It is highly appropriate that Betty Buckley should have titled her newest concert program Portraits. I've always felt that Buckley, one of the finest singing actresses that the Broadway musical theatre has ever produced, approaches her material with the skill of a masterful painter. She is wholly unconcerned with renditions of songs that have come before her own and comes to each as an artist would a blank canvas, bringing her unique gifts to the lyric and melody at hand.
If an artist has a palette of colors to choose from, Buckley has her own enormous array of vocal colors. There's aquamarine, azure, indigo, navy, royal, sapphire and turquoise, and that's only for singin' the blues. There are also the velvety browns of her chest voice, the smooth soft yellows of her head tones, the off-whites of her whispers, the dark black of her growls and the soaring, fiery reds of her wide-ranging belt. Yet, it is not just the voice that creates such magic, it is her consummate acting skills as well as her intelligent choice of material. Like a pointillist painting, all these elements somehow combine to form a masterwork, and audience members can't help but sit back and become mesmerized by the world of her artistry.
Buckley began her hour-long program of Portraits this past Tuesday night with a lilting medley of "As Time Goes By" and "Where or When" that climaxed in a full-voiced "Time After Time." The Tony Award winner then explained that when she first began working with long-time musical director — jazz pianist Kenny Werner — she brought him a copy of Monet's "Water Lillies" to suggest the mood she hoped his arrangement of "The Very Thought of You" would convey. Buckley then proceeded to let her gentle tones caress Werner's rendition of the haunting Ray Noble tune.
The Tony Award winner, who now divides her time between Texas — she recently purchased a ranch in Fort Worth, a cutting-horse and traded in her BMW for a red diesel truck — and New York, told the audience that she has been listening of late to the music of singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett. She then had fun with Lovett's "M-O-N-E-Y" and proceeded to move the crowd with three songs combined to offer a stirring portrait of love: Leslie Bricusse's "When I Look Into Your Eyes," Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's "If I Never Knew You" and Leonard and Martin's "Why Did I Choose You?" One of the highlights of the evening followed, Buckley's extremely poignant rendition of Richard Thompson's "Dimming of the Day," which explores a love lost. She then offered a portrait of small-town America in Mary Chapin Carpenter's charming "I Am a Town." Buckley belted the blues in the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer classic "Blues in the Night" and then dazzled with Adam Guettel's "How Glory Goes." Her belt was particularly exciting on Guettel's contemplation of life's many questions. A pairing of two songs from "Cold Mountain" — "You Will Be My Ain True Love" and "The Scarlet Tide" — preceded Sting's "Fragile," another high point.
Buckley illuminated her definitive rendition of Amanda McBroom's "Dreamin'" with a wealth of emotion and concluded her evening with a touching portrait of friendship and time with a medley of Lyle Lovett's "Pontiac," Paul Simon's "Bookends" and the North/Zaret standard "Unchained Melody." She returned for a belted-to-the-rafters version of Lerner and Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live" and "I Could Have Danced All Night." Buckley was particularly thrilling, belting, "I could have danced, danced, daaaaaanced, all niiiiiiiiight!"
Buckley will continue holding fort at the Carlyle through March 27. Don't miss your chance to be swept up by the actress' compelling Portraits.
(The Café Carlyle is located in Manhattan at 35 East 76th Street at Madison Avenue. For reservations, call (212) 570-7189.)
