DIVA TALK: Chatting with LuPone at Les Mouches's Leslie Kritzer Plus Rogers' Evita on Disc

By Andrew Gans
September 22, 2006

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

LESLIE KRITZER

Last season Leslie Kritzer received a rave in The New York Times and a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical for her often-hysterical performance as the dim-witted Pickles in The Great American Trailer Park Musical, and later this season she will be part of the new Broadway musical Legally Blonde, based on the film of the same name and featuring direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell. Before she returns to Broadway — Kritzer made her Main Stem debut as Shelly in the Tony-winning musical Hairspray — the big-voiced singing actress with a gift for comedy will head to Joe's Pub for what promises to be a diva lover's delight: Leslie Kritzer is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches.

Directed by Joy's Ben Rimalower — a long-time LuPone fan — the Oct. 4 concert (with encore dates Dec. 8 and 9) will re-create the Tony and Olivier Award winner's legendary concerts at the Manhattan nightclub Les Mouches. It was at the now-defunct club where LuPone played a record-breaking engagement of midnight Saturday shows during her run in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita. LuPone's Les Mouches musical director, David Lewis, will assume the same duties for Kritzer's evening, which will boast his original arrangements for such LuPone signature tunes as "Meadowlark," "Rainbow High" and "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" as well as "Because the Night," "Love for Sale," "Downtown," "Not While I'm Around" and "Come Rain or Come Shine."

Rimalower told me earlier this week that when he decided to direct LuPone at Les Mouches as a "sort of performance art piece, I immediately thought of Leslie because of the rich character work she does. Leslie can inhabit a personality, fiction or non, with striking conviction. I didn't want some tired spoof of Patti's diction for 70 minutes. Without even trying, Leslie has a similar vocal quality to a young Patti and a similarly electric energy on stage and off that makes the match really right." I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the multi-talented Kritzer, who spoke about her many upcoming projects; that interview follows.

Question: How did the idea of performing Patti LuPone's Les Mouches show come about?
Leslie Kritzer: Okay, so we're all Patti LuPone fans. [Director] Ben [Rimalower] is a crazy Patti LuPone fan. I'm a crazy Patti LuPone fan. It's funny, I've never seen her live except for when I just saw her in Sweeney Todd, [but] I grew up listening to her Evita recording — obsessed. So, long story short, Ben worked with Patti with [director] Lonny Price, met her, became friends with her, and talked to her about how he had heard audio recordings of Les Mouches, bootlegs. And, she's like, "Doll, I have a video." So she gave him a video, and he watched it, and he came up with the idea of doing it as a piece, and the person he thought of was me.

So, he called me, because we're friends, and he said, "I have this great idea. Come over!" I come over, and he explains it, and I was like, "No, no way! There's no way I'm doing this." [Laughs.] . . . So, I watched the video. And, still ten, fifteen minutes [later], "There's no way I'm doing this." Then I get through it, and he coaxes me along, [and] two hours later I'm like, "I have to do this!"

Q: What changed your mind?
Kritzer: What changed my mind is the fact that the piece itself is just amazing. David Lewis, who is [musical directing] our show — his arrangements, the way [the show] arcs, the numbers that he chose. . . . It stands on its own. It's so great. Of course, Patti, 1980, Evita — the sixth months running there — that's all part of the excitement. When you watch it, you're like, "Wow, this is such a hit!" But, really, as a piece by itself, it's really great. The music, the arrangements, they're incredible, and then you put Patti into the mix, and she's just amazing.

A lot of people haven't seen this, and acts like this don't exist anymore. What a great idea to breathe life back into it and do it with David and do an homage to her and bring myself into it. So, it's kind of like me meets Patti LuPone. I'm not doing an impersonation. It's not Forbidden Broadway. And, it's still a process. I'm still figuring out what I want it to be. I'm just learning the songs, and I'm definitely putting qualities of Patti into it. I'm definitely doing all the banter. I'm doing it very much how she did it, but I'm also putting me into it, so it's a performance-art piece. It's very much what Rufus Wainwright did with Judy Garland, but of course, there's going to be more Patti in mine than there was Judy in his.

