What can't Donna Murphy do?
After triumphing (and nabbing two Tonys) for her performances in Passion and The King and I, she now seems poised to bring home a third trophy for her comedic performance in the revival of Wonderful Town at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. I had first seen Murphy perform in the City Center Encores! mounting of the Leonard Bernstein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical, so I knew what a perfect fit Murphy and Ruth Sherwood make, but it was still a thrill to see the actress again step into the shoes of the unglamorous aspiring writer who must contend with the harsh realities of being out of work in New York City and a sister who attracts all the male attention.
But fear not for Ruth Sherwood (or Donna Murphy). After two hours of acting, singing (solos, duets, Broadway ballads and even some jazz riffs), and drawing laughs from nearly every line she utters, Ruth gets her man. I'm particularly fond of Murphy's show-stopping "One Hundred Easy Ways," her physicality in "Conga!" and her terrific, jazzed-up "Swing." She's also brilliant reenacting the characters in the three laughably terrible manuscripts she submits to Greg Edelman's Robert Baker.
Murphy's is a performance diva lovers — and musical theatre lovers in general — will not want to miss.
FOR THE RECORD: Wicked
No one need mourn the score for Wicked.
On CD, the Stephen Schwartz score is much stronger than I had originally thought, which confirms my belief that a score cannot be judged by merely one hearing in the theatre. In fact, there are very few scores that totally impress on one hearing (a fairly recent exception was Maury Yeston's Tony winning Titanic score). I think familiarity is part of the reason why revivals are usually met with such great reviews; critics know the score before they enter the theatre.
Getting back to Wicked — which confronts our ideas about good and evil while examining the challenges and rewards of friendship — and the Stephen Schwartz score. The Decca Broadway disc begins with the show's opening number, "No One Mourns the Wicked," which commences with a series of minor chords that suggest that all may not be well in the land of Oz, where Glinda, Elphaba and the other characters from Gregory Maguire's novel spring to vivid life. The tune then segues into a melodic rhapsody on the lives of the wicked. In fact, throughout his score Schwartz contrasts lighter and darker sounds with dramatic effect.
The opening number also features the surprisingly touching verse (and the score's most melodic section) first sung by the Glinda of Kristin Chenoweth, "And goodness knows/the wicked's lives are lonely/Goodness knows/the wicked die alone/It just shows when you're wicked/You're left only/on your own." Chenoweth, as we all know, possesses one of the most versatile voices in the theatre, and the Wicked score allows her to display her Broadway belt as well as her rangy, glorious soprano. Her co-star, Idina Menzel, also boasts dazzling chest tones, and she lets them soar on "The Wizard and I," a show-stopping ballad with a driving force that speaks of Elphaba's desire to be seen for who she is on the inside rather than her unnaturally green exterior.
Menzel and Chenoweth, who unwittingly become odd-couple roommates, also get to have some fun answering the question, "What Is This Feeling?" The answer, of course, is "loathing." Norbert Leo Butz as Fiyero does well with the pop-sounding "Dancing Through Life." And, one of the highlights of the first act follows, "Popular," or actually, "Pop-you-ooh-lar," in which Glinda explains the importance of popularity to her cosmetically challenged friend. Menzel then scores with the sweet, gentle ballad "I'm Not That Girl," perhaps the score's prettiest tune, with the exception of its final, oddly low-placed note. The first act concludes with "Defying Gravity," where Menzel uses her belt with thrilling effect, as she sings, "No wizard that there is or was/Is ever gonna bring meeeeee doooowwwwwwn!"
Highlights of the second act include Chenoweth's reflections on happiness in "Thank Goodness"; Joel Grey's toe-tapping "Wonderful"; Menzel's epiphany in "No Good Deed," in which she realizes her good intentions have led to her downfall; and the touching duet between Chenoweth and Menzel, “For Good.”
