DIVA TALK: A Diva Fall Season Preview

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23 Aug 2013

Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley
Myriam Santos

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

For this diva-loving writer, the diva season kicked off on an exciting note, albeit a non-musical one, earlier this week with the first preview of Horton Foote's The Old Friends, a world premiere that will officially open Sept. 12 on the Irene Diamond Stage of the Pershing Square Signature Center. The stellar cast boasts Tony winner Betty Buckley in a rare non-musical New York theatrical outing as well as Tony nominee Hallie Foote and Tony-nominated veteran Lois Smith. The play, which continues through Sept. 29, concerns "old friends on opposing sides [who] must confront the issues surrounding legacy, loyalty, and the meaning of happiness that have hounded them for generations." While in residence at the Signature, Olivier nominee Buckley will offer Betty Buckley: Signature Songs Sept. 30, a fundraiser to support Signature's Legacy Program in honor of late playwright Foote; the evening will begin with cocktails at 6:30 PM followed by the 7:30 PM concert.

The fall musical season, which began with First Date and Soul Doctor, will continue in September with the Broadway premiere of the new musical Big Fish, based on both the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace and the 2003 Columbia Pictures film written by John August. Directed and choreographed by five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman, Big Fish features music and lyrics by Grammy and Tony nominee Andrew Lippa with a book by Grammy and BAFTA Award nominee August; previews will begin at the Neil Simon Theatre Sept. 5 prior to an Oct. 6 opening. The cast is headed by two-time Tony Award winner Norbert Leo Butz, Tony nominee Kate Baldwin and Tony nominee Bobby Steggert.

A Night With Janis Joplin, which has played acclaimed engagements at Portland Center Stage, Cleveland Play House, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Pasadena Playhouse and Milwaukee Repertory Theater, commences Broadway previews Sept. 20 at the Lyceum Theatre prior to an official opening Oct. 10. Written and directed by Randy Johnson, the production casts Mary Bridget Davies, who received the 2013 Cleveland Critics Circle Award for Best Actress in a Musical and was nominated for a 2013 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Resident Musical, in the role of the late rock singer who exploded onto the music scene in 1967.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, a new musical by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, arrives at the Walter Kerr Theatre Oct. 22 prior to a Nov. 17 opening night. Directed by Darko Tresnjak and choreographed by Peggy Hickey, the musical features Tony winner Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife) in eight different roles. The cast of this frisky romp about a line of heirs, family money and homicide also includes Bryce Pinkham (Love's Labour's Lost, Ghost) and Lisa O'Hare. The musical arrives in New York following critically acclaimed premiere engagements at Hartford Stage and Old Globe Theatre.

One of the most tantalizing prospects of the fall season is the chance to see star-in-the-making Jessie Mueller play Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which will arrive on Broadway — following an out-of-town engagement at San Francisco's Curran Theatre — Nov. 21 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre towards a Jan. 12, 2014, opening night. Mueller, who made her Broadway debut opposite Harry Connick, Jr. in the 2011 revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, has also appeared in the Broadway productions of Nice Work If You Can Get It and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the New York Philharmonic mounting of Carousel and Shakespeare in the Park's staging of Into the Woods, but this high-profile musical could catapult the singing actress into a new stratosphere. The cast will also feature Jake Epstein ("Degrassi," Spider-Man) as Gerry Goffin, Anika Larsen (Xanadu, Avenue Q) as Cynthia Weil and Jarrod Spector (Jersey Boys) as Barry Mann with Jeb Brown as producer/publisher Don Kirshner and Liz Larsen as King's mother, Genie Klein.

Idina Menzel
 

One of the most exciting, star-filled casts of the season will bring the newest work by Pulitzer Prize and Tony winners Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey to life. Although If/Then doesn't arrive on Broadway until March 2014, the new musical will debut at Washington, DC's National Theatre Nov. 5-Dec. 8 with a cast that features two Tony-winning musical theatre actresses, Idina Menzel (Wicked, Rent) and LaChanze (The Color Purple, Once on This Island), as well as Anthony Rapp (Rent), James Snyder (Cry-Baby), Jerry Dixon (tick, tick…Boom!, Once on This Island), Jenn Colella (Chaplin, High Fidelity), Jason Tam (A Chorus Line, Lysistrata Jones) and Tamika Lawrence (Matilda). Michael Greif directs the musical about a woman on the cusp of 40 (Tony winner Menzel), who moves to New York City to start fresh. It marks the original Rent star's first return to Broadway since her Tony-winning run in Wicked, which celebrates its 10th anniversary on Broadway this fall.

