PLAYBILL PLAYLIST: Randy Graff, Julia Murney, Cady Huffman and The Act Cast Pick Favorite Songs by Kander and Ebb

By Michael Gioia
March 26, 2014

The concert version of Kander and Ebb's one-woman Liza Minnelli vehicle The Act, featuring Cady Huffman, Julia Murney, Anna Chlumsky, Randy Graff and more, will be held April 3-4 at 54 Below. In anticipation of the concerts, the cast pick their favorite songs by Kander and Ebb as part of this week's Playbill Playlist.



Will Nunziata will direct the concerts that will benefit The Actors Fund. Daniela Candillari will musical direct with choreography by Jessica Redish.

Concerts will be held April 3 at 7 PM and 9:30 PM and April 4 at 8 PM and 11 PM.

Kander and Ebb's The Act in concert will also premiere several songs cut from the piece. Songs in the night-club set musical include "The Money Tree," "Arthur in the Afternoon," "City Lights," "Shine It On, Bobo's," "It's the Strangest Thing," "My Own Space" and more.

In addition to Huffman, Murney, Graff and Chlumsky, the concerts will feature Karen Mason, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Stacie Bono, Rachelle Rak (excluding April 4 at 11 PM), Mamie Parris, Carole J. Bufford, Elizabeth Ann Berg, Jennifer Malenke and Will Porter.

There is a $50 cover charge and a $25 food and beverage minimum. 54 Below is located at 254 W. 54th Street. Tickets and additional information are available at 54Below.com.

 Will Nunziata: "Go Back Home" from The Scottsboro Boys. The song's beautiful melody and lyrics juxtaposed with the fact that it's sung by "the boys" while awaiting execution makes this one of Kander and Ebb's most haunting tunes for me. Every time I hear Audra McDonald sing this song, I get chills. Her ability to add her own personal and emotional touch to it devastates me every time I hear her sing it.

Elizabeth Ann Berg: "First You Dream" from Steel Pier. Not only is the melody stunning but, in the cheesiest way, I've always loved the message. All performers are following their dream daily, but this song touches on how everything in life starts with a vision. I love any song that's a reminder to live every day to the fullest and dream big. If that's too cliché for you, come on, listen to that MELODY! My favorite clip of this song is sung by Audra. Like usual.

Stacie Bono: "Go Back Home" from The Scottsboro Boys is a powerfully poignant number, and I think one of Kander and Ebb's finest. As they often did in their musical collaborations, beautiful melodies and clever lyrics are used to take taboo, uncomfortable subjects and emotionally engage the audience with the topics. They have mastered the art of stimulating social awareness through high quality entertainment. The seemingly simple sentiment of "Go Back Home" has a profound effect on me, and I believe anyone who ever longs for the comforts and safety of home.

Carole J. Bufford: "Mein Herr" from "Cabaret" (the movie, starring Liza Minnelli). It's impossible to pick my favorite, but this one is certainly high on the list. The perfect marriage of performer, choreography and music. Not to mention direction and editing. "Mein Herr"'s seductively nasty lyrics and style are perfectly interpreted by the one and only Liza Minnelli. Nobody does it better… "You'll never turn the vinegar to jam, Mein Herr."

Daniela Candillari: "City Lights" from The Act. The atmosphere and the mood that the song evokes always reminds me of my childhood. As a young girl, I used to dream of someday hopefully coming to NYC and being able to make music here with all these great artists. On a very personal level, this song is a reminder of where I've been and where I am now.

Anna Chlumsky: "Mr. Cellophane" from Chicago. "Mr. Cellophane" is my favorite, because THAT GUY never gets a song, and they gave him one. It's effortless to listen to, although I'm sure it wasn't easy to write. How do you make an audience believe someone's invisible when they're looking right at him? Yet this song accomplishes just that. The song works best when performed by someone you really believe is THAT GUY. John C. Reilly's is unmatched, as far as I'm concerned.

Susan Davison: "When You're Good to Mama" from Chicago. How can you possibly pick just one? Impossible. But one of my favorite performances of a Kander and Ebb song is "When You're Good to Mama" from Chicago sung by Lillias White. Why? Because, well, it’s Lillias, and it's a great song.

Randy Graff: "A Quiet Thing" from Flora the Red Menace. …Because it is! "Happiness comes in on tip toe."

As a woman in her 50s, this is what I have come to learn whenever something mind-blowing happens to me. And, that's when I know it is REAL.

Fred Ebb's perfect lyrics cut straight to the heart, and John Kander's music makes me want to dance with my husband at our wedding all over again.

Selena Jones' version on YouTube is my favorite because hers is a mature, soulful voice who has been through it and discovers true happiness quietly.

"Well, whataya know"… is right.

