By Andrew Gans
24 Jan 2003
I only had the chance to chat once with the spirited singer-actress, in Dec. 1999 when she released the benefit CD, "Misbehavin' with Nell Carter and The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus." During the conversation, Carter spoke about her brother, the late Dr. Bernard Taylor, a gifted conductor/pianist who died from AIDS over a decade ago. Carter spoke lovingly about her late brother — "the best friend I ever had in my life" — and the healing power of music: "I think music and laughter are the two things that can keep you alive. Someone who is really depressed, tell them a joke, and they may come out of it for even just a moment. Or play them something. For me, you can put on something by Bach, and I'll feel better. Or put on 'Sexual Healing' or anything by Eric Clapton."
Carter, herself, had been blessed with the gift of music, possessing a voice that could swing with the sounds of Waller or Duke Ellington or belt out a Broadway show-stopper. Her way with a song can be seen in the video of "My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies," which aired on PBS stations back in '99. Carter delivered a no-nonsense, straight-to-the-heart version of "Mean to Me," her signature tune from Ain't Misbehavin'. About that starry evening of diva worship, Carter told me at the time, "All the performers were glad to be together, rooting for each other. I shared a dressing room with Bebe [Neuwirth] and Linda [Eder] . . . Everyone had a dressing room, but everyone hung out in the big green room and applauded for each other and wished each other on. It was a really, really great night."
How exciting that Barbara Cook's thrilling Mostly Sondheim concert will be released on DVD/VHS in a few months. I chatted with a DRG spokesperson earlier this week, who informed me that "Barbara Cook Mostly Sondheim — Live in Concert" will hit stores April 22.
In addition to the concert, which was filmed live at SUNY Purchase's Pepsico Theatre, the DVD (not the VHS) will also boast several other features, including one of Cook's legendary master classes (taped at the Kennedy Center in August), an interview with the singer-actress as well as her complete discography for DRG. The song list for "Mostly Sondheim" follows:
"Everybody Says Don't"
"Buds Won't Bud"
"I Wonder What Became of Me?"
"The Eagle and Me"
"I Had Myself a True Love"
"Another Hundred People"/"So Many People"
"In Buddy's Eyes"
"I Got Lost in His Arms"
"You Can't Get a Man With a Gun"
Medley: "Hard Hearted Hannah"/"Waiting for the Robert E. Lee"/"San Francisco"
"When in Rome (I Do As the Romans Do)"
"You Could Drive a Person Crazy"
"Send in the Clowns"
"Not a Day Goes By"
"Losing My Mind"
"The Trolley Song"
"Anyone Can Whistle"
Cook also recently announced a new list of concert dates:
Jan. 31 at the Tilles Center at Long Island University & C.W. Post Campus
Feb. 14-15 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburg, PA
Feb. 28-March 9 at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, CA
March 21 at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT
Sept. 7-9 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA (concert with Marilyn Horne)
Oct. 2 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (concert with Marilyn Horne)
With the announcement that Liza Minnelli is being considered for a film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, last week I asked for your thoughts about those you'd like to play the aging silent screen star on screen. Thanks for all your responses, some of which follow . . .
Steve from L.A. writes: "The difficulty of playing Norma Desmond is not limited to singing and acting, it's also 'age.' That immediately limits our choices. I do not think Glenn Close's 'bigger-than-life' performance would work on film. I recently bought the DVD release, and it's a very difficult role to play on the giant silver screen. You need the audience to see Norma as both 'pathetic,' yet still remain 'sympathetic.' It was easier for Swanson, because the public knew she was a silent screen star, so they accepted her interpretation without question. Any remake, stage or screen, musical or drama, has to have a lead that can 'bridge' the time warp and capture emotions that came automatically with the casting of Swanson. If there is to be a film version of the musical, it must be cast with a 'singer who can act' and not an 'actress who can sing.' Why? If we accept great acting and an OK voice, why bother with the remake? To put the music in second place would be a huge miscalculation. I am not a great fan of Liza Minnelli. To her credit, Liza brings 'history' and 'baggage' to the part. She has a past . . . Liza's past baggage, however, is still very much a part of her present. It might prove too much of a problem to overcome. Streep can do almost anything, but she cannot create a 'past' like Liza. So my suggestion: Don't do it, leave it for the stage. Some things just won't work."
James writes: "Responding to your article commenting on which screen actress would make an ideal Norma Desmond, I believe that Joan Allen would make an ideal choice. Among contemporary film actresses, no one can match Allen's capability to capture both steely determination and vulnerability through a look (my second choice—Angela Bassett). And if they can't already sing, I believe that either of these actresses can be suitably trained vocally."
Roman from Texas writes: ". . . Patti LuPone should be asked to play the movie version of Sunset. If anything, it would be divine justice that Patti get the role. . . However, that being extremely unlikely, Meryl Streep would be an excellent choice. After all, she sought the role originally during the 1992 Sydmonton Festival, when Patti won the role."
Jim wrote: "Who should play Norma? I asked around and these are the names that popped up: Barbra Streisand, Cher, Madonna, Bernadette Peters, Catherine Zeta-Jones. I have never heard Meryl Streep sing, but I think the casting people could do better. I have a special fondness for Elaine Paige. But it's doubtful, she'd get to plat the part on the big screen."
Lyle writes: "You said you'd love to know who we think should play Norma Desmond in the film version, well, I don't know if she'd want to, or if she can still sing, but for years I have thought Doris Day would be the perfect choice. In her time she did it all — singing, comedy, drama . . . If only someone could talk her into it . . . I think Liza could be a good choice, it's hard to predict. I'd rather see it tried with her than with Glenn Close — her singing left much to be desired. Not a fan of Barbra as Norma. Saw Patti do it in London and loved her. Saw Petula do it and liked her, but not for the big screen. I'd love to see Doris!"