At the time I hosted a radio show for our college station, and Fraser was kind enough to grant me an interview. The gifted actress-singer was then starring in the Broadway musical Romance, Romance, and I chatted with her backstage at the Helen Hayes Theatre after a matinee performance.
At the end of the interview, Fraser gave me an audio tape featuring a mix of her unreleased tracks; the song that struck me most was one I had never before heard, "New York Romance," a touching ballad about the looking-for love-battlefield in NYC. The song, I later learned, was written by her husband, musician Rusty Magee, who also penned the score for Charles Busch's The Green Heart, which played New York's Manhattan Theatre Club. Magee also won the 1993 New York Outer Critics' Circle James Fleetwood Award for his score for Moliere's Scapin.
This week I was shocked to learn that the 47-year-old Magee passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. I had not known that the talented composer had been ill, and my sympathies go out to Fraser and her young son, Nat. I wanted to dedicate this week's column to Magee's memory and thought I would include his wonderful lyric to "New York Romance." If you'd like to hear more of Magee's work, get yourself a copy of the new CD "Sweet Appreciation." The live recording at the West Bank Cafe features a host of family and friends who turned out for a surprise birthday celebration for Magee about a year ago. Hosted by Lewis Black, the evening included performances of Magee songs by Fraser, Rebecca Luker and Mary Testa as well as an impromptu set by the late composer. The 18-track disc includes such Magee works as “The Green Heart” and “Coming Apart,” both sung beautifully by Luker, and Fraser’s definitive take on the aforementioned “New York Romance.” Go to www.sweetappreciation.com for more details; the site also includes a memorial to the composer.
"New York Romance" Music and Lyrics: Rusty Magee
It's a New York romance; it's a casual romance, and it happens every day.
It's a promise to phone; it's a promise you can't keep; it's a promise not to stay.
It's a meaningful glance in an unfamiliar place. It's a lover whom you've lived with till you couldn't stand his face. It's a disappointing dinner. It's a charitable chase. It's a New York romance.
It's an East-Side romance or a West-Side romance, and it's played out after dark.
It's a kiss on Broadway or a smile on Bleecker, it's a blow-out in the park.
It's a fight on 47th Street, you let her run away. It's him turning up so drunk and stoned, you pray that he won't stay. It's a never-ending argument, it's the only matinee.
It's a New York romance.
It's a moving romance; it's a stifling romance; it's a romance of the street. It's a "he said" romance or an "I meant" romance — it depends on who you meet.
It's a subway door that closes and you only see the pain or a bagel at Grand Central while you're waiting for her train.
It's a cross-town connection; it's a taxi in the rain.
It's a New York romance.
It's all the times you thought that you were going, but you didn't go, you stayed.
It's all the times you thought that you were making love, when you were getting laid.
It's a New York romance; it's a ringside romance; it's a terrible surprise.
It's a last-ditch romance; it's a desperate romance, telling hopeful little lies.
It's the girl you thought might be Miss Right, till you find out she's a bore, or the guy who said he'd stay all night who's halfway out the door.
It's a great big apple you're afraid is rotten at the core, taking so much shit from lovers that they're not friends anymore. It's a wanting to be far away on some distant shore. It's a careful desperation. It's not caring anymore.
It's a New York romance.
On several occasions I've been surprised to encounter muddled sound at the most famous performing arts venue in the country. Go to any Broadway show, and the sound is usually crystal clear, but for some reason, Carnegie Hall concerts are often marred by the sound system. It's to her credit that Linda Eder — who has grown considerably as a song interpreter in the past few years — was able to overcome much of the problem during her show's first half. And, thankfully, during intermission, someone must have flipped an off switch to on, because the sound for the second half of the evening was markedly better, and the result was a thrilling second act. But, getting back to the first half . . .
Eder, dressed in a short black dress, began her show with the Jerry Herman anthem "I Am What I Am." After admitting that she was very nervous, the singer-actress explained that the evening was a brand-new show, "and I'd like to say that it's as tight as a well-oiled machine, but it's a brand-new show." Eder needn't have worried; she was in complete control of her material and her remarkably rangy vocal instrument. She followed her opening with a medley of "Come Rain or Come Shine" and "On the Street Where You Live." During the first verse of the former, she paused, and jokingly said, "Hey, Judy," invoking the memory of the late Judy Garland who also triumphed at the famed hall several times. A no-holds-barred "What Kind of Fool Am I?" preceded Gypsy's "Some People," which featured Billy Styne — the great nephew of composer July Styne — on keyboards. One of the highlights of the first half followed, a beautifully sweet version of the World War II anthem, "I'll Be Seeing You." She also scored with Frank Wildhorn's "Storybook" and then launched into a humorous explanation about her long awaited return to Broadway.