DIVA THOUGHTS: I'd have to give the Good Sport of the Week Award to former Jane Eyre star Marla Schaffel, who attended the March 7 performance of Tom D'Angora's "Divas I've Done" program at Don't Tell Mama. The premise of diva lover D'Angora's show is to help this self-confessed show queen decide who is his number one diva. Is it Schaffel or Aida's Maya Days or Little Shop's Ellen Greene or the legendary Liza Minnelli? Backed by three women belters (Cara LaGreen, Noel Cody and the fierce Stephanie Harwood), D'Angora offers his humorous comments about and experiences meeting all four women with song parodies — rewritten Forbidden Broadway-style — interlaced. His "Somewhere That's Green" — redubbed "Somewhere That's Pink" — is especially amusing. D'Angora, who will soon receive a Back Stage Bistro Award for his show, explained that he was having difficulty writing an acceptance speech and thought, instead, he would simply recite the speech Schaffel delivered when she won the Drama Desk Award for Jane Eyre. It was particularly enjoyable to watch Schaffel's reaction as D'Angora proceeded to recite, word for word, her acceptance speech. I also wondered what the actress must have been thinking during D'Angora's "If I Were a Rich Man" parody ("If She Won the Tony"), which pondered how Schaffel's career might have taken off had she not lost the Tony Award to 42nd Street's Christine Ebersole. Toward the end of the evening, D'Angora brought Schaffel onstage to accept the Tommy Award for Best Actress in a Touring Production (she was Maria in a recent Sound of Music) and even persuaded her to join him in a duet of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," which brought the audience to its feet. Schaffel seemed to be enjoying herself immensely, and I thought she sounded lovely on the Streisand standard. By the way, Schaffel was voted D'Angora's number one diva, and D'Angora just announced that he has added two more evenings of "Divas I've Done," April 6 and 13 at 9 PM. Diva lovers won't want to miss his appealing evening; for reservations call (212) 757-0788. Visit www.tomdangora.com for more information.
Howard Kissel's Daily News review of the New York City Opera production of Sweeney Todd starring Elaine Paige:
". . . Elaine Paige, who created the title role in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita both on the record [actually, Julie Covington actually created the role on record] and in the London production (also originally directed by Prince), but who has been seen in New York only in Sunset Boulevard, has been cast as Mrs. Lovett, who bakes human remains into her meat pies. To call her performance absolutely delicious, given the circumstances, might seem like bad taste. Nevertheless, it is. It is no surprise that she gives the role the benefit of her impeccable comic timing, but she also has great musicality that enhances the dark humor. . ."
The Hollywood Reporter's Robert Osborne revisits the revival of Gypsy starring Bernadette Peters:
"Something to shout about: Bernadette Peters in Gypsy at the Shubert. What's that you say? It's true, the show's in its 11th month and, yes, a closing notice was posted a few weeks back, then unposted after a spurt in business. And, again yes, in its initial prevue weeks and even on opening night, Bernadette P. was a thoroughly feisty, serviceable and intriguing Mama Rose but — at least to my eyes and ears — an extremely odd choice to be playing the show's famously monstrous mama. (No one has ever held a candle to B.P. as an adorable boop-oop-a-dooper, but casting her as this show's monster mother seemed akin to finding Elaine Stritch in a ballet.) But the gratifying news is that Ms. Peters has been doing what great stars do in a long run. She's grown, and how she's grown, in polishing, perfecting and taking complete command of one of the toughest roles yet written in musical theater. She is now a knockout in the part, thoroughly convincing, dynamic, persuasive — and while still her own woman, still thoroughly Bernadetteish. She now also sings those great Sondheim-Styne songs probably better than anyone has since Ethel Merman first belted them and makes this current Gypsy a musical that deserves to be a first stop for anyone looking for a great evening on Broadway. Do miracles still occur? One is happening right now on 44th Street."
