a piece of theater.’ I just wanted to learn the f---ing lines and sing it.”
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Feb. 14 an 16 at the Bottom Line in New York, NY
March 15 & 16, 2002 with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, NC
March 30 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA
Maureen McGovern in Concert:
Feb. 16 and 17 at the Hilbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis, IN
March 6-11 and 13-18 at the Cinegrill Grand reopening in Hollywood, CA
March 24 as part of the Guest Artist Series with the U.S. Air Force Band at Constitutional Hall in Washington, D.C
Bernadette Peters in Concert:
Feb. 19 at the Grand Floridian in Lake Buena Vista, FL
April 5-6 at the Orange County Perf. Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
April 13 at the Providence Perf. Arts Center in Providence, RI
April 20 at Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis, MO
May 18 at the Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, PA
Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at the Morton H. Meyerson Hall in Dallas, TX
Aug. 26 at the Hilbert Circle in Indianapolis, IN
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!
By Andrew Gans