DIVA TALK: Chatting with Avenue Q's Jennifer Barnhart, Aida's Final Performance Plus News of LuPone, Greene and Williams

By Andrew Gans
10 Sep 2004

Q: If the opportunity should arise, would you like to take over the roles of Kate and Lucy at some point?
JB: I'd be happy either way in all honesty. It's funny because a friend of mine told me that a director who works at the American Globe Theatre was going to come see Avenue Q, and she thought he was going to see it last week, and I was like, "Tell him to come next week when I'm on in the lead." And then I called her right back and I said, "You know what? Don't. If he can see all seven of us, that's really the ideal way to see it." And I'm so proud of the work that I do in my normal track, and I'm so happy to be out there and be Rick's dance partner every night. Sure, I'd be thrilled to get to do Kate and Lucy more often, and if they offered it to me, I would love to do it. But if they didn't offer it to me, and I kept doing what I'm doing, either way I win.

Q: How about Las Vegas — are you interested in playing there when Avenue Q starts its run?
JB: What the hay? If it was the right set of circumstances: if it wasn't for too long — I don't think I would want to leave New York for a terribly long period of time, three to six months. Just to go and open it with a big splash would be a lot of fun.

Q: What was it like performing without the puppets in the Empty Handed concerts?
JB: It was great. It was the first time I've done it in awhile. I was feeling a little without-a-net there. I had done straight plays somewhat recently, so that aspect of it didn't bother me. But singing — it was the first time I've done it in that kind of a setting without a puppet. I challenged myself with it. It was one of those "feel the fear and do it anyway things." I thought that I'm going to be really happy when I get to the other side of this, and I am. And, now, that's given me more confidence to be able to do some other things like when I was singing with Johnny [Tartaglia] at Joe's Pub. Somebody came up to me [after] and said, "When's your one-woman show?" And I said, "Well, I'm going to start working on it?" [Laughs.]

Q: Are you going to?
JB: Yeah, it's something I've been casually gathering material for. I don't have a venue, but just for my own development and growth as an artist, I want to start putting some brain cells to it. I have some people who are willing to collaborate with me, which is great.

Q: Are you involved in any other projects?
JB: That's it for right now, now that Johnny's concert is over. We're hoping that becomes a recurring thing at Joe's Pub . . . It's been busy, and the "Sesame Street" season starts up soon.

Q: One final question: Should George Bush lose the election, do you know whether the lyric will be changed in "For Now"?
JB: God, I hope so. [Laughs.] I'm sure they're going to have to, and I think we're all hoping that that happens. [Laughs.]



Some shows go out with a bang — Aida went out with a flash! During the final scene of the long-running Disney musical — as Radames (Adam Pascal) and Aida (Deborah Cox) were descending into the sand for eternity — what seemed like dozens of cameras sent flashes lighting up the Palace Theatre. Pascal even turned to the audience to offer a "what-in- the-world-is-happening" glance, which reminded me of an early Sunset Boulevard preview when Glenn Close stopped the show after being blinded by flashes as she descended the lengthy mansion staircase. The Tony-winning actress, in full Norma Desmond garb, said to the audience, "We can continue with the show or we can have a press conference." The crowd burst into applause, and the flashes ceased . . . As for Aida's final performance, all of the actors were in top form: Pascal's rock-edged voice remains a wonder, Lisa Brescia provided a well-sung and nuanced Amneris, and Cox — who I admit I had never seen nor heard of before she took on the role — impressed as the ill-fated Nubian princess. If she doesn't possess quite the powerhouse voice of the role's creator, Heather Headley, I found her acting more subtle and, ultimately, more affecting. I was also impressed by the beauty of Eric LaJuan Summers' voice, who plays Mereb and joined Cox for one of the show's best songs, "How I Know You." Other highlights: Brescia's belty "My Strongest Suit," Cox's terrific "Dance of the Robe," the Cox-Pascal duet "Written in the Stars" and the first-act finale "The Gods Love Nubia."

Ellen Greene, of Little Shop of Horrors fame, will bring her acclaimed evening of Torch — featuring pianist/musical director Christian Klikovits — to L.A. and then back to New York again next month. The thrilling performer will offer shows at L.A.’s Cinegrill Oct. 20 and 21 before heading to New York’s Joe’s Pub Oct. 24. The shows will celebrate the release of her new solo recording, the superb “In His Eyes,” which is currently available at www.ellengreene.com. The Cinegrill is located within the Roosevelt Hotel at 7000 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles, CA; call (800) 950-7667 for reservations. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street; call (212) 539-8778 for reservations.

One of this column's very favorite gals will be part of the upcoming Feinstein's at the Regency fall season. Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone, who scored raves for her work last season in the Encores! mounting of Can-Can, plays the New York nightspot Nov. 8 20. Two other names of interest on the schedule: Grammy Award winner Melissa Manchester — of "Don't Cry Out Loud" fame — will take centerstage at Feinstein's Oct. 26-Nov. 5, and Karen Mason, most recently on Broadway in Mamma Mia!, will perform two shows only on Nov. 13 at 8:30 and 11 PM.

Six Broadway belters will lend their voices to "A Celebration of the Leading Ladies of Broadway," the Sept. 17 cabaret evening that opens the Second Annual New York AIDS Film Festival. Hairspray's Laura Bell Bundy, Mamma Mia!'s Karen Mason, Caroline, or Change's Anika Noni Rose, Aida's Felicia Finley, The Boy From Oz's Isabel Keating and Cabaret's Kate Shindle are all scheduled to perform at "The Red Ball." The concert kicks off the week-long Film Festival at the Hudson Hotel, which will include screenings of 17 films focusing on "the challenges and triumphs of people with AIDS around the world." Directed by Stephen DeAngelis, the starry event will be held at New York's Hudson Hotel, 356 West 58th Street; show time is 8 PM. Tickets for "The Red Ball" range from $200 $1,000 and can be purchased by calling (212) 592-1950. Visit www.newyorkaidsfilmfestival for more information.

And, finally, Vanessa Williams, most recently on Broadway in a Tony-nominated turn in Into the Woods, will head to the Palace Theatre in December. Williams will promote her upcoming recording, "Silver & Gold," with seven shows at the famed Broadway theatre Dec. 1-5. She will also promote her new recording, a Christmas set, on QVC Sept. 14. "Silver & Gold" will be released on the Lava Records label Oct. 12; the label will also release a second album by Williams in February 2005. That disc will feature classic love songs from the seventies.


Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.


Next week: a chat with Wicked's Jennifer Laura Thompson.

(Look for a condensed version of "Diva Talk" in the theatre edition of Playbill Magazine.)