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Grand Hotel's Karen Akers will return to the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room next month. Akers, who received a Tony Award nomination for her work as Luisa in the original production of Maury Yeston’s Nine, will play the famed Oak Room, April 6-May 15. The statuesque chanteuse has entitled her new show "Time After Time" and will feature songs by Stephen Sondheim, Alex North, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe. The spring will also see the release of Akers' latest solo CD. Entitled "If We Only Have Love," the recording will include songs from her acclaimed concert act, "Theatre Songs." At the Algonquin, Akers will play Tuesday-Thursday evenings at 9 PM with late shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 PM. There is a $50 cover charge for all shows as well as a $50 (Thursday, Friday and Saturdays at 9 PM) or $20 (all other performances) minimum. The Algonquin Hotel is located in Manhattan at 59 West 44th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Call (212) 419-9331 for reservations. . . . Three time Olivier Award winner Maria Friedman, who was recently cast in the title role of Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical The Woman in White, is set to return to New York's Café Carlyle March 30. The award-winning actress/singer will present Maria Friedman: By Special Arrangement March 30-May 1 at the New York cabaret. Friedman made her New York cabaret debut in September, also at the Carlyle, with a program entitled From London to New York. For her upcoming engagement, Friedman will again be accompanied on two pianos by Chris Walker and musical director Michael Haslam. Cabaretgoers can expect to hear such tunes as West Side Story's "Somewhere," Lady in the Dark's "One Life to Live" and Sunday in the Park with George's "Finishing the Hat" as well as a medley from Stephen Sondheim's Passion and songs from the Lloyd Webber/David Zippel musical The Woman in White. Friedman will co-star with Michael Crawford in the latter, which begins previews in London in August. At the Carlyle, Friedman will offer shows Tuesday through Saturdays at 8:45 PM with late shows Fridays and Saturdays at 10:45 PM. There is a $55 cover charge Tuesday-Thursday evenings and a $65 cover Friday and Saturday nights; there is no minimum. The Café Carlyle is located in Manhattan at 35 East 76th Street at Madison Avenue. For reservations, call (212) 570-7189. . . . Women in Theatre II, which presents dialogues with notable women in the American theatre, will begin airing on the CUNY-TV network Friday, March 12. The series, produced by Newsday theatre critic Linda Winer, focuses on women in all disciplines of the theatre: performer, director, playwright, designer and producer. Winer recently said, "In our politically-aware times, it might seem odd to create a series solely around women in theatre. After so many years, shouldn't the category have withered away and become irrelevant? But at the same time, the New York State Council on the Arts released a three-year study last year about women's status in theatre and revealed that with some exceptions — principally, Susan Stroman and Julie Taymor were cited — advancement has stalled or even deteriorated. Although women submit about half of all the works available to artistic directors, only 16 percent of produced plays are by women and 17 percent have female directors — down from 21 percent and 23 percent, respectively, since the previous year. That said, the series was a rare and wonderful opportunity to speak with the brightest theatre talents and to help them open up about their careers, their work, their politics and their feelings about their profession." Presented by The League of Professional Theatre Women, Women in Theatre II will be seen throughout the spring on Fridays at 10:30 AM and 3:30 and 8:30 PM and Sundays at 12 noon on CUNY-TV, Channel 75. For more information visit www.cuny.tv. The complete viewing schedule includes: Chita Rivera (March 12,14), Julie Taymor (March 19, 21), Ruby Dee (March 26, 28), Jennifer Tipton (April 2, 4), Marian Seldes (April 9, 11), Libby Appel (April 16, 18), Wendy Wasserstein (April 23, 25), Isabelle Stevenson (April 30, May 2), Graciela Daniele (May 7, 9), Kate Valk (May 14, 16), Carey Perloff (May 21, 23), Kathleen Chalfant (May 28, 30) and Susan Stroman (June 4, 6). . . . And, finally, two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters — currently starring in the acclaimed revival of Gypsy at the Shubert Theatre — will chat about her stage role and her work as an animal advocate March 13. Peters will be featured on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition." The award-winning actress-singer is scheduled to appear at 8:40 AM ET; the program airs in the metropolitan area on WNYC 93.9 FM.
Betty Buckley in Concert:
Now through March 27 at the Cafe Carlyle in New York, NY
Liz Callaway in Concert:
March 23-April 3 in Relative Harmony in New York, NY
April 12-17 in Relative Harmony in Los Angeles, CA
April 23 with Jason Graae in Sutter Creek, CA
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
Patti LuPone in Concert:
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
March 17-21 at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT
March 29-April 1 at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill in Hollywood, CA
April 3 at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Chattanooga, TN
April 6-24 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
May 5-8 in Candide with the NY Philharmonic in New York, NY
Louise Pitre in Concert:
November 4 at the Brock Centre for the Arts in St. Catherines, ON
November 5 at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts in Oakville, ON
November 6 at the Dr. J.M. Ennis Auditorium in Welland, ON
November 11 at the Heritage Theatre in Brampton, ON
November 12 at the Imperial Oil Centre in Sarnia, ON
November 17 at the Markham Theatre in Markham, ON
November 20 at the Stockey Centre in Parry Sound, ON
November 21 at The Living Arts Centre in Mississauga, ON
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!