"I was about nine-and-a-half months pregnant, and my agent called and said, 'I have an audition for you. It's to be a waif-like club girl.'"
That's how Sarah Uriarte Berry began her involvement with the new Boy George musical Taboo, which begins previews Oct. 28 at Broadway's Plymouth Theatre. "Oh, that's nothing like me," Berry thought, "but I went [to the audition], and Rosie is really supportive of mothers and pregnancy, and she made me feel really comfortable. I heard the music and I read the scenes, and I was very attracted to the character and the sounds."
Berry spoke to me about her new role and her newest production — the six-month-old Madeleine Grace — at the recent press preview for Taboo. About the former, the new mother said, "My character is Nicola, originally Nicola Bateman, now Nicola Bowery. She is still with us [and] resides in London. She's a real person — she's into fashion and clubbing. She comes up with these fantastic, brilliant costumes and looks. She's actually an amazing seamstress: She does beading and sequining and all this incredible detail work, and she would come up with these fantastic looks. She hooked up with Leigh Bowery" — the character portrayed in the musical by George O'Dowd, aka Boy George — "in the clubs in London in the eighties. They developed a relationship. Even though he was strange and sort of slept with all sorts of people, they developed a very close bond and really loved each other. By the end of the show, she changes from being an obsessed fan of this amazing man to becoming a devoted and rather loving wife."
Berry, whose Broadway credits include Les Misérables and Beauty and the Beast, said that she had not seen the West End mounting of the musical when it played the intimate Venue. "My character is not in the London show," Berry explained. "She really existed, but they chose not to put her in that story, [but] for the Broadway company they added her." Charles Busch, in fact, is the man responsible for adding the character to the Broadway script. At the press preview Busch said, "My writing has always been so centered around female characters: In doing some research about Leigh Bowery, who's the other main character, I saw that the two main people in his life were these two women who were rather obsessed with him, who worked with him creatively and were so important in his life, and one of them he married. And they weren't really in the London Taboo, so I kind of created that whole new story. So, there's more of a female presence this time around." When asked whether portraying a person who is still alive poses a special challenge or affects her performance, Berry said, "I really am attacking this character as a character in a show, from a theatrical place. Nicola's sister, Christine, is the make-up and hair designer [of Taboo], so I have spoken with her some, just to get a little background information. But I've never met the real Nicola. I've seen video footage of her, so I can see some of her mannerisms. Some people are very theatrical just the way they are in real life. Philip Sallon, who Raúl Esparza is playing, [is] a really out-there, kooky, very theatrical person — you could almost do a direction imitation of him, and it works on a stage. Nicola's a bit more reserved. She's a little kooky, but she's a little more reserved, at least in the footage I saw, so I had to sort of take an essence of her and build a more theatrical character around that. On one of the videos I watched, she said, 'I hope I'm not portrayed as a doormat,' so I am trying to make her interesting and really have a heart and really be three dimensional. I hope she likes it."
Often cast in roles that require her rangy soprano, Berry gets a chance to cut loose in Taboo; in fact, her "Safe in the City" solo requires the actress to employ her powerful, high belt. Berry admits with a laugh, "Oh, I'm a musical theatre dork. I'm so straight-laced and conservative. In every show I've done, it's soprano, once in a while a little belting. I'm not cool, I'm extremely uncool. I don't go dancing, I've never been clubbing. I've never done any of that, so this has been a little bit of a stretch for me."
That said, however, Berry is enjoying the chance to show a different side of her talents. "It's terrifying, but it's sort of exhilarating at the same time. The music's amazing, it's fabulous, so you can't help get caught up!"