There are also plenty of musical highlights Off-Broadway this fall, including Lady Day, which features Tony and multiple Grammy Award winner Dee Dee Bridgewater as the late, legendary jazz artist Billie Holiday (previews begin Sept. 19 at the Little Shubert Theatre); the world premiere of Fun Home, the new musical by Tony nominees Jeanine Tesori (music) and Lisa Kron (book and lyrics), which begins Sept. 30 at the Public Theater with a cast led by Tony Award winner Michael Cerveris and Tony nominee Judy Kuhn; John Kander and Greg Pierce's The Landing, starring Tony and Emmy winner David Hyde Pierce and Julia Murney, which will begin Oct. 3 at the Vineyard under the direction of Tony winner Walter Bobbie; and the eagerly awaited William Finn-James Lapine musical Little Miss Sunshine, based on the quirky film of the same name, which begins previews Oct. 15 at Second Stage. The cast of theatre favorites includes Will Chase, Stephanie J. Block, Josh Lamon, Rory O'Malley, David Rasche, Logan Rowland, Wesley Taylor and Hanna Rose Nordberg as Olive Hoover.

Diva lovers will no doubt be out in full force Nov. 7 when Olivier and two-time Tony winner Patti LuPone returns to Carnegie Hall with a special two-act version of Far Away Places, a travelogue of styles and stories that includes songs by Kurt Weill, Cole Porter and Edith Piaf. One suspects (and hopes) that LuPone will also revisit tunes from several of her own theatrical triumphs. The famed hall will also feature five evenings with the New York Pops, three of which are of special interest to diva fans: Sing, Sing, Swing (Nov. 1, featuring Tony nominee Montego Glover and clarinetist Dave Bennett), Under the Mistletoe with Ashley Brown (Dec. 19-20, featuring Broadway's original Mary Poppins, Ashley Brown) and A Broadway Love Story (March 21, 2014, featuring Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley); Steven Reineke is the music director and conductor for all three events.

Sutton Foster
 

New York's smaller stages will also welcome a host of Broadway favorites. Two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster will kick off the fall season at the Café Carlyle, playing Sept. 10-28. The Anything Goes star will be followed by Clint Holmes (Oct. 1-12), Judy Collins (Oct. 15-26), John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey (Oct. 29-Nov. 23) and Steve Tyrell (Nov. 26-Dec. 31). Cabaret favorite Andrea Marcovicci will make her Joe's Pub bow in November; the 7 PM and 9 PM Nov. 18 concerts will celebrate the singing actress' 65th birthday and will also mark the New York debut of her newest concert act, Moonlight Cocktail. And, Manhattan's newest nightspot, 54 Below, will welcome a plethora of theatre artists, including Ann Morrison (Sept. 2), Christine Andreas (Sept. 4-5), Brian d'Arcy James (Sept. 5-7), Telly Leung (Sept. 8), John Tartaglia (Sept. 8 and 16), Duncan Sheik (Sept. 9-14), Lindsay Mendez (Sept. 9 and Dec. 9), Emily Skinner (Sept. 11-12), Morgan James (Sept. 15), Frances Ruffelle (Sept. 16 and 18), Laura Benanti (Sept. 19-21), Alice Ripley (Sept. 19), Adam Pascal (Sept. 22 at 7 PM), Anthony Rapp (Sept. 22 at 9:30 PM), Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Sept. 26-28), Varla Jean Merman (Sept. 29-30) and Donna Vivino (Sept. 29). And, that's just in September! Visit 54Below.com for details of the remainder of the fall season.

And, in "takeover" news, three-time Tony nominee Rebecca Luker will join the cast of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella for a limited engagement beginning Sept. 6. Luker will step into the role of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, Marie, the part created by Tony winner Victoria Clark, through Jan. 19, 2014. (Clark is taking a temporary leave for a new project to be announced.)… A few days earlier, on Sept. 3, Jill Paice and Craig Bierko will become Matilda's new Miss Honey and Miss Trunchbull, respectively; they succeed original Tony-nominated stars Bertie Carvel and Lauren Ward, who play their final performances Sept. 1.

Whether you prefer your evenings in a cozy cabaret or in a Broadway house with a full orchestra, get out there and catch one of your favorite gals!

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