DIVA TALK: LuPone Soars, Akers Sings Standards and Snoopy! Delights

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

Patti LuPone
Patti LuPone

PATTI LuPONE

What a rare treat to hear Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone perform in the intimate confines of a New York cabaret. LuPone, whose career has been marked by triumphant performances on theatrical stages and in concert halls throughout the world, is currently returning to the cabaret stage for the first time in over two decades.

LuPone has entitled her new show at Feinstein's at the Regency The Lady with a Torch, yet it is anything but your usual presentation of torch songs. In a fast-paced, 60-minute evening, LuPone demonstrates that she is not only a tremendous actress and singer but also a terrific entertainer. She has fun with her audience, and she clearly loves the fact that they are within arms reach. She sits on a few laps, sings directly into the audience's eyes and, most importantly, makes you feel.

With gifted pianist Dick Gallagher at the piano, LuPone presents an especially eclectic array of torch songs. However, the songs are not presented in the typical my-man-done-me wrong-and-now-I'm gonna-slit-my-wrists fashion. In LuPone's hands, the approach is more my-man-done-me-wrong-and-now-I'm- gonna-slit- his-wrists! And, who would expect anything less from the fiery diva? LuPone is a red-blooded, emotional American gal, who draws on her Sicilian heritage to offer one of the most enjoyable cabaret evenings in recent memory.

Relating that her grandmother shot dead her cheating grandfather, LuPone goes on to deliver a thrillingly belty version of "Who's Sorry Now?" She also scored with a tough-as-nails version of that great Johnny Mercer revenge song, "I Wanna Be Around." Sure, there are more typical torch presentations — including touching versions of Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry" and Willard Robison and Larry Conley's little-heard "A Cottage for Sale" — and she also offers the best version of Harold Arlen's "Ill Wind" I've heard. In fact, you'll be amazed at the power of LuPone's voice. Twenty-five years after she made her name in the title role of Evita, LuPone's vocals sound as good as ever. She boasts a focused belt that she places and then lets reverberate, filling the room with a burst of sound; she clearly enjoys the power of her sound, and so does the riveted audience. Other highlights: Billy Barnes' "Something Cool," a moving "The Other Woman" and a sensational version of the Gershwins' "The Man I Love" that closes the show. LuPone returned to rapturous applause from the sold-out crowd to deliver two of her recent Can-Can show-stoppers, "C'est Magnifique" and "I Love Paris." Trust me, you don't want to miss this rare chance to see one of the theatre's finest in such a cozy setting — La LuPone is only holding fort at Feinstein's through next Saturday, April 24.

[Patti LuPone plays Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:30 PM with late shows on Friday and Saturdays at 11 PM. There is a $60 cover charge and a $30 minimum. Feinstein's at the Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. Call (212) 339-4095 for reservations.]

SNOOPY!

Kids of all ages reveled in the talents onstage during Monday night's benefit performance of Snoopy! for the Pied Piper Children's Theatre of New York City. The one-night-only event, featuring simple and effective direction by up-n-comer Ben Rimalower, boasted an impressive array of theatrical talent with musical direction by Seth Rudetsky.

Thoroughly Modern Millie's Christian Borle, whose wide-eyed onstage clowning reminds me of a male version of a young Carol Burnett, was perfectly cast in the title role. His manic energy, nimble footwork, comic timing and strong voice brought the role of the lovable, mischievous beagle to full canine life. Whether he was singing tunes like "Daisy Hill," embodying the stories of the "Great Writer" or reciting one-liners like "Who wants to eat dog food—it tastes like its sounds," Borle had the sold-out crowd in the palm of his hand (paw?).

However, it wasn't only Borle who triumphed; each of the actors had his or her moment in the spotlight. Tony Award winner Sutton Foster, who also co-produced the evening, managed to be comical and touching, often at the same moment. As Peppermint Patty, she scored in her two solos, her clear, powerful voice fully embracing "Hurry Up Face" in the show's first half and the lovely "Poor Sweet Baby" in the second. Avenue Q's Ann Harada was also dead-on as know-it-all psychiatrist-wannabe Lucy, once again displaying her innate comic sensibilities and her perfectly controlled Broadway belt in such numbers as "Dime a Dozen." Jennifer Cody made all her onstage moments as little Sally Brown count with her overflow of sass and spunk, and six-year-old McKinny Danger-James was adorable in her non-speaking role as Snoopy's sidekick Woodstock.

