DIVA TALK: Chatting with Deborah Gibson Plus News of Buckley, Lansbury and Lopez

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Deborah Gibson Plus News of Buckley, Lansbury and Lopez
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Deborah Gibson
Deborah Gibson

It's hard to believe that it's been two decades since Deborah Gibson burst onto the pop scene and became, at the age of 16, the youngest person ever to write, produce and perform a number one single. Gibson still holds that record to this day for "Foolish Beat," which preceded her other chart-topper, "Lost in Your Eyes." The singing actress, who has appeared on Broadway in Les Misérables, Beauty and the Beast and Cabaret, still writes and performs regularly, but she is currently turning her attention to the next generation of performers. This summer Gibson will launch a new performing arts camp on the West Coast entitled Camp Electric Youth. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Gibson, who spoke about her newest endeavor, her work on Broadway and the musical she'd like to star in opposite Tony winner Patti LuPone. My interview with Gibson, who will perform "Deborah Gibson: Pop Goes Broadway" at Harrah's Atlantic City May 4-24, follows.

Question: How did the idea for Camp Electric Youth come about?
Deborah Gibson: I've been thinking about it for a few years. In light of everything that's happening right now with the former teen stars [and] the whole message that kids are getting that in order to be a success you need to have scandal. . . . I'm wondering who is sending the message that you need to love your craft and work on your craft. Nobody is saying to these kids that are aspiring to be Paris Hilton and Britney [Spears], "Where does that lead you ten years from now?" . . . This is the 20th anniversary that I'm the youngest writer-producer of a number-one song . . . [and] I would have thought someone would have broken that record by now. I wouldn't mind a kid that I mentor being the one to break the record — kind of a passing of the torch, if you will. I just really would love to inspire kids and see a group of motivated kids go out with that "I want to take on the world" kind of feeling that I had as a kid. I had a lot of great teachers that did empower me and not only gave me the skills that I needed, but I had that belief from them and the belief in myself. I feel like I'm a good person to do that — I just feel like it's a calling of mine. I went to [acting teacher] Howard Fine with the idea, and he only has ever taught adults. So, it's actually quite a big deal for him to be working with kids because he really is one of the top teachers in L.A. And then Cynthia Bain, who specializes in kids, but is more on the film and TV side — with Howard more on the theatre side — she is now also involved.

Question: What will the camp offer? How will it be structured?
Gibson: I know that there are a lot of [theatre programs]. Jodie Langel does a musical theatre intensive, and she's actually going to come in and teach as well, so there will be specifically some classes in musical theatre. Her thing is that she has found this amazing catalogue of audition songs that are not sung every three minutes, and she really tries to match kids perfectly with the material, which is great. Howard's going to be offering [what he calls] a "monologue lab," helping kids prepare audition monologues. Cynthia will be doing more film and TV things. We'll be doing audition technique. I want to teach kids not only legit voice, but also [the pop/rock sound]… It's such a different climate now with all the pop/rock musicals out there. I remember going to see the tour of Rent and by Sunday night, everyone had lost their voices. Because I'm from both worlds, I have an understanding of how to safely produce that pop/rock sound that's effective but, at the same time, you can stay vocally healthy doing it. So there'll be that kind of stuff and a bit of songwriting as well. . . I've done stuff with "VH1 Save the Music," and I've gone to schools. I'll bring a kid up [onstage], and I'll ask them about the day they had. I'll kind of show them how they can turn anything that happens to them into a song.

Question: What ages is the camp geared to?
Gibson: Seven to seventeen . . . It's going to be held at Howard Fine's theatre in Hollywood.

Question: How can people apply?
Gibson: The website has also the information: campelectricyouth.com. Question: How long will the program be?
Gibson: There are two two-week sessions. If kids want to just do the two weeks, that's cool. If they want to do a full four weeks, we will cover different material. We want to try and make sure we can challenge kids further who were in the first session. My initial idea was to do it for a whole four weeks, and then people who specialize in these kinds of things said, "Well, sometimes when people come in from out of town, they don't want to commit to a whole month because it's new." So we divided it up, and it'll be a slightly shorter day for the younger kids and a longer day for the older kids.