The 19-track disc also boasts complete lyrics as well as notes from author Gregory Maguire. The Wicked CD hits stores Dec. 16; with performances by Chenoweth and Menzel, it's a vocal feast.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Congratulations to Betty Buckley, who received a rave review in The Hollywood Reporter for her current concert act, The Journey, which she is now presenting at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. In his review, Hollywood Reporter scribe Ed Kaufman writes, "And it's a smashing evening. Buckley is a consummate and generous performer in complete command of her audience and materials. At times cute and coy, at times wistful and breathless, at times bluesy and full of eloquent feeling, Buckley exudes confidence and is certainly one with her music. She sings with precision, heart and soul. What is so uncanny about Buckley is her ability to capture the essence of her eclectic music, from her upbeat and playful version of Nat King Cole and Irving Mills' 'Straighten Up and Fly Right' (an homage to her lieutenant colonel father) to Joni Mitchell's moving 'Amelia' (a tribute to aviatrix Amelia Earhart) to Leonard Cohen's '60s spiritual 'Hallelujah' to Bob Seger's 'Till It Shines,' originally a light pop-rock song but transformed by Buckley into a slow-tempo ballad." . . . Capathia Jenkins, who stars as the Washing Machine, in the new Tony Kushner-Jeanine Tesori musical Caroline, Or Change, will go it solo Dec. 14 at Joe's Pub. Jenkins will offer her new act, "Phenomenal Woman," at 9:30 PM at the intimate cabaret. The program features the songs of Louis Rosen, whose music has been heard on theatre stages around the country as well as in two previous Joe's Pub evenings. Joseph Thalken will accompany Jenkins on piano. Joe's Pub is located at 425 Lafayette Street, between East 4th Street and Astor Place. Tickets — priced at $20 — are available at the Public Theater's box office, on-line at www.telecharge.com or by phone at (212) 239-6200. Those interested in having dinner at Joe's Pub prior to the show should call (212) 539-8778. . . . A host of theatre and TV royalty paid tribute to Carol Burnett last weekend during the annual Kennedy Center Honors Dec. 7. Burnett was one of five honorees at the 26th annual D.C. affair, which also included tributes to director Mike Nichols, musician James Brown, singer Loretta Lynn and violinist Itzhak Perlman. Academy Award winner Julie Andrews introduced the segment devoted to her friend Burnett, offering a verse of "I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together," which Burnett made famous during her long-running CBS television show. Others who came out to honor Burnett included Gypsy star Bernadette Peters, theatre veteran Elaine Stritch, recent Nine star Chita Rivera, "Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson and two of her TV variety show cohorts, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. The Burnett tribute featured the aforementioned stars dressed in signature Bob Mackie costumes from "The Carol Burnett Show." Peters was seen as the charwoman with mop and bucket, Stritch played the lovable loser Eunice, Rivera was the narcoleptic Stella Toddler and Andrews was Starlet O'Hara. CBS-TV will broadcast this year's Kennedy Center Honors on Dec. 26 at 9 PM ET. . . . Broadway fans looking for a way to spend New Year's Eve might want to head to Joe's Pub on Dec. 31 for an evening with the legendary Eartha Kitt. Kitt, who received a Tony Award nomination for her work in The Wild Party, will offer 8:30 and 11:30 PM concerts at the intimate cabaret on New Year's Eve. Tickets are priced at $150 for the early show and $200 for the late show. Daryl Waters is the evening's musical director. Tickets are available at the Public Theater's box office or by calling (212) 539-8778. . . . Wicked's not-so-Wicked-Witch-of-the-West, Idina Menzel, will be among the theatre stars singing the works of Andrew Lippa Dec. 15. The 10 PM concert at the Ars Nova Theatre will feature the vocal talents of Menzel as well as those of Hairspray's Shoshana Bean and The Wild Party's Julia Murney. Lippa, who will be celebrating his birthday, will also be on hand to perform his original tunes, backed by his own "birthday band." Other surprise special guests are also promised. "Uncharted: Andrew Lippa" kicks off a new monthly series at the Ars Nova Theater, which also presents the free play reading series "Out Loud." The "Uncharted" series will allow upcoming singer/songwriters to perform their original works in front of a live audience. The Ars Nova Theater is located in Manhattan at 511 West 54th Street. Tickets are priced at $12; for reservations, call (212) 868 4444 or visit www.smarttix.com. Doors open at 9:30 PM. . . . And, finally, Tony Award winner Sutton Foster will make her solo New York concert debut May 15, 2004, part of the spring American Songbook season at Lincoln Center. Foster is scheduled to offer concerts at 8 and 11 PM on May 15 in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. This winter, the acclaimed American Songbook series will offer Broadway's Darius de Haas in "Wonder: The Songs of Stevie Wonder" (Jan. 23 at 8 and 11 PM), singer/songwriter Phil Roy (Jan. 25 at 8 PM) and jazz sensation Peter Cincotti (Feb. 2 and 3 at 8 PM). The spring will feature Titanic's Judy Blazer in an evening with Robert Kapilow entitled "What's Makes It Great?" (May 15 at 8 and 11 PM) and Michael John LaChiusa's "The Girly Show" (May 16 at 7 PM). The latter will feature an all-star line-up of women from the theatre and cabaret stages performing songs from LaChiusa's The Wild Party, Marie Christine and Hello Again. All performances (except Peter Cincotti's evenings) will be held at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, which is located at 165 West 65th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam, on the 10th floor of the Rose Building. Cincotti's shows will be seen at Alice Tully Hall. For tickets to the American Songbook performances, call (212) 721-6500. Visit www.lincolncenter.org for more information.
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Through Dec. 20 at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill in Los Angeles, CA
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Dec. 13 in Arlington, VA
Jan. 17, 2004 in Asheville, NC
Jan. 31 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 7 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
Feb. 13 with Jason Graae in Salt Lake City, UT
Feb. 14 with Jason Graae in Palm Springs, CA
Feb. 26-28 with Jason Graae in West Palm Beach, FL
Feb. 29 with Stephen Schwartz and Friends in Wilton, CT
April 23 with Jason Graae in Sutter Creek, CA
April 24-25 with Jason Graae in San Rafael, CA
May 1 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
Jan. 23, 2004 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jan. 24, 2004 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Louise Pitre in Concert:
Jan. 31, 2004-Feb. 8 in Sweeney Todd with the Calgary Opera Company at the Jubilee Auditorium in Canada
Feb. 13 at the Capitol Theatre in Windsor, Ontario
Feb. 28 at the Sanderson Performing Arts Centre in Brantford, Ontario
Feb. 29 at the Silverthorn C.I. Auditorium in Toronto, Ontario
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!