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.

Bernadette Peters in Follies.
Bernadette Peters in Follies. Photo by Joan Marcus

I have to say, I can't remember a fall that boasted New York stage appearances by Betty Buckley and Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige and Bernadette Peters. It is a superfecta for diva lovers!

The diva-filled season is already in full swing now that the Kennedy Center's critically acclaimed production of James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim's Follies, which played its final performance at the Washington, DC, venue June 19, is in previews at Broadway's Marquis Theatre prior to an official opening Sept. 12. And, what a cast! Leading the reunion of former follies stars is two-time Tony winner Peters as Sally Durant Plummer, whose work, in DC, built from a hauntingly moving "In Buddy's Eyes" through a soaring "Too Many Mornings" to what may be the definitive version of the torchy "Losing My Mind." She is joined on stage by a bevy of other thrilling gals, including four-time Tony nominee Jan Maxwell, who, as Phyllis Rogers Stone, delivers a rage-filled "Could I Leave You?" that is as emotionally powerful as one will ever hear;

Jan Maxwell in Follies.
photo by Joan Marcus

Olivier Award winner Elaine Paige, who, as Carlotta Campion, belts out a sensationally exciting "I'm Still Here" (let's hope Paige gets to make her solo Manhattan concert debut during her latest U.S. stint); Grammy and Emmy Award winner Rosalind Elias as Heidi Schiller; the terrifically talented Florence Lacey as Sandra Crane; Tony Award nominee Susan Watson as Emily Whitman; and Terri White, who was recently married on the stage of the St. James Theatre, as Stella Deems with newcomers Tony Award nominee Jayne Houdyshell as Hattie Walker and Tony Award nominee Mary Beth Peil as Solange LaFitte. And, of course, there are also wonderful performances given by two-time Tony nominee Danny Burstein as Buddy Plummer and three-time Emmy Award nominee Ron Raines as Benjamin Stone. This cast, coupled with Sondheim's magical score, makes this Follies a must-see.

In October Broadway will welcome its first revival of John-Michael Tebelak and Stephen Schwartz's Godspell, which is billed as "a hip musical re-telling of the New Testament's Gospel of Matthew." Previews for the production, which will feature direction by Daniel Goldstein and choreography by Tony Award nominee Christopher Gattelli, begin Oct. 13 at Circle in the Square Theater. The cast will be headed by Hunter Parrish ("Weeds," Spring Awakening), Telly Leung ("Glee," Pacific Overtures, Flower Drum Song), Uzo Aduba (Coram Boy), Nick Blaemire (Cry-Baby) and Morgan James (Wonderland, The Addams Family), who will perform such Schwartz favorites as "Day by Day," "Turn Back, O Man," "Learn Your Lessons Well, "Prepare Ye the Way," "Light of the World" and many more.

Jeremy Jordan and Laura Osnes in Bonnie and Clyde.
photo by Frank Atura

Broadway audiences will have the chance to watch good girl Laura Osnes (the hopelessly devoted Sandy in the most recent revival of Grease, cockeyed-optimist nurse Nellie Forbush in Lincoln Center Theater's revival of South Pacific and, currently, Hope Harcourt in the Tony-winning Anything Goes, for which she was a Drama Desk nominee) go bad in the new Frank Wildhorn musical Bonnie and Clyde, which will begin previews Nov. 4 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre with an official opening scheduled for Dec. 1. Her co-star in the new rockabilly-and-blues-infused musical about the Depression-era American outlaws is Jeremy Jordan (Broadway's West Side Story, Rock of Ages), who will first be seen in the Disney musical Newsies at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse; both musicals feature direction by Jeff Calhoun.

Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin
photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Ever since they lit up the Broadway Theatre in the original production of Evita, the innumerable fans of Tony winners Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, who created the roles of Eva Peron and Che, respectively, have been hoping for a Broadway reunion of those two mega-talented actors. Well, over 30 years later, the duo will be seen in An Evening with Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, their much ballyhooed concert act that will begin performances at Broadway's Ethel Barrymore Theatre Nov. 16, open Nov. 21 and continue through Jan. 13, 2012. Featuring Paul Ford on piano, the musical evening will include songs from Evita, Company, Merrily We Roll Along, Carousel, Follies, Gypsy, South Pacific and more. It's a great opportunity to hear this dynamic duo perform songs from shows they shone in on Broadway and from those they never had the chance to previously explore. (Interestingly, the fall features both original Evitas, London's Paige and Broadway's LuPone; come spring, the revival of that Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical, starring Elena Roger, will follow Paige into the Marquis Theatre.)

