DIVA TALK: A Fall/Early Winter Diva Season Preview

News   DIVA TALK: A Fall/Early Winter Diva Season Preview
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.

Women on the Verge's Patti LuPone, Sherie Rene Scott and Laura Benanti
Women on the Verge's Patti LuPone, Sherie Rene Scott and Laura Benanti Photo by Ethan Hill

For me, the season officially kicked off this past Monday, Sept. 13 when a copy of "Patti LuPone: A Memoir" arrived on my desk. Because I edit and write all week long, I usually save "reading for pleasure" for the weekends, but I have to admit I haven't been able to resist this autobiography, which was co-written with Digby Diehl for Crown Archetype. You'll laugh out loud at some of the Tony and Olivier Award winner's revelations, which include especially candid remarks about her work on the television series "Life Goes On," and marvel at the backstage stories behind her not-so-enjoyable experiences in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals Evita and Sunset Boulevard. I was particularly shocked by LuPone's battle with breast cancer — something she has not previously spoken about publicly — but was relieved to read she is now ten-years cancer free. And, thankfully, as we all know, the story has another happy ending with the actress' triumphant, Tony-winning turn in the recent revival of the American musical theatre classic Gypsy.

LuPone is also a major part of the new Broadway season: She is currently in rehearsals for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the musical adaptation of Pedro Almodóvar's Academy Award-nominated 1988 film, which begins previews Oct. 5 at the Belasco Theatre prior to an official opening Nov. 4. The cast of the Lincoln Center Theater production is a feast for diva lovers: Not only does the David Yazbek-Jeffrey Lane musical boast two-time Tony winner LuPone, the cast also features LuPone's Tony-winning Gypsy co-star, Laura Benanti, plus Everyday Rapture Tony nominee Sherie Rene Scott. Also in the cast are Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell, two-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein (South Pacific), Tony nominee de'Adre Aziza (Passing Strange), Tony nominee Mary Beth Peil (Nine, Sunday in the Park With George), Justin Guarini ("American Idol") and Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Seussical). If the musical is even half as exciting as the recently released promotional photos, I think LuPone has another hit on her hands!

Elaine Paige

Prior to the Breakdown, diva fans — this one included — will undoubtedly be making the trek to Atlantic City to catch the concert of West End leading lady Elaine Paige. Paige, who has been seen on the New York stage in Sunset Boulevard and Sweeney Todd, will play The Borgata Sept. 25 at 9 PM. For those who can't make the Atlantic City trip, fear not: London's original Eva Peron and Grizabella is currently in the recording studio laying down vocals for her new CD, which will feature duets with Sinead O'Connor, Barry Manilow, Olivia Newton-John, Johnny Mathis, John Barrowman, Paul Anka, Michael Bolton, Kenny G, Billy Ocean, LeAnn Rimes, Jon Secada, Neil Sedaka and Dionne Warwick.

And, before Paige pours out her golden voice for New Jersey audiences, the rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson will make its way from a recent, acclaimed Public Theater staging to Broadway. Previews of the coming-of age musical about our seventh Commander-in-Chief begin Sept. 20 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. Another recent Off-Broadway hit, The Scottsboro Boys — which also played a summer run at The Guthrie Theater — will arrive on Broadway Oct. 7 at the Lyceum Theatre. Directed and choreographed by Tony winner Susan Stroman, the musical is the final work of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb — the musical masterminds behind such Broadway classics as Chicago, Cabaret and Kiss of the Spider Woman — with a book by David Thompson. The all-male cast includes Broadway veteran John Cullum as well as American Idiot 's Joshua Henry. Opening night is scheduled for Halloween.

Although it is not a musical, The Pee-wee Herman Show (starring Paul Reubens), which will inaugurate the newly renamed Stephen Sondheim Theatre, will feature music by Jay Cotton and the work of renowned puppetry artist Basil Twist. The production, which begins previews Oct. 26, comes to New York direct from its sold-out run in Los Angeles. A holiday engagement of the new musical Elf, based on the motion picture of the same name, will play the Al Hirschfeld Theatre Nov. 2, 2010-Jan. 2, 2011. Sebastian Arcelus, currently in the Broadway production of the Tony-winning musical Jersey Boys, will head a cast that also features Amy Spanger as his love interest, Josie, with Tony-winning Drowsy Chaperone star Beth Leavel as Emily, Mark Jacoby (Sweeney Todd, Show Boat) as Walter, George Wendt ("Cheers," Hairspray) as Santa, Matthew Gumley (Addams Family) as Michael, Valerie Wright (Steel Pier) as Deb, Michael McCormick (Curtains) as Mr. Greenway and Michael Mandell (Big River) as the Store Manager. Tony Award nominee Casey Nicholaw will direct and choreograph the musical that has a book by Tony Award winners Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) and Thomas Meehan (Annie, Hairspray, The Producers) and a score by Wedding Singer songwriters Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics).

