DIVA TALK: The Tony Gals, McKechnie's 'Music' Plus News of LuPone, Mazzie & McDonald

News   DIVA TALK: The Tony Gals, McKechnie's 'Music' Plus News of LuPone, Mazzie & McDonald TONY'S GALS

TONY'S GALS

Congratulations to this year's Tony nominees, especially those in the Leading and Featured Actress in a Musical categories. The former includes Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Nancy Opel in Urinetown, Louise Pitre in Mamma Mia!, Jennifer Laura Thompson in Urinetown and Vanessa Williams in Into the Woods, and the latter category comprises Laura Benanti in Into the Woods, Harriet Harris in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Spencer Kayden in Urinetown, Judy Kaye in Mamma Mia! and Andrea Martin in Oklahoma!. It's one of those rare seasons when there doesn't seem to be a front-runner in either of the categories. The Featured Actress category seems especially tight considering the praise that's already been heaped upon both Benanti — whose glorious voice and charming presence add immensely to the Into the Woods revival — and Harriet Harris, who sustains a hilariously amusing performance throughout Millie. Kayden also received glowing notices for her performance as Little Sally in Urinetown, Martin is the cornerstone of the Oklahoma! revival and Kaye, a Broadway veteran, is a crowd pleasing favorite. If pressed, I would probably have to go with Benanti or Harris, though, leaning toward Benanti as I'm partial to great voices. But, the tight races should make for an exciting Tony night! Mamma Mia's Pitre, though, seems to have things in perspective. As she recently told me, "In my mind, I've already won — since the nomination was all I was hoping for."

FOR THE RECORD: DONNA McKECHNIE's "INSIDE THE MUSIC"

Of the great Broadway dancers that the theatre has produced, Donna McKechnie probably has one of the best voices of them all, a strong, emotional belt that is complemented by a rangy soprano. Also a formidable actress, McKechnie's one-woman show displayed all aspects of the versatile performer, and, thankfully, the program was recorded live at New York's Clinton Recording Studios on March 7. Now available on the Fynsworth Alley label, McKechnie's "Inside the Music" offers musical moments from her many Broadway outings — including Promises, Promises' "Turkey Lurkey Time" and Company's "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" — as well as a few tunes not associated with the triple threat performer.

The highlight of the disc, not too surprisingly, is her powerful, belty rendition of Cassie's A Chorus Line number, "The Music and the Mirror," the role that brought McKechnie her Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical. McKechnie wisely finishes her show with this dancing anthem, but just prior to the song, she offers the Marvin Hamlisch-Ed Kleban tune that "Music and the Mirror" replaced, "Inside the Music." It was a wise choice to replace the song; although the lyrics are completely fitting to Cassie's character —"Inside the music there lives a dancer/ Inside the music inside my head/ And when I hear the music, I get lost inside/Until I find the dancer and it's safe to hide" — the extremely rangy tune lacks the punch that "Music and the Mirror" supplied. Even McKechnie, after finishing the song, jokes, "When Marvin Hamlisch writes you a song, you don't say, 'Gee Marv, don't you think it's a little rangy?' You breathe and you pray and you trust that being the geniuses they are, they will rethink this." Although her anecdotes (text by Christopher Durang adapted from original material by McKechnie) don't reach the theatricality of those offered by Elaine Stritch in her current Broadway tour de force, McKechnie does garner several laughs throughout — she explains that she attended an audition for a show "seeking a Donna McKechnie type" and still didn't land the job — and also offers a touching account of a surprise meeting with the legendary Fred Astaire after a Los Angeles performance of A Chorus Line. Other vocal highlights of the recording include an emotional rendition of the Bergman's "Where Do You Start"; a beautiful, moving reading of Stephen Sondheim's Follies classic "In Buddy's Eyes"; and Francesca Blumenthal's bittersweet "Lies of Handsome Men." After hearing the recording, I am sorry that I missed McKechnie's show at the now defunct Arci's Place, as I'm sure her dancing added even another level of excitement. Let's hope McKechnie will bring "Inside the Music" back to a New York stage soon.

