DIVA TALK: Holiday Memories with Ayers, Brier, D'Abruzzo, De Guzman, Gambatese, Greene, Newman, Noll, O'Malley and Pedi

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16 Dec 2005

top to bottom: Heather Ayers, Kathy Brier, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Josie de Guzman, Jenn Gambatese, Ellen Greene, Phyllis Newman, Christiane Noll, Kerry O'Malley and Christine Pedi
top to bottom: Heather Ayers, Kathy Brier, Stephanie D'Abruzzo, Josie de Guzman, Jenn Gambatese, Ellen Greene, Phyllis Newman, Christiane Noll, Kerry O'Malley and Christine Pedi

News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

HOLIDAY MEMORIES

This holiday season we checked in with a few fabulous gals and asked them to share a favorite holiday memory or two.

HEATHER AYERS, who is currently making her Off-Broadway debut in Five Course Love at the Minetta Lane Theatre, couldn't have penned a better New York Times review for her performance had she written it herself. In his write-up, critic Neil Genzlinger says, "[Ayers'] versatile, big voiced performance in five roles might make Kristin Chenoweth want to check the rearview mirror."

Ayers, who will play her final performance in Five Course Love Dec. 31, said she will be spending the holiday with her parents, who are "coming here for their very first holiday in New York! This is the first time both of their girls [sister Becca is in Avenue Q] are employed in the city at the same time." About her sister, Heather adds, "If Becca and I can ever agree on a theme, we are planning on getting a cabaret [act] together."

As for a favorite holiday memory, the actress explains, "One year, while us kids were out in the neighborhood lighting luminaries, my uncle stayed behind and got plastered. Upon our return, he proceeded to knock over the Christmas tree onto the dog. We spent Christmas day vacuuming pine needles off of Bogie!"

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You may have seen KATHY BRIER on Broadway in Hairspray or Off-Broadway in Bat Boy, but you've never heard her sing the way she does in A Broadway Diva Christmas, which is currently playing a limited engagement at the Julia Miles Theatre through Dec. 31. Though she belts out powerful, rock-flavored versions of "All I Want for Christmas Is You" and "Please Come Home for Christmas," it is Brier's delivery of Joni Mitchell's "River" that is especially riveting. Her beautifully sung and powerfully performed version of Mitchell's aching tune is one of the show's many highlights.

Because of A Broadway Diva Christmas, Brier won't be able to head home this holiday season, but "last year," says Brier, "I went to Hawaii and I hope to go back soon. It was great." Another holiday favorite was "going to [see the] Rockefeller X-mas tree with my family as a kid and looking at the Saks windows." The Emmy-nominated actress, who continues to shine on "One Life to Live," is "currently working on [her] first CD. It should be available in stores some time in March/April — all original rock music."

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After a more than two-year Tony-nominated, Theatre World Award-winning run in Avenue Q, STEPHANIE D'ABRUZZO is set to depart the award-winning production to co-star in the new Off-Broadway musical I Love You Because. D'Abruzzo, who also made her solo cabaret debut this past season at the famed jazz club Birdland, says one of her favorite holiday memories took place on Christmas Eve 2003. "It was my first Christmas at Avenue Q," says the singer-actress-puppeteer, "and we really didn't have a lot of time off to do anything special for the holidays. So we decided that my hubby would pick me up at the theatre after our Christmas Eve matinee and we'd go have dinner, which we did. But I wanted to do something special and fun and Christmasy, so I came up with the bright idea of building our own gingerbread house. Instead of using a kit, we'd go to the grocery store and build the house out of graham crackers and then get a bunch of other cookies and candies and icings to decorate it. Seemed like a fun way to spend the evening. Only I didn't really think things through, and it was a disaster! We could barely get four walls up, and then we made the house too wide to put a roof on. My hubby was trying to use those long, round pirouette cookies with the hazelnut filling as support beams, only to see them crumble under the weight of a graham cracker or a Nilla wafer! A wall would go up, and another would fall down. It was a colossal mess. We had frosting all over us, and we were laughing so hard we were crying — all the while there was sweet Christmas music playing and holiday specials in the DVD player, and the menorah glowing gently with sheer candy-coated chaos ensuing in our world! It was maybe the best Christmas Eve ever!"