December will see the openings of two musicals: a revised revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, starring Harry Connick Jr., Chicago actress Jessie Mueller and David Turner, which will begin previews at Broadway's St. James Theatre Nov. 12 toward a Dec. 11 opening; and the Broadway transfer of the hit Off-Broadway musical Lysistrata Jones — the pop musical take on an ancient Greek classic, now reset in the world of college cheerleaders and basketball players — which will open at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre Dec. 14 following previews from Nov. 12. Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening) directs the former and devised the musical's new gender-bending plot, while the latter features a book by Tony Award nominee Douglas Carter Beane (Sister Act, The Little Dog Laughed), a score by Lewis Flinn and direction and choreography by Dan Knechtges.

Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess.
photo by Michael Lutch

Prior to the New Year, Broadway audiences will also get their first taste of the eagerly awaited American Repertory Theater production of the George Gershwin-DuBose Heyward folk opera Porgy and Bess, which will arrive on Broadway Dec. 17 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. The production, which began performances earlier this week at A.R.T. in Cambridge, MA, stars Norm Lewis (Sondheim on Sondheim, Side Show, Les Miserables) as Porgy and multiple Tony winner Audra McDonald (Ragtime, Marie Christine, Master Class) as Bess. Lewis possesses what may be the greatest voice of any male actor on Broadway, and McDonald's soprano is heaven-sent, so one can only imagine the sound that will be produced when their voices blend together. The show, which has been "specifically created for Broadway and will feature a revised book in a musical theatre format and jazz-oriented musical arrangements," will also feature David Alan Grier (The First, Race, Dreamgirls) as Sportin' Life with direction by A.R.T. artistic director and Tony Award-nominated Hair director Diane Paulus.


Tony winner Betty Buckley

Manhattan's more intimate cabaret stages will also feature equally exciting fare. Tony winner and Olivier Award nominee Betty Buckley will weave a spell around Manhattan audiences Oct. 4-29 at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. The star of Cats and Sunset Boulevard — who will release her latest solo recording, "Ghostlight," which was produced by T Bone Burnett, in February 2012 — has titled her latest collection of songs Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway, and she will focus her many talents on Broadway uptempo tunes originally written for men. Buckley will be followed at Feinstein's by veteran performer Marilyn Maye, who will sing for her supper Nov. 1-12. Two-time Tony winner Bebe Neuwirth, most recently seen in Broadway's The Addams Family, will go it solo at Feinstein's Nov. 15-26. And, the season will conclude with a pairing of Michael Feinstein and Barbara Cook, Nov. 29-Dec. 30. Over at the Cafe Carlyle, Tony and Emmy Award winner (and resident leading lady) Elaine Stritch will open the fall season in a three-week engagement beginning Sept. 13. Elaine Stritch At Home at the Carlyle: Singin' Sondheim... Again. Why Not? will continue through Oct. 1. Husband and wife singing duo John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey will also spend the month of November in residency with an all-new program running Nov. 1-26.

There are two shows scheduled for the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room season, which kicks off Aug. 30-Sept. 10 with Emily Bergl's Kidding on the Square, that are of particular interest to this diva lover. The first is from cabaret veteran Karen Akers, who appeared on Broadway in the original productions of Nine and Grand Hotel. Akers will turn her attention to the songs of Stephen Sondheim in her new show Live, Laugh, Love: Akers Sings Sondheim, which runs Sept. 27-Oct. 29. The Tony nominee, whose voice has been described as "silver bells wrapped in velvet," has only performed a handful of Sondheim tunes during her career — including "Send in the Clowns," "Not a Day Goes By" and "I Never Do Anything Twice" — so I am eagerly awaiting an entire show of Akers singing the work of the Broadway master. She will be followed by cabaret favorite Andrea Marcovicci, who returns to the Oak Room for her record-breaking 25th anniversary Nov. 15-Dec. 30. In her new show, which is titled No Strings, the singing actress will take audiences "on a wonderful trip around the world. It's a journey about life on the road — a warm, funny, heartfelt, and candid tale of Andrea's time spent traveling from city to city and what that bittersweet time has meant to her as a singer, an actress, a wife and mother. It's an odyssey that flows from the romance of Andrea's favorite places to unexpected bumps in the road resulting in some pretty wacky stories."

Whether you prefer your evenings in a cozy cabaret or in a Broadway house with a full orchestra, get out there and catch one of your favorite gals!

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

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