DIVA TALK: Chatting with Cry-Baby's Lacey Kohl Plus Mason and Ebersole on CD and "Idol" Thoughts

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Cry-Baby's Lacey Kohl Plus Mason and Ebersole on CD and "Idol" Thoughts
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Lacey Kohl
Lacey Kohl

Lacey Kohl, who made her Broadway debut at the age of 15 in the Lincoln Center Theater revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel and subsequently appeared in Grease and The Who's Tommy, is back on The Great White Way in the new musical Cry-Baby. Kohl portrays Wanda in the Mark O'Donnell-Thomas Meehan-David Javerbaum-Adam Schlesinger musical, which is based on John Waters' Universal Pictures film and will officially open at the Marquis Theatre April 24. "It's actually a 'six degrees' story," Kohl recently told me about her casting as Wanda, the role created on screen by Tracy Lords, in the Mark Brokaw-directed production.

"I went to the Tony [Awards] Ball and ran into Larry O'Keefe," Kohl explains. "He's the composer of Legally Blonde, but we met years ago when I moved to Los Angeles to play Janet in Rocky Horror Show — he was the music director. Larry asked if I would audition for a replacement in his show, and during the audition, the casting director, Bernie Telsey, left the room. I thought, 'Uh-oh,' but it turns out he left to book me into an audition for Cry-Baby. [And, Cry-Baby] producer Adam Epstein saw me play Sandy in Grease when he was just out of NYU. Two auditions and a grueling dance call later, I was cast as Wanda!"

Cry-Baby is set in 1950s Baltimore and tells the story of good-girl Allison (one of the clean-cut Squares played by Elizabeth Stanley), who falls for bad-boy Cry-Baby (the leader of the misfit Drapes played by James Snyder). Kohl thinks Wanda's parents were probably "Squares, but she's a free spirit. I actually based her on a girl I went to school with. No names — she knows who she is," Kohl laughs. "She was the sexpot all the boys wanted, and she made everyone's life a living hell. She threatened to beat me up because she thought I was making a move on her best friend's boyfriend. That's Wanda — wrong side of the tracks, tough, but loyal to her friends."

Lacey Kohl with Elizabeth Stanley in Cry-Baby.
photo by Kevin Berne

Cry-Baby began its journey to Broadway this past fall with an out-of-town tryout at the La Jolla Playhouse. Kohl says that "a lot of the score and much of the dialogue is unchanged [since La Jolla]. The work you do out-of-town and in previews involves enriching the characters — giving each of them more layers. Initially a lot of the humor comes from jokes in the dialogue and the lyrics, but ultimately the tone of the show evolves from letting the audience know as much about the characters as possible." An as example, Kohl says that the three Drapes — Wanda, Mona (Courtney Balan) and Pepper (Carly Jibson) — initially performed a song entitled "Class Dismissed," in which they instructed good-girl Allison how to be bad. "It worked well enough," Kohl says, "but it's been replaced by 'A Whole Lot Worse,' in which we tell Allison how we became 'bad girls.' It serves the same dramatic purpose, while giving the audience a whole lot more information about the Drapes. It's that kind of thing that makes a preview period so valuable." It's been over a decade since Kohl — whose screen credits include "Law & Order," "Ally McBeal," "ER" and "Strong Medicine — made her Broadway bow in the aforementioned Carousel, which she says "didn't seem like a job — it was more fun than school. And talk about luck, working with the cream of the crop my first time on Broadway: Nick Hytner, Lincoln Center Theater, Cameron Mackintosh. Best of all, my first boyfriend was Taye Diggs — but alas, only in the show." As for her Broadway return, Kohl says she is most enjoying "the paycheck [laughs] and being part of a very special community. In L.A. everyone is in cars. Here in the Broadway district, I keep running into people I worked with in shows who haven't seen me since I was a teenager — actors, stagehands, doormen." As for future roles, Kohl has her eye on the upcoming revival of Brigadoon. "I played Fiona for Rob Ashford in his recent workshop of Brigadoon," Kohl says. "It's the hardest dancing I've done in years, but the choreography is amazing. Rob's a great director/choreographer, and I'd sure like a shot at doing this show on Broadway." But for now, she's busy playing Wanda in Cry-Baby, decorating her new apartment and giving "some mommy time" to her dog Tico.