Q: So, you are performing Patti's patter as well?
Kritzer: Oh, yes. Everything! . . . The work that [Patti and David] did together - it's so exciting. Of course, I'm biased, I'm a Patti LuPone fan. But I can also be objective. I sat back and looked at it and I thought, "This is just really fun." If you can be ready to go back and put yourself in 1980 — we're going to have something on the tables to explain exactly what it is and how long it ran so people know what to expect. It's not set in today's world. We're going back to 1980. We're doing it exactly how it was. . . . It's a theatrical piece, and that's how we're doing it. I'm just thrilled, and David has had to rewrite all the arrangements. Apparently, they got lost. They don't exist anymore, so he had to go back through all the stuff and rewrite everything. We took all these audio tapes that were basically falling apart and transferred them to CD and . . . now they're on my iPod. If anyone sees me in New York City with an iPod on, I'm playing Patti LuPone - it's 24/7 Patti LuPone. It's the Patti LuPone marathon! [Laughs.]

Q: It's a lot to learn in a month.
Kritzer: Yeah, and I'm also doing the NAMT festival, and auditioning and having some kind of life in between! [Laughs.] But I have always admired [Patti], and I really think that she's very special and very unique. . . .She was just so raw and young and just a force, and I'm so drawn to that. The women that I've looked up to have always been very strong, powerful, opinionated. . . I'm just so happy to bring it back and show it to a whole generation that would have never seen it. It's fun and campy. It has a whole mix of great things in it. And David Lewis is just incredible, and Ben came up with the idea. It's his idea completely.

Q: And Ben is directing . . .
Kritzer: We're taking [ideas] from the video. Basically, we're trying to make this show what the show would have been on its best night. The best of that six months. We're going to bring in things from the video — I'll get on top of the piano for "Squeeze Me" [like Patti did] — all things like that. . . . At that time she's young and she's at the top, and it's so exciting to see that. And they all just loved her, and they still love her. I saw her in Sweeney Todd, and I cried. I wanted to go see her backstage, but I was so moved by her performance and the show itself that I [thought], "I can't. I can't go talk to her." I've met her a couple times. She probably doesn't remember, [but I] told her she's one of the best musical theatre actresses / actresses I've ever seen. Of course, I watched her in "Life Goes On" all those years. I just think she's incredible, and I'm just happy to do it.

Q: It should be fun. I think it's going to be an event.
Kritzer: You can't go wrong, especially when you have the best intentions. It's not like I'm trying to be Patti LuPone. Patti LuPone is Patti LuPone, and I'm Leslie Kritzer, and I'm just kind of re-creating something that people should see.

Q: Let's talk about you a bit. Where were you born and raised?
Kritzer: I was born in Manhattan, and I was raised in Livingston, New Jersey.

Q: When did you start performing?
Kritzer: I was a classically trained pianist, and then I started moving into theatre and singing in middle school and high school, just doing the plays.

Q: When did you realize it would be your career? When did it change from a hobby to a profession?
Kritzer: It's kind of hard to explain because it's always what I did. When I got into high school I thought, "Well, of course I'm going to be a performer because that's what I do. I can make money doing this. . ." But I wasn't the star of my high school. My parents didn't drive me into the city like some other friends and audition for shows and get an agent. I had a normal, suburban life. My first community theatre show was with Stephen Oremus, believe it or not. We did Baby together at the Livingston Community Players. We grew up in the same town. I actually have a recording of that that's hilarious because I had the worst New Jersey accent ever! [Laughs.]

It wasn't a day that the light bulb went on - it was just like, "I'm going to go to school. I'm going to major in this, and I'm going to work." I'm not going to listen to my friends who are going to Cornell [who ask], "Don't you have a backup plan?" "I don't have a backup plan. There is no backup plan." And I did, and I got into school.