Said Eder: "I think some of you know me best from Jekyll & Hyde, right? I left the Broadway production of Jekyll & Hyde in August 1998. And, somehow in the meantime, I have acquired the title of one of Broadway's leading ladies. It's completely ridiculous because I've only done one show. [Laughs.] Didn't anyone check? I don't know, they must have a real shortage. But, because of that, all these years I sort of felt this pressing need to have to go back to Broadway and try to earn the title. Now, you would think that being married to a Broadway composer, this wouldn't be a problem. The problem is he's a man! He can come up with idea after idea after idea of great male characters, but can he come up with one for a woman? You know why? Because he keeps writing about himself. [Laughs.] But I keep nagging and nagging and nagging, and we finally have hit on the idea for one show, which we are very happy is moving forward. In the process of trying to find that one show, we've done a few different items. One of them I liked very, very much — it was a romantic comedy. I loved the score, but it's an original story, so it's hard to get right. The book is really just not there yet, so that one's sort of on the back burner for the time being, but I hope we will get back to it at some point, but I would like to do [a song from it] — the opening number from Havana."
Another highlight — a pairing of "Losing My Mind" and "Unusual Way" — followed "Havana," which I still find mediocre after several hearings. Eder's smooth tones were the perfect fit for Maury Yeston's "Unusual Way," and her vocal flourishes at the end of the Nine song were spellbinding. She finished the first half with stentorian versions of "The Impossible Dream" and "Don't Rain On My Parade."
As enjoyable as the first half was, it was the second portion where Eder really triumphed: The sound was better, she seemed less nervous, and she connected to her material more strongly. The former Jekyll & Hyde star opened with a new song by husband Wildhorn; other songs included a sensational "Anthem" from Chess (she seemed to hold onto the final heart forever — "My lands only borders like around my heeeeaaaaaaarrrrrrt!"); a delicate version of The Sound of Music's "Edelweiss" that Eder dubbed "Enyaweiss" because of the arrangement that featured her voice on multiple background tracks; her signature tune, "Vienna," which was probably the highlight of the evening (the way her voice opens on "Cause in Vieennnna we were poetry, yes in Vieeeeennnnna love was alive" is thrilling); Jekyll & Hyde's "Bring On the Men," which drew cheers from the adoring audience; another Jekyll & Hyde crowd pleaser, "A New Life"; and "Gold," the final number from the Broadway-bound musical Camille Claudel, about the life of the late French sculptor. Eder ended her Carnegie evening with the title song from The Man of La Mancha and returned for a heartfelt, teary-eyed encore of "If I Had My Way."
I had the pleasure of attending John McDaniel's solo New York cabaret debut this past Saturday night at the Public Theater's Joe's Pub. While not a star vocalist, the former musical conductor for "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" is a brilliant pianist; he also possesses a very engaging stage presence, someone you enjoy listening to for an evening of music. With a winning smile, great pitch, an appealing and musical sound, an offbeat sense of humor and a down-to-earth appeal (how can you not like someone who dedicates a song to his dog?), McDaniel offered both pop and Broadway tunes during his 60-minute set, including a song from the upcoming musical Taboo, for which he will be musical director. He also astounded with a musical medley of tunes suggested by the audience: cabaretgoers yelled out a list of song titles, and McDaniel strung them together on the spot for a seamless medley.
The other high point of the evening was the introduction of a young singer, who is blessed with one of the most thrilling belt voices I've heard in a while. Her name is Eden Espinosa, and trust me, you'll be hearing a lot more about the 25-year-old singer-actress. Espinosa, in fact, will star in the title role of the Broadway-bound musical Brooklyn, which will premiere this spring in at the Denver Civic Theater. Brooklyn will feature musical direction by McDaniel and direction and choreography by Jeff Calhoun. Espinosa, who made her entrance with a wonderful version of the pop song "Get Here," offered one tune from Brooklyn, "I Still Bleed," a song she doesn't get the chance to sing in the musical. She followed that with one of the most beloved (at least by belter fans) and difficult musical theatre songs, Stephen Schwartz's "Meadowlark." I don't think anyone can touch Patti LuPone or Betty Buckley's definitive renditions, but Espinosa's take was definitely memorable. Her tone is quite beautiful in both her upper register and her enormous belt, and I would love to hear this star-in-the making do an entire cabaret evening!
