DIVA TALK: Chats with The Marvelous Wonderettes Plus LuPone Gypsy on CD

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

The Marvelous Wonderettes
The Marvelous Wonderettes (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES
After more than a decade, Off-Broadway's Westside Theatre (Upstairs) has a new tenant, the four-person The Marvelous Wonderettes — "the cotton-candy colored non-stop pop musical" — which, indeed, features a marvelous quartet of singing actresses playing a quarrelsome high school singing group, whose members are also vying for the title of Prom Queen: Farah Alvin as the insecure, bespectacled Missy Miller, Beth Malone as the sassy, frank Betty Jean Reynolds, Bets Malone as the comical, gum-chewing Suzy Simpson and Victoria Matlock as the beautiful and popular Cindy Lou Huffington. In Roger Bean's two-act production (a first act featuring '50s classics and a second comprising '60s hits), each of the four women gets the chance to shine in both group and solo spots; especially impressive is Alvin's lush, powerful belt, which is most thrilling during her rendition of Laura Nyro's "Wedding Bell Blues." I recently posed the same set of questions to the four multi-talented performers; their answers follow.

Farah Alvin

FARAH ALVIN
Plays Missy Miller

How did this role come about for you?
Farah Alvin: I auditioned for Missy in New York with an appointment set up by my agent.

How would you describe your character?
Alvin: Missy is a very "Type A" personality. She's wound a little tight, which is typical of over-achievers (Missy made all of the girls' prom dresses and did the decorations for the prom). I described her once as that kid who raises her hand at the end of class to remind the teacher that [he or she] forgot to assign homework. But, basically I think Missy is socially awkward, nerdy, smart but deeply passionate, and that awkwardness is a sort of mask for a lot of emotion. What is your favorite song to perform in the show?
Alvin: There are so many, honestly, that I love to perform. "Secret Love" is a treat to sing because it's such a beautiful song. But also, it's the first moment that Missy gets to let all of her heart out — like taking the cap off of a bottle of soda that's been shaken up. Also, I really love the choreography to "Lipstick On Your Collar." It's so deliciously square, so 1950's high school. And the plot really shifts during that song so the audience response is always fun to react to.

Were you involved in any singing/performing groups in high school?
Alvin: I was a drama geek in high school. We didn't have much of a choir to speak of, so all of the good singers gravitated toward the drama department. I was in glee club and jazz choir in junior high.

Who do you really think should be named Prom Queen?
Alvin: I think Suzy should win prom queen. Her heart is in the right place about it, and it would mean the most to her. Plus, she's Missy's best friend.

What are your favorite past theatre roles?
Alvin: I got to play Mother in Ragtime this year at the White Plains Performing Arts Center. It doesn't get much better than that, frankly.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Alvin: I did a concert of my original music at Ars Nova in their "Uncharted" series for composers which was exciting. Otherwise, just hoping Wonderettes can keep going strong!

Beth Malone

BETH MALONE
Plays Betty Jean Reynolds

How did this role come about for you?
Beth Malone: I did the West Coast premiere of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown in L.A., and Bets sent Roger Bean to see it because she thought I was funny. Roger then came to my house and tested me on how low I could sing. I must have passed because he offered me Betty Jean, which I accepted with glee! That was seven years ago! Meanwhile, when the L.A. production happened, I was involved in Sister Act, so I missed that phase, but I am so pleased to be in wig and lashes once again for this leg of the Wonderettes journey.

How would you describe your character?
Malone: Betty Jean has often been described as a tomboy, which is accurate, but I mostly think of her as very eager to please, to fit in and be like the other girls because she knows she's just not. So Betty Jean is the first one to laugh at herself. If anyone is going to make a joke about her, it's going to be her first, which can sometimes lead to inappropriate behavior.

What is your favorite song to perform in the show?
Malone: "That's when The Tears Start" — [it is a] beautiful song [and a] great arrangement.

Were you involved in any singing/performing groups in high school?
Malone: The DC Singers Show Choir! Go Huskies!

Who do you really think should be named Prom Queen?
Malone: Suzy should win if it's a contest of who's the nicest. For sure Suzy.

What are your favorite past theatre roles?
Malone: I love the role of Helen in The Break Up Notebook It's an up-and-coming New York project I was lucky enough to be part of in the NAMT festival last year. My good friend Patricia Cotter wrote the funniest and most full-of-heart character, and I absolutely loved playing her.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Malone: Actually, The Break Up Notebook (or whatever the title ends up being) is in the works for a New York run of some kind. Kevin McCollum has the rights, and he is The Man!

Bets Malone

BETS MALONE
Plays Suzy Simpson

How did this role come about for you?
Bets Malone: I was so lucky to have been in Wonderettes from the very beginning [in Milwaukee]. Mr. Bean wrote the role for me, and I can't believe I'm still able to bring her to life night after night.