[Cry-Baby plays the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway; for tickets call (212) 307-4100 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. Go to crybabyonbroadway.com for more information.]

Karen Mason

FOR THE RECORD Karen Mason—"Right Here/Right Now"
It's certainly a busy time for Broadway favorite Karen Mason, one of the original stars of Mamma Mia! who was also acclaimed for her work as the standby-to-the-stars in the original Los Angeles and Broadway productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. Not only is Mason back on Broadway as the conniving Velma von Tussle in the Tony Award-winning musical Hairspray, but she is also in the midst of a limited run at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan celebrating her latest solo recording, "Right Here/Right Now," which is available on the Zevely Records label.

Mason, who boasts a rangy, powerful Broadway belt, is in great voice on the 12-track recording, which features a mix of Broadway favorites ("All That Jazz," "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend"), American songbook classics ("Secret Love," "Get Happy") and new tunes penned by her husband, producer-composer Paul Rolnick, including the title track (co-written with Jim Papoulis).

There is plenty of no-holds-barred belting (a medley of Lennon and McCartney's "Help" and Sondheim's "Being Alive" is particularly powerful as is Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler "Get Happy"), but Mason also shines in the disc's quieter moments. Her rendition of Sammy Fain and Paul Frances Webster's "Secret Love" is simply lovely, and Rolnick's "Like the Heavens Hold the Stars," written with William Soden Jr., also charms with the touching refrain, "Hold me in your arms like the heavens hold the stars." It's also a treat to have preserved Mason's terrific rendition of "As If We Never Said Goodbye" from the aforementioned Sunset Boulevard. Other highlights include a joyous "Hurry! It's Lovely Up Here," a moving "Make Someone Happy" and a toe-tapping "Everything Old Is New Again."

The disc concludes with Jerome Kern and B.G. DeSylva's "Look for the Silver Lining." No need for too much looking—just listen to Mason's new recording.

Christine Ebersole

Christine Ebersole and Billy Stritch: "Sunday in New York"

There are few in the musical theatre today who possess a voice as versatile as two-time Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole. In her most recent Broadway outing, Grey Gardens, Ebersole allowed her period-flavored soprano to soar in the show's first act, while in the second she demonstrated the power of her emotion-filled Broadway belt. On her latest recording, "Sunday in New York," Ebersole proves an equal affinity for jazz. The Ghostlight Records CD also features the vocals of pianist-musical director Billy Stritch, who co-starred with Ebersole in the Tony-winning revival of 42nd Street. Highlights of the 13-track disc include the charming title tune; Ebersole's simple, beautiful deliveries of two Stephen Sondheim gems, "So Many People" (from Saturday Night) and "Not While I'm Around" (from Sweeney Todd); Ebersole and Stritch's pairing on Brenda Russell's "Walkin' in New York"; Ebersole's haunting, pure rendition of the Irving Berlin standard "What'll I Do"; and a jazz-tinged "Will You?," Ebersole's first-act Grey Gardens closer. "Saturday in New York" is due in stores May 13.