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Add Tony winners Patti LuPone and Joel Grey to the stellar list of actors who have played recurring roles on the acclaimed TV series "Oz." LuPone, who is currently starring in the hit revival of Noises Off, will play an archivist in the prison library during the upcoming final season of the HBO jailhouse series, and Grey, who was last on Broadway in the Tony-winning revival of Chicago, will star as one of the Oz inmates. When La LuPone begins her role, the "Oz" cast will boast three former Norma Desmonds: LuPone, who created the role in the original London production of Sunset Boulevard and nabbed an Olivier Award nomination for her work; Betty Buckley, who starred in the London and Broadway productions of the musical and also garnered an Olivier nomination; and Rita Moreno, who played a brief stint in the London company during Petula Clark's vacation. Buckley portrays Suzanne Fitzgerald, an inmate's mother, on the series and Moreno is a prison nun/therapist, Sister Peter Marie Reimondo . . . Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley will head the cast of three semi-staged concerts of Candide this summer in San Francisco. Joining Danieley and Mazzie in the concerts of Leonard Bernstein's Broadway classic are Tony winners George Hearn and Rita Moreno as well as Jennifer-Welch Babidge, who will play the role of Cunegonde. The July 18-20 concerts are part of "Summer in the City," the annual series presented by the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Arts Commission at Davies Symphony Hall, which is located in San Francisco, CA at 201 Van Ness Avenue. Tickets — ranging from $28 to $75 — are available by calling (415) 864-6000; for more information, go to www.sfsymphony.org . . . A slew of Broadway and television stars will perform at Theatre Under The Stars' (TUTS) first American Musical Theatre Awards on May 18. Honoring distinguished creative talents in the musical theatre, the 2002 awards will pay tribute to Tony-winning composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, who is responsible for such classic musicals as Mame; Hello, Dolly!; Mack and Mabel; and La Cage aux Folles. Among the performers who will take part in the tribute are Luci Arnaz, Jo Anne Worley, Davis Gaines, Karen Morrow, Nancy Dussault and Hugh Panaro. The evening will also inaugurate TUTS' new home, the $100 million Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, which is located at 800 Bagby at Walker in Houston, Texas. Although tables for the evening are sold out, individual tickets — ranging from $50 to $250 — are available by calling (713) 558-TUTS (8887). The American Musical Theatre Awards are scheduled to begin at 8:45 PM . . . Three-time Tony winner Audra McDonald will perform a special guest set — with musical director Ted Sperling — at the May 18 benefit for The Public Theater's Joe's Pub. Headlining the event is The Kronos Quartet, who will premiere a new arrangement of a piece by Sigur Ros. Tickets for the evening, priced at $150, include the concert, a chance to meet the artists after the show plus a ticket to this summer's Twelfth Night at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. Call (212) 239-6200 for tickets or visit the Public Theater's box office at 425 Lafayette Street.

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:

May 11 at the Virginia Samford Theatre in Birmingham, AL
June 29 at the Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY
July 7 at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe, NM
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
Dec. 31 at the Tilles Center at CW Post University in Glen Cove, NY

Barbara Cook in Concert:

May 14 Cook receives the New Dramatists’ Lifetime Achievement Award at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in New York, NY
May 19-20 with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA
June 5-9 and June 12-16 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, DC
June 23-Aug. 26 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York, NY (Mostly Sondheim)
July 5 at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts in Long Island
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 the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ

Maureen McGovern in Concert: May 10 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts Gala in Houston, TX
May 17-18 "Works of Heart" Seminar in New York, NY
June 22 "Music by the Lake" in Lake Geneva, WI
June 29-Aug. 17 Dear World at Sundance Theater, Sundance, UT
July 4 at the Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts at the Venetian Theater in Katonah, NY
Aug. 7 at the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival in Salt Lake City, UT
Sept. 1-2 MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon in Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 20 - 22 Grand Rapids Symphony at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, MI
Sept 26-29 North Carolina Symphony, Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, NC
Oct. 30-Nov. 3 American Music Therapy Association Conference in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 2 at the Rialto Center in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 9 at the Landmark Theater in Port Washington, NY
Nov. 19-Dec. 1 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8 at Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9 Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit, Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Dec. 14 Boca Pops Big Band Series in Boca Raton, FL

Bernadette Peters in Concert:
May 17 at Harrah's in Atlantic City, NJ
June 7 at the Ravinia Pavillion in Highland Park, IL
June 19 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY
June 28 at the Hollywood Bowl in Hollywood, CA
July 2 at the Interlochen Center in Interlochen, MI
Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at the Morton H. Meyerson Hall in Dallas, TX
Sept. 28 at the Weidner Center in Green Bay, WI
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