This year D'Abruzzo and her husband will catch some shows "and try to relax a bit. Of course, we'll have to hit the Hallmark stores for the half-priced ornaments the day after Christmas — we have a very pop-culture tree! And, I'll be singing at Tony's DiNapoli on New Year's Eve again with some other Broadway folk."

In addition to I Love You Because, which begins performances at Off Broadway's Village Theatre Jan. 19, D'Abruzzo has a few other ideas brewing. "My pet project," she says, "is to do an evening of Joe Raposo songs, and I'm hoping to put together a table read of a couple of my husband's plays. But, really, the best things that have happened to me in 2005 have all been happy surprises. Who knew I'd get to be in two absolutely amazing Stephen Sondheim celebrations? So I'm perfectly willing to go with the flow and see where life takes me."

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"One of my favorite holiday memories," the Tony-nominated Guys and Dolls actress JOSIE DE GUZMAN says, "was when I was performing in West Side Story in Paris [and] the cast was invited to midnight mass in Notre Dame. Right after we were done with the show, we all went and sat and heard the most beautiful singing in the most beautiful cathedral. The best part was that my parents and sister were there, and we were all able to share this most wonderful midnight mass!"

"This holiday," the gifted soprano explains, "[will be] a simple one, but I'm so looking forward to spending it with my guy in Houston. It should be a relatively quiet holiday except that I will be cooking a fun, delicious meal for friends on one of those holiday days."

De Guzman, who recently co-starred in the Alley Theatre's production of Hapgood, says that experience was "thrilling. The production was directed by Gregory Boyd with his acting company, and it was a fabulous production." She is currently looking for the next project and says Hapgood "certainly fed my soul for a little while. . . . [and when the next project] comes, I'll be so thrilled to be a part of it."

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It's been a busy year for JENN GAMBATESE, who played two roles in the Elvis Presley-themed musical All Shook Up at the Palace Theatre and who will return to the Broadway stage in 2006 in the eagerly awaited new musical Tarzan. This holiday season will find the young actress and her boyfriend in Cleveland, OH, sharing the celebrations with her family. "I'm very excited," says Gambatese, "because I've been working in different shows, so this will be my first Christmas at home in four years."

A favorite holiday was "the year my brother and I got Superman and Wonder Woman Under-Roos and spent the greater part of Christmas morning jumping off of the couch and zooming round the living room!" Perhaps that was good practice for her upcoming role, when "I will be swinging — literally — into action as Jane in Disney's Tarzan!" Tarzan, which will co-star Josh Strickland in the title role, begins previews at the Richard Rodgers Theatre March 24, 2006.

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ELLEN GREENE, who brings warmth, heart and her unique presence to A Broadway Diva Christmas, has three favorite holiday memories. Says the fabulous "Torch!" singer, "One was my first Christmas here — that's when I learned about Christmas. It was when I first came to New York, and my dear Greg Fauss — my lighting designer and good friend — bought me my first tree for $35, and we had a trimming party. He taught me about Christmas, and Christmas came to represent home for me and synonymous with New York. The second favorite one was at my loft on Crosby Street with Tibor, and I cooked a million entrees and baked cookies, tarts and cakes. Everyone from New York seemed to show up, and we all sang Christmas carols, and I cooked and cooked and cooked, and baked and baked and baked, and everyone ate and everyone drank, and it was so much fun. And I had three Christmas trees! And, my last favorite one was my first Christmas married to Christian [Klikovits], and we just spoiled each other rotten — and it was just us — and he bought me pots for cooking — how romantic!"

This holiday season Greene will continue to cast her spell over the Christmas audiences at the Julia Miles Theatre with her riveting renditions of such tunes as "Silent Night" and "The Christmas Song," and "I hope to cook for the band and Tommy [D'Angora] and Michael [Duling]. 'Next Stop, Greenwich Village' was released on the 13th of December on DVD with an audio commentary track by Paul Mazursky and myself — it was my first film with an amazing cast, and I am very proud of it. I also might be doing a film in January and February in Austin, Texas."

As for her favorite holiday songs, the multi-talented performer says, "My favorite holiday song is the one I do in the show, 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,' and 'Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.' One Christmas, when I was very little, I stood on my mother's desk at her school in Forest Hills — she was an English teacher then — and sang to her class 'Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.' I went over big! I loved that song — I had a little yellow record of it."

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