Q: Where did you go to school?
Kritzer: Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Q: What was your first professional job?
Kritzer: My sophomore year of college I did a season at the Muny in St. Louis. I got my Equity Card along with [Spelling Bee's] Lisa Howard. Chris Sieber was there — he had his Equity card before. I worked with him, Janet Metz. I did three shows in rep: South Pacific, Wizard of Oz and Joseph.

Q: Your bio says you starred in a production of Evita. Where did you play the lead role?
Kritzer: I did Evita at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in New York. It was awesome. Someone had said to me, "Yeah, but that's score's so hard to sing. Would you do it eight shows a week?" I said, "I'd do it gladly." It's one of the shows where it fits so perfectly in my voice that I would do it eight shows a week happily. Of course, get me into rehearsal, and I'd be like, "Okay, where's matinee Eva?!" [Laughs.] But it's one of the shows I just love. It's one of my top shows.

Q: Talk about your experience in Trailer Park, which brought you a Drama Desk nomination.
Kritzer: It was a great experience. We worked really, really hard, and the whole cast worked as an ensemble really well. The process of writing a new show and putting it up is difficult. It's a lot for the director and the writers, and also our writer was our director. It was a lot of work, but we had a blast. We had so much fun doing it. The changes were really cool . . . but it is challenging to see what works. For me, personally, especially with all the attention I got from it, I did not expect that. . . . When I got the nomination I was like, "What?!" I was happy to get some nice reviews, but I really didn't expect that much attention. It was pretty easy — I had a great director, and I had great material to work with, and I put on that blonde wig, and it just happened. It was so much fun, and I really wish it could have lasted longer.

Q: You made your Broadway debut in Hairspray. What was it like finally getting to Broadway? Did it seem much different than performing in other places?
Kritzer: No, the only thing that's different is the Broadway credit. You still have to work hard, you still have to be disciplined, you still have to show up to work on time and come to rehearsals and go to understudy rehearsals. It's the same thing - it's just on a bigger scale. Obviously, there's more money and more prestige, and a lot of people see you. And, it's great to be in the community. . . I remember my first time I went on [as Shelly] and when I went on for Tracy because I understudied a bunch of roles. That was cool. To go on as Shelly was great, but to go on as Tracy and be the star for one day was like, "Wow, okay, this is a little different!" I did Funny Girl [at the Paper Mill Playhouse] and other roles regionally and on tour, but [to play the lead on] Broadway was cool. When I went on [Hairspray co-star] Bruce Vilanch announced to the audience at the end of the show that this was my first time going on, and they stood up. It was just great. I just loved doing that show. Now I'm doing Legally Blonde with [director] Jerry Mitchell.

Q: What will you be doing in Legally Blonde?
Kritzer: I'm playing Serena. She's one of Elle's three crazy sorority friends.

Q: This will be your first time originating a role on Broadway.
Kritzer: Yeah, it's a small featured role, [but it's] very exciting, very fun.

Q: When do you start rehearsals?
Kritzer: Right after Thanksgiving.

Q: You were also the standby for Alice Ripley in the Kennedy Center's Tell Me on a Sunday. Did you ever get the chance to go on?
Kritzer: No. Alice had asked me if I wanted to. She's like, "Do you want to go on?" And I said no. She was so great in the role. We had such a good time. I have never had a better experience than I did with Alice. If I'm going to have a standby experience, I would standby for her again because she is so much fun. We would hang out like we knew each other forever. It was just the stage manager, the band and her and me. . . . I didn't need to go on. It was my first production contract. I loved being there Christmastime — I shopped my face off. It was nice to buy gifts for the crew. We just had a blast.

Q: Do you have a favorite role so far?
Kritzer: Well, Funny Girl, Fanny Brice.

