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

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!

Karen Akers
Karen Akers

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.

KAREN AKERS

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!

BARBARA COOK

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.

TELL ME ON A SUNDAY

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.

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK Three-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald took part this past week in a workshop of a new musical by Michael John La Chiusa based on the film “Rashomon.” The Life’s Tony-winning Chuck Cooper was also among the workshop cast of R Shomon, which was directed by Ted Sperling with musical direction by Rhapsody in Seth’s Seth Rudetsky. McDonald, who starred in the NBC series “Mr. Sterling,” has also taken over the lead of a new drama pilot for CBS, “Violent Crime,” in which she’ll play a Boston detective. McDonald made her series-TV debut this past season in “Mr. Sterling,” a political drama from Emmy-winning writer/producer Lawrence O'Donnell, Jr. The series aired its final episode March 14. . . . I keep hearing great things about Helen Schneider’s recent Kurt Weill concert at Town Hall. The American-born Schneider, who has triumphed on the German stage in productions of Sunset Boulevard, Evita and Anything Goes, offered an hour of Weill at the March 28 evening. Song titles included “Mack the Knife,” “Barbara’s Song,” “Pirate Jenny,” “I Wait for a Ship,” “How Can You Tell An American?,” “Progress,” “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” “Mon Ami, My Friend,” “Brack’s Song,” “Lonely House,” “It Never Was You,” “What Good Would the Moon Be?” and “Johnny’s Song.” Let’s hope Schneider stays NY-bound for awhile. Wouldn’t it be great to have this talent on Broadway? . . . A host of talented performers are lining up for the latest edition of Timeless Divas on May 18. As of press time, those scheduled to take part in the series, which features “the wonderful women over 40 in theatre, cabaret and songwriting,” include March of the Falsettos’s Alison Fraser as well as Kim Cea, Julie Gold, Kathleen Landis, Marilyn Michaels, Vicki Phillips, Jana Robbins and Avery Sommers with special guests Sidney Myer and the a capella group The Decibelles. Karen Mason, who recently starred in the mega-hit Mamma Mia!, will host the evening, which begins at 7 PM. The Triad Theatre is located in Manhattan on West 72nd Street. Covers range from $20 to $25, and there is a $12 food/drink minimum. Call (212) 615-6966 for reservations. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Gods Love We Deliver. In related news: The Timeless Divas series will continue Sept. 14 with the launch of Timeless MDs (male divas). . . . Broadway legend Carol Channing will be the special guest at the Hollywood Bowl’s “Great American Concert” Aug. 8 and 9. Channing, best known for her Tony winning work in Jerry Herman’s Hello, Dolly!, will be part of the annual concert featuring the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra under the direction of John Mauceri. This season’s American tribute will focus on American legends, including theatre veteran Channing. The Hollywood Bowl is located at 2301 Highland Avenue in Hollywood, CA. Tickets for the “Great American Concert” are available by calling (323) 850-2000. . . . The summer cabaret series at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival has been announced. Those taking part in “Martinis at the Martin” include recent Tony nominee Barbara Cook, My Favorite Year’s Lainie Kazan, Capeman’s Sara Ramirez as well as Chicago favorite Hollis Resnik and cabaret veteran Bobby Short. The Bobby Short Trio will open the series June 8 and 9, Resnik and Ramirez will perform on a double bill June 29 and 30, Kazan will go it solo July 20 and 21 and the legendary Cook will entertain cabaretgoers Sept. 7 and 8. The Ravinia theatres are located in Highland Park, IL; for more information, go to www.ravinia.org.

COMING SOON: An interview with Bernadette Peters, a chat with Carolee Carmello, a divafest with Seth Rudetsky and more!

REMINDERS

Betty Buckley in Concert:

April 14-19 in Elegies at the Newhouse Theatre in New York, NY
April 25 at the South Dakota State University PAC in Brookings, SD
May 31 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA

Liz Callaway in Concert:

Now in The Look of Love at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre
April 28 in Richard Rodgers: Giving Back at the Kaufman Center in New York, NY
May 16 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA

Barbara Cook in Concert:

Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY

Patti LuPone in Concert:

Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

Maureen McGovern in Concert

April 12-13 at Center Stage—Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, CA
April 14-19 at Founder's Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
May 30 - 31 at the Palmer Events Center with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Austin, TX
June 7 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN

Christiane Noll in Concert

April 21 Florida Philharmonic with Peter Nero
May 24 Williamsburg, VA with the Virginia Arts Festival
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!