Deborah Gibson in Les Misérables
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Do you envision the camp as something that might not just be in the summer?
Gibson: I do. My goal is to do this first one and hopefully, if it does what I want it to do, I really could see doing it in three different cities next summer and doing weekend intensives or [sessions] on spring break or winter break. I think it's something that could definitely be an ongoing thing. It's so funny because here we are in L.A., the land of showbiz, and yet [there's no program like this around]… Michael Chiklis, for instance, has worked with Howard, and Cynthia works with his kids. We told his kids about [our camp], and their whole family got so excited and they said, "We've not been able to find a great performing arts camp in L.A." Seth Riggs has a vocal camp, and there are different camps that specialize in different things … but a real traditional all-around performing arts camp is actually missing from the landscape out here, which is surprising to me. My nieces go to Stagedoor Manor on the East Coast. If my camp could become the Stagedoor Manor of the West Coast some day, that would be fantastic. I just love kids, and I see these kids that have all of this drive and all of this raw talent, and I look at them and I'm like, "I was you! I know you!" [Laughs.] Question: You mentioned Britney Spears before. How do you think you managed to avoid the pitfalls of young stardom and stay on a healthy path?
Gibson: I think something I mentioned before is [that] I'm in this because I love the craft. I love the first day of a rehearsal for a show. I love auditioning. It's funny because I've gotten direct offers to do things on Broadway and yet had to audition for certain regional productions for directors that didn't know my work at all. I love having to audition, and I love getting that call that says, "You've got the part." It doesn't matter if it's in the tiniest theatre or on Broadway. I think that if you have that genuine love for what you're doing and you're not in it for the media attention [you will be okay]. I'm not saying that [Spears] is in it for the media attention, but I do believe it becomes something that can sidetrack you if you are not grounded enough in some love of what you're doing and some bigger reason for doing what you're doing than fame and fortune.

Question: How much of your time do you spend now songwriting?
Gibson: I write a lot. At the end of this past year, I finished recording a round of new songs that I want to present to labels. I keep saying I'm ready for my big "Tina Turner comeback." [Laughs.] She was 42 when "What's Love Got to Do With It?" came out, so I still even have a few years. I still love the thrill of being on the radio, and I love the thrill of touring on a hit record. That's just great stuff! [Laughs.] I love being in a studio all day long and constructing a track and a song. [I'm] still writing and recording and doing concerts. I've got a few coming up. I do a lot of the Atlantis Gay Cruises, and I've got some stuff coming up for them.

Question: How do those go?
Gibson: It's amazing! It's so great. You do two shows. My show is an hour-and-a-half long. . . . You do two shows in one night, back-to-back, which is kind of intense, but it's the best audience. This audience is game for anything, but they're discriminating at the same time. So you've got to be on your gig and offer a really great show, but at the same time, they want to party. That's where the combination of my Broadway and my pop comes in. I can do the sophisticated stuff, and we can give them the really well-rehearsed and well-choreographed big belty Broadway numbers, and then I can go into "Shake Your Love," and everybody can waltz down memory lane. It's great though because I board the ship with my musical director and my choreographer, and we use all of [the ship's] singers and dancers. On occasion we'll be like, "Can we steal the harpist from that lounge and the string quartet from that lounge and your flying act from Thursday night's show?" By the time we're done, usually we've put together a show that's even bigger and better than my normal show. It's really, really fun, and it's usually like a 1,200 seat theatre, and it's one of my favorite things to do. I love being at sea. It's just really cool. It's great because your cell phone doesn't work. You're totally immersed in putting a show together.

Question: I had gone on the Rosie Cruise two years, and it's just such a nice environment.
Gibson: It is. Actually on the last one I did, there was a couple that had been together for 50 years, and they got married on board the ship. We had the audio-visual department edit together a video of the wedding, and I brought them onstage and we ran the video while I sang "Lost in Your Eyes." I couldn't sing because I was tearing up. It was really cool, and I just kept thinking, "I can't imagine what this couple went through 50 years ago, compared to what they go through now." I'm a big advocate of the gay community, and I love doing those cruises. It's really great. And then I've got Harrah's in Atlantic City for three weeks. So, basically I'm doing that same show. I'm doing my mix of Broadway and pop.