Cady Huffman: "First You Dream" from Steel Pier. It's a beautiful, uplifting song, and my friend, Daniel McDonald, sang it. He made everyone around him feel special, and I like thinking about him singing this song.

Nikka Graff Lanzarone: "All That Jazz/Hot Honey Rag" from Chicago. This is the YouTube link to the 1997 Tony Award performance of "All That Jazz/Hot Honey Rag" from Chicago. I remember watching it so vividly and thinking "OH MY GOD I HAVE TO SEE THIS SHOW." And, I finally did, in 1998. I was in freaked-out rapture throughout the entire performance and kept looking around to make sure that the audience was actually watching the same show I was. After that, I only had one thought: "please, please, please, please, please let this show run long enough so that maybe one day I get to be in it."

Fast forward 13 years and 15 auditions, and I finally did get to be in it. My agents told me that in person, and they used that YouTube video as I walked into the office to tell me that my dreams were about to become reality. So that's why it's my favorite. I told you it was dorky.

Jen Malenke "But the World Goes Round" from New York, New York. My favorite is "But the World Goes Round" because it reminds me that no matter what is going on in the moment, everyone in the entire world has felt the same emotions at some point in their lives. And that this, too, shall pass. It gives perspective to our problems, but it also allows us to go through and experience our emotions fully; it just reminds us that no matter what heartache is happening, our choices can be based on the fact that it can and will get better. And, who better to sing it than Liza?

Karen Mason: "My Coloring Book." How can I choose just one favorite Kander and Ebb song? If I have to choose, my favorite to sing is "Colored Lights." However, my favorite video is Barbra Streisand singing "My Coloring Book." When I was younger, I saw her sing on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and remember being blown away by the wonderful drama of the song and of the performance!

Julia Murney: "Colored Lights" from The Rink. I think John and Fred are oddly underrated — their songs are layered and difficult, even when they seem light and simple. I love singing "Colored Lights." It's a great story song, and Fred's lyrics are immediately evocative to me (my favorite is "I was sitting chewing cashews off the starboard bow-that sunset, wow")…

Mamie Parris: "I Don't Care Much" from Cabaret. Barbra's version is haunting and lovely. I love the dark tone of the piece and the careless attitude it demands of the heroine. It evokes a cold, urgent romance in a desperate time and place but with a hint of playfulness. It's lovely, subtle melody only enforces the lyric, making the whole song "sing" on its own. Like so many Kander and Ebb songs, its artistry is a gift to the singer, not a task. I identify with it, and I'd love to sing it someday.

Will Porter: "Ring Them Bells." Here's what I got: If I had to pick one — just one — I would choose "Ring Them Bells." Every New Yorker has a story of pure happenstance, whether it's meeting your next door neighbor in Dubrovnik, or seeing Al Roker scramble to hail a cab as your parents scream his name across an empty street… That actually happened to me. Al, if you're reading this, you were wise not to stop. As for my favorite clip, come on. Liza With A Z nails it.

Rachelle Rak: "Ring Them Bells." When I was 14 I saw Liza in Atlantic City performing her one-woman show. This was in 1984. She sat in a director's chair and sang "Ring Them Bells" without moving a muscle. It was all in her eyes. I was mesmerized and knew I had to learn how to do that if it was possible. She changed my life forever.

Fast forward…

While performing in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, on a dinner break headed up 9th Ave to Taco Chino, I walked passed Starbucks and saw a handsome man in the window and thought, "Maybe I will go in for an ice tea," and so I did. We made eye contact, but nothing happened, and I was hungry, so I left, and I went to Taco Chino for some food. Of course on my way back past Starbucks, I didn't take a second look… I figured he had his chance. Haha! I stopped at the deli on 45th and 9th before going home. When I came out of the deli that handsome man was there, and he said to me, "Didn't I see you somewhere?" Haha! I said, "Ya, Starbucks." (With a hint of sass.) He followed up with, "Do you live around here?" And, I said, "I live at 348 W. 45th St." And, he said, "Wow, I live at 351 W. 45th St."

I then said, "I am about to break into a song called 'Ring them Bells.' He, of course, had no idea what I was talking about. He is not in show business, but he quickly learned. From that night on I told the ladies at the theatre, "Ladies, you have to look up and say hello and follow your instincts." Now, that handsome man, Andy Hoey, is my husband, and we are going to be having a little girl in May. Thank you, Kander and Ebb. Thank you, Liza. And, thank you, New York City.

Jessica Redish: "Where You Are" from Kiss of the Spider Woman. The way the song moves from scene to song to dance thrills me every time I hear it. I love how it emerges so beautifully and organically from the story and how surprising and infectious the rhythms are. It always makes me want to dance. I love how the song speaks of how art can inspire our imaginations and transport us, no matter where we are.