Little Shop's Hunter Foster and Bat Boy's Deven May also charmed as, respectively, the blanket-toting Linus and the forlorn Charlie Brown. "Why does a person own a dog, Linus?" asked May's Charlie Brown. "For security I guess — for the security of knowing there's at least one creature in the world that likes you," answered Foster's Linus. "But what if that creature walks off and leaves you?" "You don't let him leave you, Charlie Brown. You tie him up or lock him in the garage. You just don't understand security, Charlie Brown."

With music by Larry Grossman, lyrics by Hal Hackady and a book by Warren Lockhart, Arthur Whitelaw and Michael L. Grace, Snoopy! certainly isn't one of the all-time great musicals, yet it does have its moments, especially with this winning cast. Other highlights of the concert included Hunter Foster's all-night "Vigil" for the Great Pumpkin; Deven May's tender "Where Did That Little Dog Go?"; the elementary school-set "Edgar Allen Poe"; the group numbers "Clouds" and "When Do the Good Times Start?"; and the moving finale, "Just One Person."

James De Forte's choreography had a sense of merriment, and I was particularly touched by director Rimalower's staging of the opening and closing sequences, which featured members of the Pied Piper Children's Theatre joining the actors onstage. Overall, a joyful evening of terrific performances, which raised over $70,000 for the worthy organization.

KAREN AKERS

I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed when I first learned that Karen Akers was planning to perform an all-standards evening during what has become her annual stint at the Algonquin's Oak Room. Not that I don't enjoy hearing a standard or two or that Akers doesn't do them well, but what I most enjoy about cabaret is the chance to hear new songs or tunes that I might not have encountered elsewhere. And, in the two decades that I have been enjoying Akers' live performances, her repertoire has introduced me to the songs of Craig Carnelia, Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and Janis Ian while she also reimagined the works of Billy Joel and James Taylor to fit her unique style.

That said, however, I needn't have worried. Akers' new program, Time After Time, is far from a standard standards evening. Not only are there offerings in English, French and Italian, but Akers has unearthed a few "standards" I'd never heard before, including Bart Howard's "You Are Not My First Love" and Charles Trenet's "I Wish You Love," which features a lyric in French and English.

The stunning chanteuse began her program with a playful version of Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell" that included a final verse penned by the singer that allowed her to introduce her terrific musical director and accompanist, Don Rebic, in song. She followed with a seamless pairing of "Low & Lazy" and "I'm Beginning to See the Light" before launching into a gorgeous reading of "How Long Has This Been Going On?" that featured a verse I'd never before heard. The aforementioned "You Are Not My First Love" preceded one of the evening's highlights, the moving Kurt Weill-Maxwell Anderson Knickerbocker Holiday ballad "It Never Was You." Akers' rich, velvety tones combined with Anderson's lyrics created a haunting portrait of yearning for love.

Akers had great fun with Johnny Burke and Jimmy van Heusen's "Personality" before admitting "I'm Old Fashioned." She then bookended Jule Styne's "I Fall in Love too Easily" with the Rodgers and Hart classic "Falling in Love with Love," which had just the right amounts of anger and despair. Other highlights included a gorgeous version — in Italian — of "Unchained Melody" and the little-heard comic ditty "Comes Love."

And, noting that Stephen Sondheim has often said that he was influenced by the work of Oscar Hammerstein, the former Nine star performed a passionate medley of Sondheim's Passion anthem, "Loving You," and the great torch song from Kern and Hammerstein's Sweet Adeline, "Why Was I Born?" The sense of longing was palpable. She also scored later in the show with another Stephen Sondheim masterpiece, "Send in the Clowns."