Taboo officially opens at the Plymouth Theatre (236 West 45th Street) on Nov. 13. Call (212) 239-6200 for tickets.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK The one-and-only Betty Buckley returns to the intimate cabaret stage of Feinstein's at the Regency Oct. 28. The Tony-winning Buckley will play the plush Manhattan cabaret through Nov. 8, and she has titled her newest show Journey. BB's evening will feature a mix of traditional and new standards by an eclectic mix of songwriters; in fact, cabaretgoers can expect to hear tunes by Sting, Marilyn and Alan Bergman, Michel LeGrand, Joni Mitchell, Richard Thompson, Leonard Cohen, Michael McDonald and Bob Seger. Feinstein's at the Regency is located at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. Buckley will play Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8 PM with late shows on Friday and Saturday nights at 11 PM. There is a $60 cover for all shows plus a $30 minimum. Call (212) 339-4095 for reservations or visit www.ticketmaster.com. . . . Taboo producer Rosie O'Donnell will be honored Dec. 7 at Los Angeles' Wiltern Theater. The former talk-show host will receive the Trevor Life Award at the sixth annual A Cracked X-Mas. O'Donnell will be presented with the award for her work in "children's advocacy and gay issues." The evening will feature musical and comedy performances and will benefit the Trevor Project, which promotes help and tolerance for gay youth. The non-profit organization was created by the filmmakers of the Academy Award winning short "Trevor." . . . Phylicia Rashad — who succeeded Bernadette Peters as the Witch in the original Broadway production of Into the Woods — will host the first fundraiser for The Hinton Battle Theatre Laboratory. The Oct. 27 benefit will be held in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse of the Samuel B & David Rose Building at Lincoln Center. The evening (6 PM for cocktails and dinner; 7:15 PM for the show) will feature a performance by Hinton Battle as well those by Angela Bofill, Cote de Pablo, Bahiyah Gaines, Savion Glover, Timothy Graphenreed, Jasmine Guy, Maurice Hines, Yah Ya Masi James, Stephanie Mills, T.S. Monk, Melba Moore, Phoebe Snow, Harold Wheeler and The Rhythm Nation Band. Tickets range from $300-$5,000 and are available by calling (212) 239-3145. The Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse is located at 70 Lincoln Center Place at West 65th Street. . . . Sally Ann Howes, who starred as Truly Scrumptious in the 1968 film "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," has joined the stellar line-up for Singular Sensations, the Broadway series set to debut Nov. 3 at the Village Theatre. Hosted by Glen Roven, who will also accompany the performers on piano, the intimate evenings will feature interviews and performances by the line-up of theatre artists. Tony Award-winning Hello, Dolly! star Carol Channing kicks off the series, Nov. 3. Howes, who was last on Broadway in James Joyce's The Dead, will take part in the series beginning Feb. 2. The complete list of Singular Sensations follows: Carol Channing: Nov. 3-9, Donna McKechnie: Nov. 10-16, Florence Henderson: Nov. 17-23, Kitty Carlisle Hart: Nov. 24-30, Lainie Kazan: Dec. 1-7, Elaine Paige: Dec. 8-14, James Naughton: Dec. 15-21, Shirley Jones: Dec. 29–Jan. 4, 2004, Betty Buckley: Jan. 5-11, Mickey Rooney: Jan. 12-18, Jane Powell: Jan. 19-25, Cy Coleman: Jan. 26–Feb. 1 and Sally Ann Howes: Feb. 2-8. Singular Sensations will play Mondays at 8 PM, Wednesday through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2 and 8 PM and Sundays at 3 and 7 PM. Tickets, priced at $50, can be purchased by calling (212) 307-4100. The Village Theatre is located in Manhattan at 158 Bleecker Street between Sullivan and Thompson Streets. . . . Destiny's Child singer Michelle Williams will join the Broadway company of Aida next month. Williams will replace another pop superstar — Toni Braxton — beginning Nov. 18. Braxton, who joined the Disney musical June 30, will play her final performance at the Palace Theatre Nov. 16. Williams said, "I think it's every performer's dream to one day be on a Broadway stage. To play Aida is a dream come true. I'm very excited for this opportunity. Aida is a woman with such strength, and there are so many things about her that I relate to. I love this character and can't wait to truly find her within myself." . . . And, finally, congratulations to Barbra Streisand, whose new recording, "The Movie Album," debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard charts. The Academy Award winner's new disc sold 162,000 copies during its first week on the shelves. The recording — which features classic and lesser known movie tunes — is Streisand's highest charting recording since her 1997 release "Higher Ground." "The Movie Album" — Streisand's 60th recording (!) — is her 53rd charting release.
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Oct. 28-Nov. 8 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 22 at the Dominican University in River Forest, IL
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Nov. 8 with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in Hartford, CT
Nov. 10 in The Three Leading Ladies of Broadway in Washington, DC
Dec. 13 in Arlington, VA
Jan. 17, 2004 in Asheville, NC
Jan. 31 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 8 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
Feb. 14 with Jason Graae in Palm Springs, CA
Feb. 26-28 with Jason Graae in West Palm Beach, FL
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
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Oct. 30 in Mostly Sondheim in Opelika, AL
Nov. 1 in Mostly Sondheim at the Ferst Center in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 22 in Mostly Sondheim Revisited at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Nov. 29 in Mostly Sondheim at the Paramount Theatre in Peeksill, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert:
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 1 at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord, NH ("Matters of the Heart")
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Jan. 23, 2004 at the Eissey Campus Theatre in Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Jan. 24, 2004 at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Karen Mason in Concert:
Nov. 15 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
Christiane Noll in Concert
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!