DIVA TALK: 'Tis the Season for Divas

DIVA TALK: 'Tis the Season for Divas BETTY BUCKLEY
Exciting news for the multitude of Betty Buckley fans out there. This Tuesday night, Dec. 16, fans will be able to chat live with Betty B, Susan Egan, F. Murray Abraham and the rest of the cast of Triumph of Love when Playbill On-Line goes backstage at the Royale Theatre just prior to curtain time. In the event, titled "An Actor Prepares," Playbill On-line will allow a sneak peak at how Broadway actors prepare to go onstage each night: the rituals, the vocal warm-ups, the thoughts about going onstage and more. The event, which will also allow PBOL users to ask questions and receive answers from the Triumph cast, will be held from 6:30 to 7:30 PM. And for those of you who have yet to catch Ms. B in her latest work, what are you waiting for? Tickets can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200.

FLORENCE LACEY
It's always a delight to speak with one of my favorite ladies, Florence Lacey, who recently returned from her European tour of Evita. Lacey is actually off to Europe again this week to perform at a charity event in Portugal that will celebrate the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. In addition to performing two of her major songs from Evita, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "Buenos Aires," Lacey will also pour her heart and soul into that Cats anthem, "Memory," which got me to thinking about how perfect a Grizabella she would make. Let's hope this talented lady returns to Broadway soon. . . Lacey's also promised me that she will begin working on a solo album in the near future with her husband, Tim Stella, who is a musician for the current production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

BETTY BUCKLEY
Exciting news for the multitude of Betty Buckley fans out there. This Tuesday night, Dec. 16, fans will be able to chat live with Betty B, Susan Egan, F. Murray Abraham and the rest of the cast of Triumph of Love when Playbill On-Line goes backstage at the Royale Theatre just prior to curtain time. In the event, titled "An Actor Prepares," Playbill On-line will allow a sneak peak at how Broadway actors prepare to go onstage each night: the rituals, the vocal warm-ups, the thoughts about going onstage and more. The event, which will also allow PBOL users to ask questions and receive answers from the Triumph cast, will be held from 6:30 to 7:30 PM. And for those of you who have yet to catch Ms. B in her latest work, what are you waiting for? Tickets can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200.

FLORENCE LACEY
It's always a delight to speak with one of my favorite ladies, Florence Lacey, who recently returned from her European tour of Evita. Lacey is actually off to Europe again this week to perform at a charity event in Portugal that will celebrate the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. In addition to performing two of her major songs from Evita, "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" and "Buenos Aires," Lacey will also pour her heart and soul into that Cats anthem, "Memory," which got me to thinking about how perfect a Grizabella she would make. Let's hope this talented lady returns to Broadway soon. . . Lacey's also promised me that she will begin working on a solo album in the near future with her husband, Tim Stella, who is a musician for the current production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

PATTI LuPONE
As Patti LuPone continues to rack up rave reviews for her riveting performance in David Mamet's The Old Neighborhood, a bunch of concert dates have been lined up in the near future, so be sure to plan accordingly if you're headed to N.Y. to catch her Broadway show. On Feb. 14, La LuPone will sing at the Kravitz Center in West Palm Beach, Florida (tickets available by calling 561-833-8300), and from Feb. 26 through March 1, she will perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony at the Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. Tickets for the Pittsburgh concerts, which range $30-$48, go on sale on Jan. 12 at 412-392-4900. And, a reminder that LuPone will also be out of the Neighborhood from Jan. 6-14 (matinee) in order to tape an episode of the hit NBC series, "Frasier." She will return to The Old Neighborhood for the evening performance on Jan. 14.

BERNADETTE PETERS
I thoroughly enjoyed the second half of the two-part interview with Bernadette Peters this past Monday night on "Broadway Beat," the Manhattan-based cable program hosted by Richard Ridge. Peters spoke about her involvement in three of her big Broadway hits: Song and Dance (in which she would arrive to the theatre by 5 PM to go over her songs and see how to make her performance fresh each night), Sunday in the Park with George (where she looked forward to singing "Move On" at each performance, a song that she never tires of singing), Into the Woods (another chance to work with Sondheim and Lapine and "learn about life"). She also discussed her love for Sondheim's work, her triumphant Carnegie Hall concert, and the joy she has found with her new husband. Peters was also a guest on Live with Regis and Kathie Lee on Tuesday morning to promote her upcoming TV movie, "Holiday in Your Heart," which airs this Sunday evening on ABC. In addition to a humor-filled interview, Peters also treated everyone to a simple, but moving version of "Faithless Love." Be sure to catch Peters and country singer LeAnn Rimes this Sunday evening, Dec. 14, on ABC in "Holiday in Your Heart."

