Hello, diva lovers! What an exciting year for the Best Actress in a Musical category. One could persuasively argue the merits of every actress nominated, whether it’s the Broadway debut of film actress Toni Collette, the phenomenal vocals of Aida’s Heather Headley, the warm, moving performance of Rebecca Luker in The Music Man, Marin Mazzie’s ravishing “So in Love” and comic turn in Kiss Me, Kate or Audra McDonald’s fourth stunning Broadway performance (in Michael John LaChiusa’s Marie Christine). If this year’s Drama Desk Awards are any indication, it looks like Heather Headley could nab the Tony, as she was nominated against the same contenders (with the sole addition of the MTC Wild Party’s Julia Murney) this past Sunday and went home with the Drama Desk plaque. That said, however, it does seem a particularly tight race, so no one appears to be a sure bet ... There doesn’t seem to be a clear winner in the Best Featured Actress in a Musical category either, although it seems unlikely that either Swing! star -- though both gave wonderful vocal performances -- will leave with the coveted award. It’s an interesting category because two of the nominees, Contact’s Deborah Yates and Karen Ziemba, have no singing whatsoever, while two other nominees, Swing!’s Laura Benanti and Ann Hampton Callaway, have little acting or character work. Only Eartha Kitt, who is the brightest light in the Broadway The Wild Party, sings, acts and basically charms the audience all evening. June 4 should be an interesting night!
I’ve spent the past week writing 70 to 80 word bios for each person nominated in all the categories. The bios will run in the special Tony Awards Playbill that is handed out the evening of the awards at Radio City Musical Hall. What follows are these short bios for each of the musical theatre actresses nominated.
BEST LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Toni Collette, The Wild Party
Ms. Collette is making her Broadway debut in The Wild Party. A native of Australia, she studied at the National Institute of Dramatic Art and performed with the Sydney Theatre Company and the Belvoir Street Theatre. In 1994 Ms. Collette starred as Muriel in Muriel’s Wedding. Her other films include The Boys, Velvet Goldmine, Emma, The Clockwatchers and The Sixth Sense, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.
Heather Headley, AIDA
Ms. Headley made her Broadway debut as Nala in The Lion King. Her other theatre credits include City Center Encores! Do Re Mi; Ragtime (Toronto); and regional productions of Dreamgirls and And the World Goes ‘Round. Ms. Headley is currently working on her debut album for Hollywood Records, and she can now be heard on Aida, From the Soul of a Man and The Lion King.
Rebecca Luker, Meredith Willson’s The Music Man
Ms. Luker was last on Broadway as Maria in The Sound of Music, for which she received an Outer Critics Circle nomination, and before that she was seen in Show Boat (Tony nom.), The Secret Garden (Drama Desk nom.) and The Phantom of the Opera. Ms. Luker’s other theatre appearances include Time and Again, Harmony and Encores! The Boys from Syracuse. Her extensive concert work includes three performances at Carnegie Hall.
Marin Mazzie, Kiss Me, Kate
Ms. Mazzie received Tony nominations for her work in Ragtime and Passion and was also seen on the New York stage in Into the Woods, And the World Goes ‘Round, Big River and Encores! Out of This World. Her recordings are numerous and include Kiss Me, Kate; Ragtime; Passion; Out of This World; The Stephen Schwartz Album; and My Favorite Broadway—The Leading Ladies. Ms. Mazzie was also on PBS’s “Passion” and “My Favorite B’way.”
Audra McDonald, Marie Christine
Ms. McDonald has received a Tony Award for each of her three Broadway outings: Carousel, Master Class and Ragtime. Her TV appearances include performances in “Having Our Say,” “Annie,” “My Favorite Broadway—The Leading Ladies” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” Her numerous recordings include two solo discs for Nonesuch Records: Way Back to Paradise and How Glory Goes.
BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL
Laura Benanti, Swing!
Ms. Benanti just finished an acclaimed run in Encores! Wonderful Town. On B’way she starred as Maria in The Sound of Music opposite Richard Chamberlain, and her other N.Y. credits include Time and Again, Summer and The Royal Family of Broadway. She appeared in Jane Eyre and Man of La Mancha at the Paper Mill Playhouse where she was honored with their first Rising Star Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.