Q: Would you like to play the role again at some point?
Kritzer: Yeah. It's been going around and around. Every year someone will say to me, "You know, we're thinking of bringing Funny Girl back to Broadway." Every year there's another resurgence of rumors. I feel really lucky to have played it in a great theatre. It was a great time for me, and it was just really wonderful, and it kind of jump-started my career here in New York. If I could do it again, it would be a blast, but I'm just happy that I had the opportunity to do it when I did.

Q: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Kritzer: I'm doing two shows in NAMT [National Alliance for Musical Theatre], Vanities and Jerry Christmas and then I'm doing a Jerome Kern concert at Town Hall and other concerts here and there.

Q: Do you think the Les Mouches show will be done again if the reception is good?
Kritzer: I think if the reception is good, we will probably extend. I'd like to do it again. [In fact, demand is already so high that two additional concerts were added this week: Dec. 8 and 9 at 11:30 PM.] We have interest in doing it a couple of different places outside of New York. There's maybe some interest in San Francisco while I'm out there for Legally Blonde, but it all remains to be seen after the fourth. . . . I just want to have a blast on the fourth, and if it extends great, and if it doesn't, it was still worth it.

[Leslie Kritzer is Patti LuPone at Les Mouches will be presented Oct. 4 at 9:30 PM (with encore dates Dec. 8 and 9 at 11:30 PM) at Joe's Pub, which is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Avenue. There is a $25 cover charge plus a food/drink minimum. Call (212) 239-6200 for reservations or visit www.telecharge.com.]

FOR THE RECORD: Evita

For those of us who grew up listening to the various Evita recordings - the original concept album with Julie Covington in the title role, the London cast recording with Elaine Paige as Eva, the Broadway cast recording starring Patti LuPone and the world tour highlights disc with Florence Lacey - the arrival of a new Evita is big news. So it was with great anticipation that this writer and admitted Evitaphile opened the Polydor CD of the 2006 London cast recording of the Andrew Lloyd Webber (music)-Tim Rice (lyrics) musical.

The newest production of Evita - currently playing London's Adelphi Theatre - is the first major staging not to utilize Hal Prince's original, Tony-winning direction. Instead, the musical about the life and untimely death of Eva Peron features brand-new staging by Michael Grandage with choreography by Rob Ashford. The current London production is also unique, as it boasts the first Argentinean actress (Elena Roger) to portray Eva either in the West End or on Broadway.

Of course, the fate of any production of Evita rests in the hands - or, more aptly, the vocal chords - of the woman playing the lead role, and Roger, a heretofore unknown actress outside her home country, greets the challenge head on and is blessed with her own brand of "star quality." In fact, from the moment Roger begins her portion of "Eva Beware of the City," it is obvious this is an Eva to be reckoned with: There is fire in her soul and voice, and there is no denying that this Eva will find her way to Buenos Aires.

Roger, it should be noted, possesses a strong accent, which produces an Eva that sounds unlike any of her predecessors. Her earthy, gritty belt rises to the demands of Lloyd Webber's score, which may be the most challenging role for a belter, as it requires the actress to sing in her uppermost belt for much of the show. If Roger's voice doesn't scale the heights quite as easily as Tony winner LuPone or have the lush quality of West End star Paige, she does well with the songs, managing to bring new life to the score while simultaneously adding a few flourishes - including new high notes that conclude an exciting, determined "Buenos Aires" and a show-stopping "Rainbow High."

Roger also delivers a lovely, understated "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," brings a nice bite to the "Waltz for Eva and Che" and is the first stage Eva to have the chance to perform the one new song penned for the Madonna Evita film, "You Must Love Me." Roger's interpretation of the latter is extremely moving, as is her deathbed "Lament."

As for the other roles, Matt Rawle is a less intense Che than his predecessors, though he sings the role well in a light tenor. Philip Quast's Peron is a sheer delight, bringing the most to his brief solos, including a wonderfully sung "She Is a Diamond." And, as Peron's young Mistress, Lorna Want brings the requisite dejection to "Another Suitcase in Another Hall."