KAREN MASON
Karen Mason, who was the acclaimed Norma Desmond standby for Glenn Close (in L.A. and New York), Betty Buckley (N.Y.) and Elaine Paige (N.Y.), will return to the cabaret stage of Los Angeles's Cinegrill on Dec. 31. Mason kicks off a two-week engagement on New Year's Eve, performing shows at 8 and 10:30 PM on this evening. Her show, along with dinner and dancing, is part of a $125 per person New Year's Eve celebration at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, in which The Cinegrill is ensconced. For the remainder of her run (Jan. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10), the cover charge is $15 with a two-drink minimum. For reservations for Karen Mason at The Cinegrill, call 213-466-7000.

Mason also made an appearance at the ASCAP salute to Betty Comden and Adolph Green this past Thursday, Dec. 11. The celebrated lyricists received the ASCAP Richard Rodgers Lifetime Achievement Award, and Mason performed one of their classic songs, "Make Someone Happy" from Do Re Mi. The star-studded audience included such theatre luminaries as Hal Prince, Jerome Robbins, Sheldon Harnick, Linda Lavin, Cy Coleman, Lauren Bacall and many others. And if all this weren't enough, Mason will also appear at Carnegie Hall on March 20 in concert with Skitch Henderson and the New York Pops Orchestra. Mason also has her own new website, which can be accessed by going to www.karenmason.com.

XMAS MUSIC
Okay, I confess. I like the Christmas season. Even though I'm Jewish, I've always loved this time of year--awaiting the first snowfall, watching all the lights and decorations be displayed, relaxing in front of the TV to watch the Grinch and Charlie Brown specials, and, dare I admit it, listening to Christmas music. Let's face it, Hanukkah songs just don't compare, so last week I was quite happy to receive three CDs of Christmas recordings (all from Angel/EMI Records) from divas of the cabaret and pop worlds: Ann Hampton Callaway, Roberta Flack and Melissa Manchester.

Cabaret singer Ann Hampton Callaway possesses a wide-ranging voice that spans multiple octaves: lower husky tones to a soaring soprano. She is also a versatile singer who is equally at home with musical theatre tunes, blues or jazz. On her latest recording, This Christmas, Callaway uses many styles and is most effective on an upbeat jazz treatment of "Carol of the Bells." Other highlights include a gentle "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and a recent holiday tunes from Marilyn and Alan Bergman, entitled "A Christmas Love Song." Another standout is "God Bless My Family," a tune which Callaway composed herself, in which she is joined by her sister, Liz Callaway, the current Grizabella of Broadway's Cats. This Christmas is available from Angel/EMI Records.
Tracks:
"Jingle Bells"
"The Christmas Song"
"Silent Night/A Child Is Born"
"Baby, it's Cold Outside"
"I'll Be Home for Christmas"
"This Christmas"
"Manhattan in Dec."
"A Christmas Love Song"
"Carol of the Bells"
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
"God Bless My Family"
"White Christmas"

It's rare that I play recordings of non-Broadway singers, but when I put on Roberta Flack's holiday CD, I was reminded of what a beautiful voice she possesses, one that has a calming effect and makes you feel completely at home. I have always enjoyed Flack's singing on the radio and in television appearances, especially her two most well-known hits, "Killing Me Softly" and "Whenever I See Your Face." Her voice, which has the feeling of dark, rich chocolate, is a perfect match for these holiday chestnuts, and she delivers joyful renditions of "The Christmas Song," "Because This Child Was Born," "Little Drummer Boy" and "Oh Come All Ye Faithful." She also joins forces with Peabo Bryson for a duet of "As Long As There's Christmas." Of the three new recordings, I would say it's my favorite; just from the opening few notes of "The Christmas Song," you realize Flack is a masterful singer. She also is wonderful on "There's Still My Joy" and most every track.
Tracks:
"The Christmas Song"
"There's Still My Joy"
"We Three Kings of Orient Are"
"25th of Last Dec."
"As Long As There's Christmas"
"Because This Child Was Born"
"When There's Love"
"Little Drummer Boy"
"Oh Come All Ye Faithful"

I found Melissa Manchester's recording the least appealing of the three holiday offerings from Angel/EMI. There is no doubt that Manchester possesses a fine voice, but on this recording many of the tracks seem to lack passion. The CD does feature many holiday standards--"White Christmas," "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"--and fans of the pop star's work will want to add this new album (titled Joy) to their collection, but for some reason this recording left me mostly joyless. Manchester does, however, score with a song that she wrote herself, "There's Still My Joy."
Tracks:
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"
"I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm"
"Please Come Home for Christmas"
"When You Wish Upon a Star"
"I'll Be Home for Christmas"
"There's Still My Joy"
"White Christmas"
"Christmas Angel"
"The Christmas Song"
"Christmas Time Is Here"
"A Cradle in Bethlehem"

