DIVA TALK: Akers at the Algonquin, Cook on DVD, a New Sunday

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11 Apr 2003

Karen Akers
Karen Akers

Hello, diva lovers! The countdown to the Gypsy opening continues: less than three weeks from today. I caught the first preview of the musical starring two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters as Rose, and I can’t wait to see it again April 28!

I noticed one interesting item in the Playbill for the musical at the Shubert Theatre, a bio of the late striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. (I checked both the Merman and Daly Playbills and couldn’t find her bio in those programs.) The bio in the current program reads: Gypsy Rose Lee could not sing or dance, but she was a show business phenomenon. Starting at the age of four, when she appeared in vaudeville, she was a headliner in burlesque, carnivals and nightclubs all over the world. She had a fling at the movies, starred on Broadway and had her own nationally syndicated television show. She wrote two novels, a Broadway play and articles for American Mercury, The New Yorker, Harpers and other magazines. Her best-selling memoir, Gypsy, is the basis of the musical you are seeing tonight.” By the way, recent visitors to the Shubert include Nicole Kidman, Steven Spielberg and Joel Schumacher.


In 1982 Karen Akers wowed Broadway audiences in the original production of Maury Yeston’s Nine, earning a Tony nomination for her work as Luisa, the long-suffering wife of filmmaker Guido Contini. Akers’ stunning renditions of “My Husband Makes Movies” and “Be on Your Own” were preserved on CBS Masterworks, and they will be re-released May 13 in the latest batch of titles in the Columbia Broadway Masterworks’ series. (The series also includes Pal Joey, House of Flowers, Candide and Anyone Can Whistle, and all contain bonus tracks.)

Twenty years later, a revival of the Tony-winning musical is playing Broadway’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre with a cast headed by film star Antonio Banderas. Mary Stuart Masterson is currently playing the role Akers originated, and for a limited time Nine fans will be able to hear two versions of Luisa’s songs each night. From April 15-May 24, Akers will perform both “BeoOn Your Own” and “My Husband Makes Movies” in her new cabaret act devoted to the songs of the musical theatre. Entitled True Make Believe, Akers’ program also includes another “Nine” ballad, “Unusual Way” (sung nightly at the O’Neill by Laura Benanti), which was also the title of her second solo recording.

I recently received a copy of Akers’ repertoire for her month-and-a-half-long gig at the Algonquin, which I thought you would enjoy perusing. Her program follows:

“But Alive” (from Applause) Lyrics: Lee Adams, Music: Charles Strouse
“My Childhood” (from Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris) English Translations by Eric Blau & Mort Shuman
“If I Sing” (from Closer Than Ever) Lyrics: Richard Maltby (Addtl. Lyrics: K. Akers), Music: David Shire
“I Never Do Anything Twice” (from The Seven Percent Solution) Music & Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
“Smart Women” (from Imaginary Friends) Lyrics: Craig Carnelia, Music: Marvin Hamlisch
“Patterns” (from Baby) Lyrics: Richard Maltby, Music: David Shire
“How Can I Tell Her?” (from Grand Hotel) Lyrics: Robert Wright, Music: George Forrest
“My Husband Makes Movies” (from Nine) Music & Lyrics: Maury Yeston
“Unusual Way” (from Nine) Music & Lyrics: Maury Yeston
“Be On Your Own” (from Nine) Music & Lyrics: Maury Yeston
“I Know Him So Well” (from Chess) Tim Rice, Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus
“Anthem” (from Chess) Tim Rice, Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus
“I Have a Love”/“Somewhere” (from West Side Story) Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim, Music: Leonard Bernstein

Akers will play the Algonquin’s Oak Room Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 9 PM and Friday and Saturdays at 9 and 11:30 PM. There is a $50 cover for all shows plus a $20 minimum. Thursday shows and the early shows on Fridays and Saturdays require a $50 dinner minimum. The Algonquin Hotel is located in Manhattan at 59 West 44th Street. For reservations, call (212) 419-9331. Don’t miss your chance to see one of cabaret’s finest!


I had the pleasure of viewing the forthcoming DVD of Barbara Cook: Mostly Sondheim, which will be released by KOCH Vision May 20. In addition to the wonderful concert, featuring the songs of Stephen Sondheim and those the composer wished he had written, the DVD/VHS also boasts an interview with the award-winning actress and clips from a Master Class at the Kennedy Center. In fact, some of the most moving moments of the recording take place during the Master Class, which features an audience that includes another multi-talented singer-actress, Judy Kuhn. I was particularly touched as one of the students — a tenor named Tim Tourbin — was singing William Finn’s “I’d Rather Be Sailing,” while Cook was seen watching and listening with a motherly gaze. Cook is gentle and supportive with her criticism — but truthful — hoping to guide the performers to a more honest approach to singing. (Says Cook, “I try to convince people it’s safer to be present [while performing] than to hide.") It’s quite remarkable to watch the changes in the students’ renditions of their songs. I only wish the DVD/video included all of the thoroughly engrossing Master Class.

As for her Sondheim evening, it remains a pure joy. At 76, Cook’s voice is still a wonder, and her interpretative skills are better than ever —in fact, her renditions of these classic songs grow in depth and honesty each time I hear her sing them. In a recent television interview, Cook admitted that it’s only been the past few years where she has allowed herself to cry onstage; she previously believed that producing tears during a song seemed “cheesy.” Thankfully, she has changed her thoughts because her teary-eyed versions of “Losing My Mind” and “Send in the Clowns” are spellbinding. The recording is a must-have for diva lovers or anyone who wants to see how a perfect concert is arranged and performed.


I was very excited to stumble onto the Tell Me On a Sunday website, launched for the new version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Don Black musical playing the Gielgud Theatre with former Chicago star Denise Van Outen. The new recording of the song cycle — a belter lover’s paradise — will be released this month in the UK on the Polydor label and in the US in May by Universal Classics/Really Useful. Pre-orders are already being accepted through www.amazon.co.uk.

A reworking of the one-woman musical penned for Marti Webb in 1979, Tell Me On a Sunday concerns an English woman’s adventures in New York City. Originally written for recording and a BBC-TV television special, Tell Me On a Sunday became the first half of Song & Dance, mounted at London’s Palace Theatre in 1982. Webb starred in the original London cast, and Bernadette Peters — who scored a Tony Award for her performance — starred in the Broadway version, which boasted revised lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. The new recording features the Don Black lyrics, although many have been updated by Black with new material by Jackie Clune.

The complete track listing for the latest Tell Me On a Sunday CD — featuring several new tunes — follows:

“Take That Look Off Your Face”
“Let Me Finish #1”
“It's Not the End of the World”
“Goodbye Mum, Goodbye Girls”
“Haven in the Sky”
“First Letter Home”
“Speed Dating”
“Second Letter Home”
“Tyler King”
“Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad”
“You Made Me Think You Were In Love”
“Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad (Reprise)”
“It's Not the End of the World (If He's Younger)”
“Third Letter Home”
“Unexpected Song”
“Come Back With The Same Look In Your Eyes”
“Let's Talk About You”
“Take That Look Off Your Face (Reprise)”
“Tell Me On a Sunday”
“It's Not the End of the World (If He's Married)”
“Fourth Letter Home”
“Ready Made Life/I'm Very You”
“Let Me Finish #2”
“Nothing Like You've Ever Known”
“Fifth Letter Home”
“Somewhere, Someplace, Sometime”

For more information or to listen to sound clips from the recording, go to www.tellmeonasunday.com.


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