How would you describe your character?
Malone: Suzy is the poster child of the ideal '50s teenager. A cross between Gidget and Doris Day. Bubble gum, boyfriend, happy-go-lucky girl next door who wants to do nothing more than sing with her friends and dance with her boyfriend.

What is your favorite song to perform in the show?
Malone: I love singing "Maybe" behind Victoria Matlock. It's my favorite moment in the show.

Were you involved in any singing/performing groups in high school?
Malone: I was in show choir all four years of high school...award-winning I might add. Big awards!

Who do you really think should be named Prom Queen?
Malone: Of course I should be Prom Queen. Who wouldn't vote for the girl next door?!

What are your favorite past theatre roles?
Malone: My favorites to date are Annie Oakley [in Annie Get Your Gun], Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, Natalie in All Shook Up and Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress.

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Malone: I've been trying to shift towards voice over. I did a pilot for the Cartoon Network last year, and I was Talulah the Monkey in "Barbie as the Island Princess." If you're lucky, you can own a plush toy monkey with my voice in it!

Victoria Matlock

VICTORIA MATLOCK
Plays Cindy Lou Huffington

How did this role come about for you?
Victoria Matlock: I auditioned here in New York.

How would you describe your character?
Matlock: She's the mean girl of the group. She is popular, the "pretty" one, and definitely expects to win Prom Queen. She is a good person deep down, and it's fun to play the transition from stereotype to human being every night.

What is your favorite song to perform in the show?
Matlock: "Mr. Sandman." It's not only one of my favorite songs in the show, it's filled with such energy, hope and innocence.

Were you involved in any singing/performing groups in high school?
Matlock: I was in an all-girl barbershop group called Hi-lites, and a group called Madrigals that sang all different kinds of music, as well as a huge Concert Choir and all the school musicals. Who do you really think should be named Prom Queen?
Matlock: Well Cindy Lou, of course! No, I think Suzy deserves it. She's never trying to control the evening or steal scenes. She's just plain cute!

What are your favorite past theatre roles?
Matlock: Elphaba is my favorite. It was my favorite even before I played it!

Do you have any other projects in the works?
Matlock: Concerts around town for composer friends [and] hopefully an album of my own one day!

[ The Marvelous Wonderettes plays the Westside Theatre, located in Manhattan at 407 West 43rd Street. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com. PS Classics will release the show's original cast recording Nov. 11. For more information visit www.marvelouswonderettes.com.]


FOR THE RECORD
Gypsy: The 2008 Broadway Cast Recording The 2008 Broadway cast recording of Gypsy boasts a leading trio of actors who all won Tony Awards for their acclaimed performances: Boyd Gaines as the put-upon agent Herbie, Laura Benanti as the wallflower-turned-stripper Louise (aka Gypsy Rose Lee) and, of course, Patti LuPone as that stage mother of all stage mothers, Rose.

LuPone, in fact, is currently enjoying what is arguably her biggest stage success to date. For her work in the current revival of Gypsy at the St. James Theatre — directed by its librettist, Arthur Laurents — the famed, Olivier Award-winning singing actress has also won the Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama League's Distinguished Performance awards. And, all of those awards are well-deserved, for the actress has created what may be the most memorable performance of her stellar career.

That performance is now preserved on the new Time Life Gypsy recording, which was produced by multiple Grammy nominee Robert Sher. Before listening to the entire recording, Gypsy (and LuPone fans) — this one included — will likely first play Rose's three show-stoppers: "Some People" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from the classic musical's first act, and "Rose's Turn," from the second. None of them disappoints; in fact, each is thrilling.

On a determined, yet almost joyful "Some People," LuPone unleashes her powerful Broadway belt, which is as exciting as ever: Just listen to the way she pours out her voice on "Goodbyyyyyeee to blueberry pie!" and the alternate high note that ends the song.

Her "Everything's Coming Up Roses" is even more powerful: LuPone builds the song to a sensational, mad finale, the cracks in Rose's many years' worth of armor finally starting to show. Particularly startling is her delivery of the lyric "Everything's gonna be bright lights and lollipops. Everything's coming up roses for me and for you!"

Yet, neither of these songs quite prepares the listener for the emotions that are unleashed in Rose's soliloquy-in-song, "Rose's Turn." LuPone's Rose is funny, driven, angry, delusional and desperate, often within the same line. It is a staggering, moving performance that climaxes in a sequence of "For me!"s that become more and more heartwrenching.

LuPone's co-stars also get their chance to shine. Benanti delivers what may be the definitive rendition of "Little Lamb," offering an emotional take on the Stephen Sondheim-Jule Styne song. Her work in "The Strip" is equally compelling, and her duet with June (Leigh Ann Larkin) on "If Momma Was Married" is a belter lover's delight. Although he doesn't have much vocal work, Gaines' presence is felt in his duets with LuPone on lovely renditions of "Small World" and "You'll Never Get Away from Me." Also standouts are the three theatre veterans who portray the down-and-out strippers who show Louise the ropes: Alison Fraser as Tessie Tura, Lenora Nemetz as Mazeppa and Marilyn Caskey as Electra. Their "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" is simply terrific.