Akers concluded her show with Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's "Time After Time" before returning for an especially belty version of the Piaf classic, "Hymne A L'Amour" ("If You Love Me").

Akers will continue her evening of standards through May 15. Though you may not be introduced to any brand-new tunes, it's a wonderful opportunity to get reacquainted with some great old friends.

[Karen Akers plays Tuesday-Thursday evenings at 9 PM with late shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 PM. There is a $50 cover charge for all shows as well as a $50 (Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 9 PM) or $20 (all other performances) minimum. The Algonquin Hotel is located in Manhattan at 59 West 44th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Call (212) 419 9331 for reservations.]

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Andrea McArdle, best known for her Tony-nominated performance in the title role of the original Broadway production of Annie, will take on the mammoth part of Gypsy's Momma Rose this summer. McArdle will play the infamous stage mother in a production in Houston, TX at the Bayou Theatre, June 15-20. Jason Eagan, one of the producers for Manhattan's Ars Nova Theater, will direct the musical, which will feature choreography by Ben Hartley. About casting McArdle, director Eagan told me, "Starting in the theatre so young, Andrea is a natural to evolve into a Momma Rose. She has a vocal stamina to match Merman and a tenacious understanding of the complexities of the role from her 25-plus years onstage and off." I also had the chance to speak with McArdle earlier in the week, who said, "I've always wanted to play [Rose]. Besides Annie Get Your Gun, Gypsy would probably have to be my favorite score ever. I'm so excited I can't stand it. I'm scared, but I'm really excited!" The actress with the clear, powerful alto also revealed that she almost appeared in the Angela Lansbury production nearly 30 years ago: "When Angela Lansbury did Gypsy in the early seventies, I got hired as young Louise, but my parents wouldn't let me go on tour, and I was very upset about that." A long time fan of the Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim-Arthur Laurents musical, McArdle has seen three different Broadway Roses. "I saw Angela Lansbury and I loved it. And, I saw the Tyne Daly revival and I saw Bernadette. I always love Bernadette. I was blown away for different reasons with all the performances. I saw her closing night, and Tyne Daly had no voice. I couldn't imagine her doing that role, [but] I just thought she was amazing...The concept [with Bernadette Peters] really does make a lot of sense because the tragedy in it is that you can see that she's the one who had the talent. The fact that it didn't happen for her and the fact that the kid she mistreated turns out exactly like her — you can't move." Tickets may be purchased by calling (281) 480-1617. For more information visit www.bahbt.org. . . . Liza Minnelli will be among the performers saluting the works of Duke Ellington at the Kennedy Center's 12th Annual Gala. Entitled Ellington Etc., the star-studded April 25 benefit will boast the talents of Minnelli, jazz violinist Regina Carter, Grammy- winning jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves, dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt, Emmy-winning singer Nancy Wilson, the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and dancers from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The annual spring gala begins with a reception at the Kennedy Center's Opera House at 5 PM followed by a 6 PM dinner on the Roof Terrace. The performance will begin at 8:30 PM followed by cocktails and dancing in the Roof Terrace Restaurant. Individual tickets for the Gala range from $500 to $1,000 with Gala packages priced $5,000-$50,000. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2700 F. Street, NW in Washington, D.C. For more information about the Gala, call (202) 416-8338. The Kennedy Center is located on the web at www.kennedy-center.org. . . . Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth, who stars as Glinda in the hit new musical Wicked, will leave that role this summer. Chenoweth, who won her Tony for her performance in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, will leave the new Stephen Schwartz musical when her contract expires July 18. No final date has been announced for Chenoweth's co-star, Idina Menzel. In addition to her upcoming Candide concerts with the New York Philarhmonic (she will be on leave from Wicked for the May 5-8 performances), Chenoweth has a full plate of post- Wicked activities. The singer-actress will make her solo Carnegie Hall concert debut Sept. 10, followed by a role in the movie musical "Asphalt Beach" helmed by Peter Spears. On Jan. 25, 2005, Chenoweth will join the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra at Carnegie Hall for an evening devoted to the Great American Song, and in 2006 she will star in the title role of a new opera based on Lewis Carroll's classic fairy tale "Alice in Wonderland" for the Los Angeles Opera. . . . Lincoln Center's acclaimed American Songbook series — devoted to the popular American song — continues May 17 with an evening featuring the works of Michael John LaChiusa. Entitled The Girly Show, the 8 and 10 PM concerts will include several of LaChiusa's favorite leading ladies. Those scheduled to perform include Carolee Carmello, who received an Obie Award for her work in the composer's Hello Again; Little Fish's Celia Keenan-Bolger; Julia Murney, who is currently starring Off Broadway in First Lady Suite; The Wild Party's Sally Murphy; Tony Award winner Michele Pawk, who appeared in Hello Again; Alice Playten, who won an Obie for her work in the original production of First Lady Suite; and Marie Christine's Mary Testa. The concert will include songs from such Michael John LaChiusa musicals as First Lady Suite, Hello Again, Marie Christine, The Wild Party, Little Fish and Lovers and Friends. Cabaretgoers can expect to hear brand-new tunes as well. Tickets are priced $45 (8 PM) and $30 (10 PM) and are available by calling (212) 751-6500 or by visiting www.lincolncenter.org. The concerts will be held in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse in the Rose Building at 165 West 65th Street, 10th floor. Visit www.lincolncenter.org for more information. . . . Josh Wood and Hedwig and the Angry Inch's John Cameron Mitchell will present an evening of music and comedy April 28 to benefit Freedom to Marry. Entitled WEDrock, the 9 PM concert at Manhattan's Crobar will include performances by Mitchell, Sandra Bernhard, Margaret Cho, Le Tigre, Sleater-Kinney, Bob Mould and performance artist Penny Arcade. Tony Award winner Alan Cumming will emcee the one-night-only event. Freedom to Marry is a gay and non-gay partnership working to win marriage equality nationwide. The group's main objective is "to bring new resources and a renewed context of urgency and opportunity to this social justice movement." Tickets for WEDrock are priced at $40 (general admission) and $125 (VIP) and may be purchased by calling (800) 494-TIXS or by visiting www.boxofficetickets.com. Crobar is located in Manhattan at 530 West 28th Street. . . . Phylicia Rashad, who is currently starring in the revival of A Raisin in the Sun at the Royale Theatre, will host the May 10 Broadway Inspirational Voices benefit concert. Entitled Songs for the Spirit: A Night of Gospel, Jazz and the Blues, the 7 PM concert will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The evening will feature the vocal talents of Broadway Inspirational Voices founder Michael McElroy; Miss Saigon's Billy Porter; Eden Espinosa, who currently understudies the role of Wicked's Elphaba; Caroline, Or Change's Adriane Lenox; Hairspray's Clarke Thorell and Shayna Steele; and Titanic's Bertilla Baker. The May 10 evening, which includes cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and the concert, will be held at Rootstein Mannequins at 250 West 19th Street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues. Tickets, priced at $150, are available by calling (212) 691-9668.

REMINDERS

Liz Callaway in Concert:

Now through April 17 in Relative Harmony in Los Angeles, CA
April 23 with Jason Graae in Sutter Creek, CA
April 24-25 with Jason Graae in San Rafael, CA
May 1 in Sibling Revelry in Orono, ME
May 8 in Sibling Revelry in Purchase, NY

Patti LuPone in Concert:

Now through April 24 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
May 5-8 in Candide with the NY Philharmonic in New York, NY
May 18-30 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA

Louise Pitre in Concert:

November 4 at the Brock Centre for the Arts in St. Catherines, ON
November 5 at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts in Oakville, ON
November 6 at the Dr. J.M. Ennis Auditorium in Welland, ON
November 11 at the Heritage Theatre in Brampton, ON
November 12 at the Imperial Oil Centre in Sarnia, ON
November 17 at the Markham Theatre in Markham, ON
November 20 at the Stockey Centre in Parry Sound, ON
November 21 at The Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, ON


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

Karen Akers
Karen Akers