Ann Hampton Callaway, Swing!
An acclaimed songwriter/performer with 11 MAC Awards, her latest for her CD Easy Living, Ms. Callaway is making her Broadway debut. She just completed an extensive tour to promote her To Ella With Love CD, and with her sister Liz, she has performed their concert act, Sibling Revelry, in London and N.Y. Ms. Callaway was honored with the Johnny Mercer Songwriting Award and also penned/performed the theme song for “The Nanny.”
Eartha Kitt, The Wild Party
Ms. Kitt made her Broadway debut in New Faces of 1952, and her other stage appearances include Tony-nominated roles in Mrs. Patterson and Timbuktu. Her film roles feature Boomerang, St. Louis Blues, Anna Lucasta and Unzipped, and TV audiences remember her as the infamous Catwoman on “Batman.” Ms. Kitt has also been nominated for an Emmy and two Grammys, and is the author of I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten.
Deborah Yates, Contact
Ms. Yates made her B’way debut in Dream and currently stars as the Girl in the Yellow Dress in Contact. She appeared in the Encores! production of Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 and was a Radio City Music Hall Rockette. Ms. Yates has appeared onstage in The Will Rogers Follies, in the films Trust (NJIFF Award) and Tom’s Journey as well as on such TV shows as “Ghost Stories,” “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Rosie O’Donnell Show.”
Karen Ziemba, Contact
For her performance in Steel Pier, Ms. Ziemba received Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle noms. for Best Actress in a Musical. She also appeared on B’way in Chicago, Crazy for You, 42nd Street and A Chorus Line. Off-Broadway Ms. Ziemba received a Drama Desk Award for her work in And the World Goes ‘Round and a nom. for I Do! I Do! Her TV credits include “Law & Order” and “My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies.”
IN OTHER NEWS Because of a last-minute news story, the Betty Buckley profile, which was scheduled to air last Sunday on "CBS Sunday Morning News with Charles Osgood," will now run on Tony Awards Sunday, June 4. As previously announced, Buckley is the subject of an interview on the CBS program; interviewed during her run at the Cafe Carlyle, the feature will also include footage from Buckley’s stint at the famed boite. CBS's Sunday morning news program airs from 9 AM to 10:30 AM . . . Tony and Olivier award winner Patti LuPone will partake in an intimate “Curtain Talk” series after her matinee concert performance on June 11 at Montclair State University’s Memorial Auditorium in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. La LuPone will also sign copies of her newest solo recording, “Matters of the Heart.” Tickets for LuPone’s concerts (June 8 through June 11) are available by calling the TheatreFest box office at (973) 655-5112 or through Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 . . . Barbara Cook will be interviewed by New York Times critic Stephen Holden on Tuesday, May 30 at 7PM at the Lesbian & Gay Community Services Center at One Little West 12th Street in NYC. Times Talks presents Broadway Divas as Gay Icons is part of the Times Talk series, an ongoing program featuring reporters and editors of the Times, along with special guests, speaking on issues relating to the gay and lesbian community. Admission is $10; for more information, call (212) 620-7310 . . . In Tuesday’s Liz Smith column in the New York Post, Angela Lansbury spoke about her upcoming Broadway musical, The Visit. Said the four-time Tony winner: “My next job is exciting. Two years ago, producer Barry Brown came to us and asked what we thought of making the Friederick Durrenmatt play The Visit into a musical. We reread the play, although I vividly remember Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in this grandly gripping drama. Good idea, we thought. Then Barry came back and asked what we thought about Terrence McNally adapting the book. Yes, we answered. Then he suggested Kander and Ebb for the score. My heavens: Who could resist? And it’s to be directed by Frank Galati, who is so talented. And let me be the first to tell you that Ann Reinking will choreograph and my co-star is Philip Bosco.” . . . Liz Callaway will be Seth Rudetsky’s guest on Thursday, May 25 at his weekly Don’t Tell Mama gig, “Seth Rudetsky’s Broadway Chatterbox.” The show begins at 6 PM, and reservations may be made by calling (212) 757-0788; the cabaret is located on Restaurant Row (West 46th Street) . . . Barbara Cook, Malcolm Gets, Debbie Gravitte and Lillias White are among the theatre stars who appear on the new DRG CD, “Lucky in the Rain.” This studio recording of Sherman Yellen’s musical features orchestrations by Peter Matz and direction by Wally Harper and will hit stores on May 23 . . . Broadway/cabaret artist Karen Mason will be the featured guest on AOL’S “Extreme Culture” chat room this Monday, May 22 at 9 PM. To find the chat room featuring the former Sunset Boulevard star, type in keyword EXTREME CULTURE (or EXE) . . . Former Les Miz star and soap actress Catherine Hickland will make another appearance on the QVC network on Saturday, May 27 . . . That masterful Barbra Streisand impersonator, Steven Brinberg, will perform his newest “Simply Barbra” show at Don’t Tell Mama on Saturdays, May 13 and 20. The “other” Barbra will host and co-narrate an AMC documentary about women film directors, which debuts at the end of the month.