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Two Tony-nominated stars of Smokey Joe's Cafe will join the Broadway company of Chicago March 3. Brenda Braxton will succeed Caroline O'Connor in the role of Velma Kelly, and B. J. Crosby will take over for Roz Ryan as Matron "Mama" Morton. Chicago is currently playing the Ambassador Theatre. . . . A host of performers will perform the songs of Amanda Green at a March 17 concert to celebrate the singer songwriter's new CD. Green Piece! Amanda Green & Friends will feature songs from Green's new By Hook Records CD, "Put a Little Love in Your Mouth, The Songs of Amanda Green." Those scheduled to take part in the March 17 evening include Jessica Molaskey, Julia Murney, Norbert Leo Butz, Jonathan Dokuchitz, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Kim Lindsay, John Pizzarelli, Billy Stritch, Mary Testa, The Tom Kitt Band and Green's famous Tony winning mom, actress Phyllis Newman. The concert will be held at the Second Stage Theatre, located in New York City at 307 West 43rd Street. Tickets, priced at $25 ($20 for students/subscribers), are available by calling (212) 246-4422. Concertgoers will also be invited to attend a post performance cast party at the King Kong Room of The Supper Club . . . . Variety reported early this week that Eartha Kitt, who received a Tony Award nomination for her work in The Wild Party, is currently working on a stage musical about her life. Entitled Dare Me, the project will workshop at small venues before arriving in New York. The creative team for Dare Me includes Charles-Randolph Wright (director), Nona Hendryx (composer), Ken Robertson (choreographer) and Darryl Waters (musical director). The Kitt life story will feature several of her hit songs — "Santa Baby," "C'est Si Bon" — as well as reminiscences about her relationships with Sidney Poitier, Orson Welles, James Dean and other luminaries. . . . For those of you diva lovers who missed the fall Funny Girl benefit concert for the Actors' Fund of America, here's a second chance: Many of the cast will reassemble next month for another go-round of the classic Jule Styne musical. The March 10 evening to benefit the Manhattan Jewish Community Center will celebrate the Purim holiday via the songs of Funny Girl. Those expected to take part in the evening include several actors who shared the role of Fanny Brice at the fall concert: Lillias White, Ana Gasteyer, Judy Kuhn and Julia Murney. New additions include Hairspray's Shoshana Bean, Little Shop of Horror's Billy Porter and Paper Mill's Funny Girl, Leslie Kritzer. Peter Gallagher will once again play Nicky Arnstein opposite the throng of Fanny Brices. The all-star concert will be held at 7 PM at the JCC, located in New York City at 334 Amsterdam Avenue at 76th Street. Tickets are priced at $15 for JCC members and $20 for non-members. Call (646) 505-5708 for reservations. . . . Also, don't forget, Ellen Greene, who starred in the original Off Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors, will offer three concerts at the Public Theater's Joe's Pub this weekend. Greene will celebrate her birthday weekend with a new show entitled Torch! that features musical direction by Christian Klikovits. The singer-actress will perform at the intimate boîte on Feb. 22, 23 (7:30 PM) and Feb. 24 (9:30 PM). Her evening of cabaret will feature a host of standards as well as contemporary tunes by Sarah McLachlan, Queen and Jane Siberry. Tickets for Greene's evening of Torch! are priced at $20. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street, between East 4th Street and Astor Place. Tickets are available at the Public Theater's box office or by calling (212) 539-8776. . . . And, finally, I'll be on vacation next week, so "Diva Talk" will return on Friday, March 7. Have a great, diva-filled two weeks!
Betty Buckley in Concert:
May 31 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA
Liz Callaway in Concert:
March 3 at the Wintergarden in the NYC World Financial Center in New York, NY
May 16 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Feb. 28 and March 1, 2, 6-9 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, CA
March 21 at the Flynn Center in Flynn, MI
March 28 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
March 27 at the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 28-29 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 30 at the Ham Auditorium at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Maureen McGovern in Concert
March 4-15 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York City
April 12-13 at Center Stage—Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, CA
April 14-19 at Founder's Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
May 30 - 31 at the Palmer Events Center with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Austin, TX
June 7 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN
Christiane Noll in Concert
April 5 Springfield, MA with Springfield Symphony
April 9 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
April 21 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
May 24 Williamsburg, VA with the Virginia Arts Festival
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!