DIVA TALK: "Turn" of a Lifetime PLUS Divas Come to the Cabaret

DIVA TALK: "Turn" of a Lifetime PLUS Divas Come to the Cabaret Throughout my 20 or so years of watching the annual Tony Awards telecast, there have been just a handful of performances that have left me completely speechless.
Bernadette Peter's delivers
Bernadette Peter's delivers "Rose's Turn" in Gypsy. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Patti LuPone's belting of those high Es during Evita's rousing "A New Argentina"; Betty Buckley's stentorian delivery of the final "Touch meeeeee, it's so eeeeasy to leave me" portion of "Memory" the year she and Cats triumphed with multiple Tonys; and Jennifer Holliday's passionate tearjerker "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" are the three that immediately come to mind. Well, this past Sunday's ceremony added a fourth to my short list: Bernadette Peters' astounding "Rose's Turn."

I had hoped Peters would triumph with her moment in the Tony telecast spotlight, but she exceeded my high expectations. I wanted her performance to be as thrilling as it was both times I attended the Gypsy revival at the Shubert Theatre, but I worried that it might not have the burning fire without the penultimate scene that precedes the climactic, harrowing breakdown-in-song. I needn't have worried. Peters' performance was equally heartbreaking and possibly even more ferocious.

I was lucky enough to attend the June 8 ceremony live, and the audience at the famed Radio City Music Hall was completely spellbound by the two-time Tony winner the moment she declared, "Here she is BOYS! Here she is WORLD! Here's ROSE!" There was a fierce determination in Peters' eyes as she strutted toward the front of the stage in Anthony Ward's wonderfully sexy, purple form-fitting dress. I love director Sam Mendes and choreographer Jerry Mitchell's staging of the number, particularly when Peters invitingly leans against the brick wall at the back of the bare stage and — with fingers over her lips — states, "Ready or not, shhh, here comes Momma!" And the anger in both Peters’ voice and face was palpable as she questioned, "Why did I do it? What did it get me? Scrapbooks full of me in the background!"

For me, however, the song — in Peters' hands — reaches its climax in the word "well" that precedes "Well, someone tell me when is it my turn? Don't I get a dream for myself!" The frustration, the longing, the wanting, the needing — all the love and success that Rose has been unsuccessfully searching for her entire life — finally explodes in this belty "Well." Peters' performance is so dramatic that she can't wait until the rest of the sentence to explode: The explosion comes early in “Welllll!” and it's frighteningly intense.

And, when the Gypsy star reached the conclusion of the song, belting out the final “For meeeeeeeeeee,” the audience — three balconies and all — rose en masse. There was no delay, no hesitation. It was as though there was no possible response other than to jump to one's feet and applaud. It was one of the most electric responses to a performer I've ever experienced in the theatre. (I’ve since watched the telecast on tape, and it's the same goose bump inducing response on the small screen.) And then, moments later, the Best Actress in a Musical Tony was awarded to Marissa Jaret Winokur. It wasn't too surprising, for it seemed to be a Hairspray sweep, with the fabulous, high-energy musical nabbing eight prizes, including Best Musical. After watching Peters' performance, I do imagine many around the country were wondering, "Who votes for these awards?" And, I have to admit, I was thinking that, too. I was quite disappointed for a day or two following the ceremony and then realized that Peters has already earned two Best Actress in a Musical Tony Awards and can pretty much name the director, the show and the role she'd like to play. This may be Winokur's only leading role on Broadway, and she should be able to enjoy her moment in the spotlight.

It is interesting to note that neither Broadway's First Lady of the American Musical Theatre — Ethel Merman — nor her heir apparent, Peters, was awarded Tonys for her Gypsy performance. Merman's place in musical theatre history certainly wasn't hurt from the Tony loss; in fact, most all of the theatre-going public — even those who weren't yet born — seem to have caught that legendary Gypsy performance. And, Peters' place in musical theatre history as one of its greatest actors/singers and "all around warming presences" (thanks, Frank Rich) — is equally safe. And, as for this year's Tony telecast, it will mainly be remembered for that towering performance: those breathtaking four minutes when Peters — with one brilliant song — silenced any of the naysayers of the season past. Brava, Bernadette!