June 30 & July 1 John Drew Theatre (Guild Hall) in East Hampton, NY
July 24 Martin Theatre (Ravinia Festival) in Highland Park, IL
August 21-September 3 Donmar Warehouse in London, UK
September 16 Stranahan Theatre in Toledo, OH
October 6-7 Scottsdale Center for the Arts Theatre in Scottsdale, AZ
October 28 Univ. of Texas Cowan Fine & Perf. Arts Center in Tyler, TX
I recently received a few new concert dates for theatre/cabaret legend Barbara Cook, which follow:
June 13 at the Playhouse Theatre, Hotel Dupont in Wilmington, Del. (302) 656-4401
September 14 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA (619) 748-0505
September 21 & 22 at the Sydney Opera House (in concert with David Campbell) in Sydney, Australia 011-61-2-9250-7777
September 28-October 1 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA (714) 556-2787
Eder in concert:
May 20 at the Shubert Theatre in Chicago, IL (312) 977-1700
July 8 with Michael Feinstein & The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at the Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta, GA; (404) 733-4801
July 14 with Feinstein at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA; (206) 628-0888
July 15 with Feinstein at Schnitzer Hall in Portland, OR; (503) 274 6564
July 16 with Feinstein at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, CA; (415) 551-2000
August 5 at the Wildflower Music Festival in White Mills, PA
August 6 with Feinstein at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ; (732) 335-0400
August 8 with Feinstein at the Mann Performing Arts Center in Philadelphia, PA (215) 336-2000
August 9 with Feinstein at the Wolf Trap Filene Center in Vienna, VA; (703) 218-6500 or 1-800-955-5566
August 19 at the John Drew Theater of Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY (631) 324-4050
August 25 with Feinstein at The Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL; go to www.ravinia.org
August 26 Boys & Girls Club Fundraiser at The River Center w/ Michael Feinstein in Minneapolis, MN
September 26 at the Jones Hall w/Houston Symphony in Houston, TX; call (713) 224-7575
November 4 at the Westbury Music Fair in Long Island, NY; call (516) 334-0800
November 17 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ; call (732) 246-SHOW
November 18 at the State Theatre in Easton, PA; call (610) 252-3132
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:
June 8-11 at Theatrefest/Memorial Auditorium at Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, NJ; (973) 655-5112
Now through May 14 Davenport’s Cabaret in Chicago; call 773-278 1830
May 26-27 Mason opens the Cabaret series at the Berkshire Theatre Festival
June 1-4 Theatre concert at the new Metropolis Theatre in Arlington Heights, IL; call (847) 577-2121
June 5 Opening night of the San Francisco Cabaret Convention
June 7 The Plush Room in San Francisco; call 415-885-2800
Sept. 5 - Oct. 14 Arci’s Place, 450 Park Avenue, New York, NY; call (212) 532-4370.
Scheduled concert dates for McDonald follow:
June 12 at Town Hall, NYC (Benefit for GMHC; call 212-367-1514)
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!
By Andrew Gans