"Idol" finalist David Archuleta

How exciting that Andrew Lloyd Webber is going to mentor the remaining "American Idol" finalists! The contestants will sing the work of the Tony-winning composer on the April 22 broadcast of the FOX reality competition, which will also feature footage of Lloyd Webber guiding the singers as they perform his songs on the set of Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. And, the April 23 "Idol" results show will feature Lloyd Webber performing live with the "Idol" gang. Although there will only be six contestants at the time, I thought I'd predict what songs the current finalists would likely sing: David Archuleta: "Close Every Door" from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; Jason Castro: either "Heaven on Their Minds" or "Everything's Alright" from Jesus Christ Superstar; David Cook: "Gesthemane" from Jesus Christ Superstar; Kristy Lee Cook: "Take That Look Off Your Face" from Song & Dance; Michael Johns: "Vaults of Heaven" from Whistle Down the Wind; Syesha Mercado: either "Tell Me On a Sunday" or "Unexpected Song" from Song and Dance; Carly Smithson: either "Take That Look Off Your Face" from Song & Dance or "Memory" from Cats; and Brooke White: "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar. E-mail me your suggestions! DIVA TIDBITS
Pro-Am Night, the upcoming benefit for Second Stage Theatre, will be held April 21 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan. The evening will feature theatre stars performing alongside members of Second Stage Theatre's Board of Trustees (hence the title: "Pro" as in professional actors/"Am" as in amateurs). Among the professionals will be Lillias White, Alice Ripley, Brian d' Arcy James, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Anthony Rapp, Laura Osnes and Billy Porter. Concertgoers can expect to hear "the Great White Way's best show-stopping sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll moments," according to a press notice. The benefit for the Off-Broadway theatre company will begin at 6:30 PM with cocktails, followed by the 7:15 performance and 8 PM dinner. Tickets, priced $1,250-$2,500 (tables range from $12,000-$25,000), are available by calling (212) 787-8302, ext. 113. For more information about Second Stage Theatre, visit www.2st.com.

Against All Odds is the title of the April 17-19 concerts at the Laura Turner Concert Hall in Nashville, TN. The evenings will feature the work of Hindemith, Weill and Korngold, three composers, who, press notes state, "came to the U.S. to escape the chilly winds of political turmoil in Europe." The concerts will feature the Nashville Symphony conducted by John Mauceri. Actress-singer Ute Lemper, seen on Broadway in the Tony-winning revival of Chicago, is scheduled to perform Weill and Brecht's Seven Deadly Sins. Hindemith's "Prelude from When Lilacs Last in the Door-Yard Bloom'd" and Korngold's "Symphony in F-sharp, Op. 40" are also on the bill. Show times are April 17 at 7 PM and April 18 and 19 at 8 PM. The Laura Turner Concert Hall is located within the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, One Symphony Place in Nashville, TN. For reservations call (615) 687-6400 or visit www.nashvillesymphony.org.

Audra McDonald
photo by Michael Wilson

Four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will bring her acclaimed concert act to various cities throughout the country within the next few months. McDonald's current concert itinerary follows: April 12 with the Charlotte Symphony in Charlotte, NC; April 18 at the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College in Purchase, NY; April 24 at the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo, MI; April 26 at the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY; April 28 Leading Ladies Gala Concert with Barbara Cook at the Juilliard School in New York, NY; May 2-3 at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT; May 31 at the John G. Shedd Institute for the Arts in Eugene, OR; and June 1 at Cal Performances in Berkeley, CA. For ticket information visit www.charlottesymphony.org (April 12), www.artscenter.org (April 18), www.thegilmoreiscoming.com (April 24), www.mwpai.org (April 26), www.juilliard.edu (April 28), www.jorgensen.uconn.edu (May 2-3), www.ofam.org (May 31) and www.calperfs.berkeley.edu (June 1). Christine Toy Johnson, who will soon be seen in the Prospect Theatre Company's production of the new musical Honor, will be part of the Asian Cultural Festival at Queens Theatre in the Park. Johnson will perform her cabaret act, Things I Love, April 26 at 8 and 10 PM. The singing actress will be joined by her husband, Sunset Boulevard's Bruce Alan Johnson, for the two performances; Kurt Faussette is musical director. Concertgoers can expect to hear Johnson's renditions of "My Heart Is So Full of You," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "My Favorite Things" (with husband Bruce), Heisler and Goldrich's "Welcome the Rain," Kevin So's "If It Were Up to Me," Ahrens and Flaherty's "Times Like This" and Christine Lavin's "It's a Good Thing He Can't Read My Mind." Queens Theatre in the Park is located in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. For directions visit www.queenstheatre.org; for tickets visit www.queenstheatre.org/7AsianCabaret.htm. Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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