This recording of Evita also features several new orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber, who were inspired to create an exciting new passage in "Buenos Aires" as well as new arrangements for "The Art of the Possible" and the penultimate "Montage" that are surprising improvements over the enjoyable originals.

One minor quibble: For some reason London Evas seem to get short shrift from the record companies. Both the Paige and the new Roger discs are highlights recordings, denying Evita fans the chance to hear all of Eva's vocal work. Most missed: "Eva and Magaldi," the introduction to "A New Argentina" and the second bedroom scene, "Dice Are Rolling."

DIVA TIDBITS
Sh-K-Boom Records will release the cast recording of the current Off-Broadway revival of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris in November. The 22-track CD will feature 77 minutes of tunes from the acclaimed revival at the Zipper Theatre. Additional songs from the show, which could not fit on the single CD, will be available for downloading on-line at iTunes. The Brel disc was recorded at Skyline Studios on 37th Street. In addition to the show's musicians, the CD will also feature guitar player George Petit and violinist Joe Brent. The recording will be available at the Zipper in October; Sh-K-Boom will release the disc — with original cast members Robert Cuccioli, Natascia Diaz, Gay Marshall and Rodney Hicks — at a date-to-be-announced in November.

The Italian Welfare League will honor Broadway favorite Melissa Errico with its 2006 Woman of the Year Award Oct. 14. Errico, most recently on Broadway in Amour, will be presented with her award during the League's Autumn in New York Luncheon and Fashion Show Oct. 14 at the St. Regis Hotel. The event, which begins at 11:30 AM, will also include the presentation of the Man of the Year Award to FDNY Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. In addition to her acting-singing credits, Errico teaches master classes at the LaGuardia High School and the Actors Center. She has helped raise money for Worldwide Orphans and recently created Lila Mamas, a mother's support group in downtown New York. The event will begin with a silent auction, followed by lunch and the fashion show. The latter will feature the work of Clifford Michael. Proceeds will help "Italian American children in poor health or who've suffered tragic events." The St. Regis Hotel is located in Manhattan at 2 East 55th Street. For tickets call (212) 861-8480. Visit www.italianwelfareleague.org for more information.

Daphne Rubin-Vega, the former Rent star who will be seen as Fantine in the upcoming Broadway revival of Les Misιrables, will release a new solo recording next month. On Oct. 17 "Redemption Songs" — on the Sh-K-Boom Records label — is scheduled to hit stores around the country. The recording is a collection of "original and diversely classic songs reflective of [Rubin-Vega's] experiences in life, love and motherhood." In a statement, the actress says, "Some of these songs were written when I experienced deep losses and incredible firsts. I was inspired to write again. It was a very 'fertile' time for creativity." For more information visit www.daphnerubinvega.com or www.sh-k-boom.com.

And, finally, a new compilation disc entitled "Andrew Lloyd Webber Divas" is scheduled to hit stores Sept. 26 on the Decca Broadway label. The 15-track CD features songs from Evita, The Phantom of the Opera, Sunset Boulevard, Aspects of Love, Jesus Christ Superstar and Song and Dance as well as one originally penned for the now-aborted project Phantom 2. Among the "divas" represented on the recording are Broadway favorites Betty Buckley ("Memory") and Patti LuPone ("Buenos Aires"), West End star Marti Webb ("Tell Me On a Sunday"), international recording artist Sarah Brightman ("Surrender"), Academy Award winner Barbra Streisand ("As If We Never Said Goodbye") and opera star Kiri Te Kanawa ("The Heart Is Slow to Learn"). When listening to the disc, you will probably notice one surprising error: the back cover and liner notes state that "Rainbow High" is performed by Elaine Paige; it is actually Julie Covington's version from the original recording of Evita.

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