Another reason the recording is a must for theatre fans is the inclusion of several songs cut from Gypsy's original Broadway production: "Tomorrow's Mother's Day," an alternate version of "Mother's Day," "Small World"/ "Momma's Talkin' Soft," "Nice She Ain't," "Smile, Girls," "Who Needs Him?" (a particularly exciting LuPone track) and "Three Wishes for Christmas," all featuring new orchestrations penned by Jonathan Tunick.

It's great fun to try to determine at what point in the show these cut songs were originally scheduled — then read the liner notes to check your guesses!

LaChanze

DIVA TIDBITS
Broadway favorites LaChanze and Norm Lewis, who co-starred in the Paper Mill production of Baby, will offer solo concerts at Joe's Pub in December. Tony winner LaChanze, most recently on Broadway in The Color Purple, will play the intimate cabaret located within the Public Theater Dec. 1 and 2 at 7 PM. Lewis, who is currently starring in Disney's The Little Mermaid at the Lunt-Fontanne, will perform Dec. 1 at 9:30 PM. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Tickets are available by visiting www.joespub.com. Composer-lyricist Scott Alan, who also produces the monthly Monday Nights, New Voices cabaret series, is currently back in the recording studio working on the follow-up CD to his debut recording, "Dreaming Wide Awake." The new CD, entitled "Keys: The Music of Scott Alan," will feature a mix of Broadway favorites interpreting Alan's tunes. Among those performers are Lisa Brescia, Tituss Burgess, Heidi Blickenstaff, Jenn Colella, Kerry Ellis, Sutton Foster, Hadley Fraser, Randy Graff, Megan Hilty, Marcus Paul James, Norm Lewis, Julia Murney and Kate Wetherhead as well as singer Natalie Weiss and the Monday Nights, New Voices choir. Alan has also re-released his debut recording a year after its debut. The re-release, entitled "Still. . .Dreaming Wide Awake," features a brand-new track, "Hold On," performed by the composer plus four karaoke tracks: "I'm a Star," "Home," "Never Neverland (Fly Away)" and "Kiss the Air." The re-release is available by visiting http://cdbaby.com/cd/scottalan2. To celebrate the release of "Keys" and the re-release of "Still . . .Dreaming Wide Awake," Alan and a host of his theatre friends will perform at the Lincoln Triangle Barnes and Noble (Dec. 1 at 7:30 PM) and at the jazz club Birdland (Jan. 12, 2009, at 7 PM). For more information visit www.scottalan.net.

Teri Ralston

Teri Ralston, who was part of the original Broadway casts of Company and A Little Night Music, has released her debut solo recording on the LML Music label. Entitled "I've Gotta Get Back to New York," the single CD was recorded live at New York's Metropolitan Room in January 2008. The 17-track disc features musical arrangements penned by Ralston's musical director Shelly Markham. Among the song titles are "Colored Lights," "Lost in His Arms," "Old Friend," "In Buddy's Eyes," "Chanson," "Marieke," "No Fear," "The Road Not Taken" and "Losing My Mind," among others. Company's Pamela Myers also guest stars on the new CD. The recording, which has a list price of $16.98, is available online at www.LMLmusic.com, www.amazon.com, www.tower.com and iTunes. Cry-Baby's Elizabeth Stanley will play roller-skating muse Kira, and Les Misérables' Max von Essen will be the frustrated artist Sonny in the national tour of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical Xanadu. Stanley and von Essen will be joined onstage by Sharon Wilkins as Melpomeme, Joanna Glushak as Calliope and Larry Marshal as Danny with Tallia Brinson, Amy Goldberger, Vince Rodriguez III, Jason Michael Snow, Kristofer Stock, JB Wing, Julius Thomas III and Tiffany Topol. The Xanadu tour is expected to launch Nov. 11 at the La Jolla Playhouse, where it will reside through Dec. 21. A Chicago engagement is scheduled to begin Jan. 16, 2009, at the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place. For more information visit www.xanaduonbroadway.com.

Lauren Kennedy will direct a concert version of Jeremy Schonfeld's Drift Nov. 3 at BB King Blues Club & Grill. The performance will features the talents of Adam Pascal ( Rent), Hunter Parrish ( Spring Awakening), Jarrod Emick ( Damn Yankees), Julia Murney ( Wicked), Kris Coleman ( Jersey Boys), Karla Mosley ( Expatriate), Terrence Mann ( Beauty and the Beast, Les Miserables), Scott Coulter and Michelle Kinney. Show time is 8 PM. Produced by the PATH Fund, Inc., the evening will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights and Atlanta's Broadway Dreams Foundation. BB King Blues Club & Grill is located in Manhattan at 237 West 42nd Street. Tickets are $60, with standing room available at $30. For reservations visit Ticketmaster.com or call (212) 307-4141. For more information log on to bbkingsblues.com.

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