And, for those of you who have yet to catch this Gypsy, get thee to the Shubert!

CABARET CONVENTION:
The 14th Annual New York Cabaret Convention is set for Oct. 20-26 at the city’s famed Town Hall, and a host of divas — and some men, too! — will be part of the annual convention, which salutes the best of New York cabaret.

The week of seven performances begins with an all-star gala Oct. 20. Although the list of performers is in formation, those scheduled to take part in “The Gala Opening Night” (6 PM) include Karen Akers, Cindy Benson, Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Jennifer Chada, Philip Chaffin, Blossom Dearie, John DePalma, Ray Jessell, Shelley Mac Arthur, Sylvia McNair, Beckie Menzie, Tom Michael, Jessica Molaskey and Jane White.

The second evening, Oct. 21 (6 PM), will pay tribute to one of the cabaret world’s leading ladies, Julie Wilson. “Julie Wilson’s Birthday Party” will feature an appearance by the cabaret legend herself as well as those by Tom Andersen, Brent Barrett, Marnie Baumer, Kirsten Benton, Anna Bergman, Stan Chandler, Charles Cochran, Valerie Lemon, Sally Mayes, Barbara Rosene, Marcus Simeone and Avery Sommers.

Before his recent death, famed caricaturist Al Hirschfeld agreed to be part of the upcoming convention. The Mabel Mercer Foundation, which produces the annual event, will offer “Drawn By Hirschfeld” Oct. 22 at 6 PM. That evening will include the talents of Christine Andreas, Christine Ebersole, Jason Graae, Jeff Harnar, Paula Laurence, Marcia Lewis, Heather Mac Rae, Maureen McGovern, Sharon McNight, Mark Nadler, Robert Osborne, Lynn Redgrave, Marian Seldes, Elaine Stritch, KT Sullivan and Tommy Tune.

“A Garland of Songs for Judy” is the title of the Oct. 23 (6 PM) performance and will feature 14 women — Lisa Asher, Klea Blackhurst, Joyce Breach, Baby Jane Dexter, Natalie Douglas, Peggy Herman, Stevie Holland, Debbie Lesser, Colleen McHugh, Lainie Nelson, Jan Peters, Julie Reyburn, Lumiri Tubo and Bobbi Wilsyn — celebrating the music that Garland made famous. The evening is being presented in conjunction with John Fricke’s new tome, “Judy Garland: A Portrait in Art and Anecdote.”

The “Friday Night Special” Oct. 24 (6 PM) also offers a starry line-up. Those taking part in the evening of song will include Barbara Carroll, Joan Crowe, Mara Getz, Jane A. Johnston, Alix Korey, Barbara Lea, Michael MacAssey, Karen Mason, Nan Mason, Amanda McBroom, Jeanne Resua, Johnny Rodgers, Maureen Kelly Stewart, Kat’ Taylor and Paula West.

Cabaret favorite Andrea Marcovicci will host the Saturday afternoon (2 PM) performance Oct. 25. Entitled “Swingin’ On a Star,” the program hopes to introduce the Great American Songbook to the youth of America. Every seat in the theatre will be priced at $25, and the Mabel Mercer Foundation hopes parents and grandparents will bring their children and grandchildren to this special performance. Among the performers offering tunes from the Great American Songbook will be Nina Berman, Barbara Brussell, Craig Carnelia, Daisey Carnelia, Mark Coffin, Spencer Day, Betsyann Faiella, Sammy Horneff, Maude Maggart, Phillip Officer, Jennifer Sheehan, David Staller and Mark Vietor.