My all-time favorite Christmas recording would have to be Just in Time for Christmas, which was released in 1994 by the late Nancy LaMott. LaMott had such a beautiful voice that when combined with these holiday classics--both old and new--it produced a beguiling, must-have recording. The New York Times's music critic, Stephen Holden, had this to say about her Xmas CD: "[The CD] is a model of unaffected sweetness, projecting the same aura of cleancut nostalgia as Nancy LaMott's live performances." It's hard to pick favorite tracks, but ones that standout include a simple, heartfelt version of "Some Children See Him," a wonderful pairing of "I Saw Three Ships" and "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella" and what I think is my favorite Xmas tune, the title track, "Just in Time for a Christmas," a song by David Friedman and David Zippel that celebrates the true meaning of the holidays. LaMott also duets with singer Michael Feinstein on the Frank Loesser standard "Baby It's Cold Outside." Nancy LaMott's six solo recordings are all available through Midder Music Records, Inc. and may be ordered by phone (212) 665-0699, fax (212) 222-6579 or e-mail (MIDDER2000@aol.com).
Tracks for Just in Time for Christmas
"Some Children See Him"
"I Saw Three Ships/Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella"
"Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town"
"I'll Be Home for Christmas"
"(Christmas) Stay With Me"
"Earth and Sky"
"All Those Christmas Cliches"
"What Child Is This?/I Wonder As I Wander"
"A Child Is Born"
"Just in Time for Christmas"
"Baby, It's Cold Outside"
"A Song for Christmas"
"The Christmas Song"

IN OTHER NEWS. . . One of cabaret's finest performers, Andrea Marcovicci, will present Street Songs II, an evening of performances devoted to the street musician. Marcovicci has scoured the city to find some of its best street and subway performers, and she will perform with a handful of them on Monday, Dec. 15 at 8pm at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway at 95th Street). Tickets are only $15 and can be purchased by calling 212-864-5400. I had attended Street Songs I a few years back, and it was an incredibly moving evening . . . Another wonderful chanteuse, Maureen McGovern, will perform her "Christmas and More" concert on Saturday, Dec. 13 at 8pm at the Community Theatre in Morristown, New Jersey. McGovern can also be heard on Jonathan Schwartz's radio program on WQEW (1560 AM) this Sunday, Dec. 14, beginning at 11am . . . Patti Cohenour, whose beautiful voice was one of the highlights of the City Center Encores! production ofSweet Adeline last season, will return to Broadway in the upcoming Sound of Music revival at the Martin Beck Theatre. Cohenour, who also starred in The Phantom of the Opera and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, will play Mother Abbess (and sing "Climb Ev'ry Mountain"), while Rebecca Luker heads the cast as Maria . . . Sandra Bernhard's one-woman show, I'm Still Here...Damn It!, has been extended by popular demand through Feb. 14 at the Westbeth Theatre. Call 212-307-7171 for tickets for this show, which has been described as a "raucous house party."

DIVA OF THE WEEK
I trekked out to New Jersey's Papermill Playhouse this past weekend to check out the Stephen Schwartz/John Caird musical Children of Eden. The musical, which sets forth the stories of Adam and Even and Noah and the Ark, was originally produced in the West End (where it had a brief, ill fated run) and has been reworked for this production. Although the staging is quite lavish and there is a lot good in it (some fine music, good performances ), it left me, at times, bored. Part of the problem may be that these stories are so well-known, and without a new, creative approach to them, the audience tends to feel like its attending a bible study class. All this aside, however, there were two performances worth noting, one of which gets me to the diva of the week, Stephanie Mills. Mills, who may best be remembered to Broadway audiences for her Tony nominated performance in The Wiz, went on to have pop success with such hits as "Never Knew Love Like This Before" and "Feel the Fire." In her return to the stage, she triumphs both as a vocalist and as an actress. I found her very concentrated performance quite moving, and her singing, which admittedly isn't as powerful as it once, was very enjoyable. Also worth noting is the voice of Darius de Haas, a Rent understudy, who performed the roles of Cain and Japheth in Children of Eden. Mr. de Haas has one of the most remarkable voices I've heard in awhile, wide-ranging, extremely powerful, and he knows how to put over a song. Let's hope he shows up on Broadway soon.

REMINDERS:
ANDREA MARCOVICCI
Marcovicci is currently performing at the Algonquin Hotel in NYC through Saturday, Jan. 3; performances are Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 9pm and Friday and Saturday at 9 and 11:30 PM. There is a $15 food and beverage minimum as well as a $35 music charge (on Friday and Saturday, the music charge is $40). Dinner is required at the early show, and reservations can be made by calling (212) 840-6800. The Algonquin is at 59 West 44th Street.
ANNE RUNOLFSSON
Add Jan. 8, 15 and 22 to Runolfsson's previous New York cabaret dates- Dec. 10 and 17--at Eighty Eight's in the West Village. Runolfsson is scheduled to sing at 10:30 PM on each of these Wednesday nights, and reservations can be made by calling 212-924-0088. The club is located at 228 West 10th Street; there is a $12 music charge plus a two-drink minimum. Runolfsson will also sing in L.A. at the famed The Cinegrill Feb. 10-14, 1998.

That's all for now. Happy holidays, and happy diva-watching!

-- By Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com