Julie Taymor and Reeve Carney
photo by Krissie Fullerton

The last new musical of the year will be the long-awaited production of Julie Taymor's Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, which begins previews Nov. 14 at the Foxwoods Theatre. Reeve Carney, who is the frontman for the L.A.-based rock band Carney, will play the web-spinning hero with recent Next to Normal actress Jennifer Damiano as his love interest, Mary Jane Watson, and Broadway veteran Patrick Page as Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin. Zane Carney (guitar), Jon Epcar (drums) and Aiden Moore (bass), who are also part of the rock band Carney, will be featured in the musical's orchestra.

New York's cabarets and clubs will also feature an array of multi-talented gals. Karen Akers, who has appeared on Broadway in the original productions of Nine and Grand Hotel, is currently focusing on the songs of Rodgers and Hart. Akers will offer Dancing on the Ceiling through Oct. 23 in the Algonquin's Oak Room. Cabaretgoers can expect to hear the acclaimed singing actress' renditions of "Where or When," "Isn't It Romantic?," "Dancing on the Ceiling," "The Lady is a Tramp," "This Funny World," "Falling in Love with Love," "A Lady Must Live" and "I Could Write a Book," among others. Andrea Marcovicci — the glamorous cabaret favorite who was recently seen in the York Theatre Company presentation of the musical Coco, will also play the Algonquin for her 24th consecutive season beginning Nov. 16. Her newest cabaret act is titled Blue Champagne: The History of the Torch Song, which the actress recently described as a "very yin-yang show. It's either very hilariously funny or very tragic, and it allows me to go back to my roots as a singer, because when I first started, I was really investigating the torch song. So it's a tribute to Ruth Etting and Libby Holman and Helen Morgan and my own mother, Helen, and in some ways it's reinvestigating myself and why I wanted to sing in the first place." And, yes, her 91-year-old mother, Helen Marcovicci, will make select Thursday-night appearances at the Algonquin. "As a matter of fact, she just asked me, 'Andrea, what song do you want me to sing at the encore?' 'Well, I think "Blue Prelude" would be appropriate, Mum.' . . . I heard that [song] when I was five. She's very well featured in the storyline of this show because growing up with a torch singer in the house is not exactly easy!"

The Carlyle will welcome Jessica Molaskey and John Pizzarelli Oct. 5-Nov. 6, and a host of talent will play Feinstein's at Loews Regency: Barbara Cook (with Michael Feinstein, now through Oct. 2), Lainie Kazan (Oct. 5-9), Kelli O'Hara (Oct. 19-30), Stefanie Powers (Nov. 16-20), Paula West (Oct. 12-16 and Nov. 23-27) and Ashley Brown (Nov. 28-29).

The sixth annual Broadway Cabaret Festival — created, written and hosted by Scott Siegel — will play Manhattan's Town Hall Oct. 15-17. The weekend of concerts will kick off Oct. 15 with Broadway Melody Makers. The 8 PM concert, featuring hummable Broadway tunes, will include the songs of Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Jule Styne, Cy Coleman and more. Currently scheduled to perform are Mary Testa, Tom Wopat, Nellie McKay and Ana Gasteyer. Tony Award winner Betty Buckley, who is also working on a new CD, will take centerstage Oct. 16 at 8 PM for a solo concert.  The series will conclude Oct. 17 at 3 PM with Broadway Originals. Nearly 20 artists — including Christiane Noll (Ragtime), Stephanie D'Abruzzo and John Tartaglia (Avenue Q) and Jo Sullivan Loesser (The Most Happy Fella) — will come together to revisit the songs that they made famous on the Broadway stage.

And, the year will end with an out-of-state production that I am eagerly awaiting. In fact, as some of the most phenomenal artists of the musical theatre got the chance to strut their stuff during the original London, Broadway, Canadian and German productions of Sunset Boulevard, there was one voice I kept hearing in my mind sing that Andrew Lloyd Webber score. As those productions closed, I figured my chance to hear that singular voice belt out "With One Look" or "As If We Never Said Goodbye" had vanished. So, when I heard the news that the great Florence Lacey would finally have the opportunity to play the deluded, former silent-screen star Norma Desmond, I was thrilled. Lacey, an original, fierce Evita (hunt down her cast recording of Evita), will step into the role of Desmond Dec. 7, 2010-Feb. 13, 2011, at the Signature Theatre Company in Arlington, VA. See you in Virgina — I can hardly wait to hear Lacey's "With one look, I'll be meeeeeeeeeee" or "I've come hoooooooome at last"! Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Florence Lacey as Norma Desmond
Florence Lacey as Norma Desmond Photo by Chris Mueller
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