The Cabaret Convention will conclude Oct. 26 with “Autumn in New York.” The line-up for the 3 PM performance includes Tovah Feldshuh, Sidney Myer, Georga Osborne, Craig Rubano, Billy Stritch and Wesla Whitfield.

Town Hall is located in New York City at 123 West 43rd Street. Tickets are priced between $25 and $100. For more information about the upcoming convention, call (212) 980-3026, ext. 3109, or visit www.mabelmercer.org.

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Louise Pitre, who stars as Donna in the Broadway production of Mamma Mia!, will leave the production in the fall. A spokesperson for Pitre confirmed that the award winning singer-actress will leave the role that garnered her a 2002 Tony Award nomination October 19. Pitre has already lined up a host of concert engagements, and her spokesperson revealed that she is currently in negotiations for both film and theatre-related projects. . . . Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba will star in a production of Neil Simon’s The Dinner Party this summer at Vermont’s Oldcastle Theatre Company. Ziemba, who is currently in rehearsals for the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s production of The Threepenny Opera — she will play Lucy Brown there — will star as Mariette in Simon’s comedy of marriage and divorce, July 25-Aug. 9 at the Vermont theatre. Ziemba will co-star opposite fellow actor (and husband) Bill Tatum; the remainder of the cast includes Tim Foley, Paul Falzone, Cyndi Logan and Daryl Kenny. The Oldcastle Theatre Company is located in Bennington, Vermont. Tickets for the production may be purchased by calling the theatre’s box office at (802) 447-0564. For more information, visit www.oldcastle.org . . . . Fear not, possums! After Dame Edna Everage finishes her current Australian tour — Back to My Roots and Other Suckers — the wacky, lovable creation of writer-actor Barry Humphries will return to the States with A Night with Dame Edna. Edna, beloved the world over, will bring her evening of laughter to Pittsburgh’s Heinz Hall, Oct. 7-12. Other tour stops include Georgia’s Fox Theatre (Oct. 14-19), Maryland’s Morris A. Mechanic Theatre (Oct. 21-Nov. 2) and Indiana’s Murat Theatre (Nov. 4-9). In 2004 the Dame will grace Rhode Island’s Performing Arts Center (Jan. 20-25), Florida’s Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Center (Jan. 27-Feb. 1), Kentucky’s Louisville Palace (Feb. 3-8) and three stops in Ohio: Columbus’ Palace Theatre (Feb. 10-15), Cleveland’s Playhouse Square (Feb. 17-29) and Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center for the Arts (March 2-14) . . . . Caroline O’Connor, the Australian singer-actress-dancer who recently made her Broadway debut in the New York company of Chicago, will star in an upcoming film about the life of Cole Porter. O’Connor’s official website says that the actress will portray Ethel Merman in the new film, which is titled “Just One of Those Things.” O’Connor’s scenes re-create the opening night of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes and will feature O’Connor singing that show’s title tune. The footage was filmed at London’s Old Vic Theatre. Directed by Irwin Winkler, the film — according to the Internet Movie Database — also stars Keith Allen, John Barrowman, Angie Hill, Ashley Judd (as Linda Porter), Kevin Kline (as Cole Porter), Diana Krall, Alanis Morissette and Jonathan Pryce.

REMINDERS Liz Callaway in Concert:
June 16 at Broadway Under the Stars in Bryant Park, New York, NY
June 28 in Divas On the Hudson in Westchester County, NY
July 18-19 in 101 Years of Broadway at the Lenape Center in Marlton, NJ
Aug. 29-30 at the Stockbridge Cabaret in Stockbridge, MA
Jan. 31, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
May 8, 2004 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY

Barbara Cook in Concert:

Now through June 22 at the Kennedy Center for the Perf. Arts in Washington, DC
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:

June 15 at the Mountain Laurel Center for the Perf. Arts in Bushkill, PA
June 27 at the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame Gala in Hollywood, CA
July 19 at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, CA
Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Aug. 22-23 in Passion at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
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

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!