Gibson as Sally Bowles
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: Looking back on your Broadway experiences, do you have a favorite role?
Gibson: I have to say I'm very happy that I was very choosy. I feel like Les Miz, Beauty and the Beast and Cabaret — when you think of those three shows, in their particular genre, they're the best. I just feel so lucky every time I think about it that I got to be a part of those. Each one was unique in its own way. Les Miz was my first. Beauty and the Beast I did for nine months, so I got to really sink my teeth into it and be a real member of the Broadway community for a long period of time. . . . If I got called every year to play Sally Bowles in Podunk, Iowa, or wherever, I would jump and do it. That role is just unbelievable, and it challenged me in ways I had never been challenged. I didn't envision myself doing [that role]… Usually everybody who goes to see a show, who is a performer, if there is a role they want to do, they start picturing themselves in the role and campaigning for the role. When I first saw Natasha Richardson do [Sally Bowles], I think I was a little younger and I thought, "Well this is a self-destructive character." I just didn't relate to it at all, but by the time I got to do it, I had lived a little bit more and I was ready to do it. It was just so incredible. Every night I'd go to the theatre thinking, "Oh, my God, they entrusted this role to me?" [Laughs.] And, Neil Patrick Harris was incredible. It was quite an experience.

Question: Would you like to do more Broadway?
Gibson: I would. It seems like every four or five years is the number, so I'm about due. I'm ready! [Laughs.] I really feel like it's got to be the perfect fit for the show and for you, and the right timing, and so many things have to align. Like I said, I've gotten called to do stuff that I've said no to because I feel like I've, for myself, raised the bar so much and the experiences that I've done have been so incredible, it's like, "Well, if it's not going to be up at that level and challenge me in that way, then I'd rather not do it."

Question: Do you get to see much theatre?
Gibson: I haven't gotten to see as much as I'd like in the last two years. … Over the holidays I saw Legally Blonde because Orfeh and Laura Bell Bundy are both friends of mine. Laura Bell and I did Gypsy together. I'm so proud of Laura Bell because I knew her when she was truly a little girl. Now she's grown into this leading lady and is carrying a show. And, Orfeh was just made to play that role, hysterical. And I saw Wicked, I saw Jersey Boys, I saw Color Purple [in the past few years]. I haven't gotten to see as much as I'd like to because lately I'm kind of in and out of New York, usually to perform.

Question: Is there any role that you've seen that you'd like to try?
Gibson: For awhile I wanted to do Wicked, and I was up for Wicked. I auditioned here and they flew me out. Basically the feedback came back that I was too worldly! And I thought, "That's odd" because I'm such an eternally youthfully spirited person. I have seen the world, but sometimes I think that's where perception gets in the way. If people know that you have actually traveled the world, that might enter their mind, whereas if they didn't know anything else about me, it might not have. With that said, my voice truly does not live up there. [Laughs.] So I kind of took it as a blessing and I thought, "I would have had to live like a nun [to play Elphaba]." When I did Funny Girl on the road, I would sleep with one of those facial steamers blowing on me all night. I had to go to such great lengths to do it. You can do that for a time, but then you can also go kind of insane. I do think there are people better suited for that role.

Deborah Gibson in Beauty and the Beast
photo by Joan Marcus

One thing I've always wanted to do is I've always wanted to do a revival of The Rink with Patti LuPone. . . . I saw it when I was 14 with Liza and Chita, and waited at the stage door and the whole bit. I've always wanted to do They're Playing Our Song also. One other show I'd like to do that's currently running is Mamma Mia! In that pop genre it's the best — just shamelessly fun! I've been told I look a bit young to be the mother of a girl that age, but I actually am old enough, and I believe it's all in how you act it. Lord knows I've lived the life of someone twice my age! [For more information about Gibson's summer arts camp, visit campelectricyouth.com; for more information about her performance schedule, visit www.deborah-gibson.com.] DIVA TIDBITS
Carol Channing, Phyllis Diller, Tippi Hedren, Florence Henderson, Angela Lansbury, June Lockhart, Rose Marie, Julie Newmar and Esther Williams have all donated memorabilia from their award-winning careers to the National Museum of American History, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. A by-invitation-only ceremony will be held Jan. 29 at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, CA, to unveil the various donations, which follow: Channing: Diamonds gown worn as Lorelei and her 1964 Tony Award for Hello, Dolly!; Diller: Her personal library and collection of jokes; Hedren: The original scripts with notes for Hitchcock's "The Birds" and "Marnie" as well as for Chaplin's "The Countess From Hong Kong"; Henderson: The TV Land Pop Icon Award; Lansbury: Mame's dressing gown (donated by Stephanie Troulman) and bugle from Broadway and the typewriter from "Murder She Wrote" (co-donated by Universal Studios); Lockhart: Her Tony Award for her role in For Love or Money; Marie: The Baby Rose Marie dress and shoes from "Baby Rose Marie the Child Wonder," a dress from The Dick Van Dyke Show and her signature black hair bow; Newmar: The Catwoman outfit from "Batman"; and Williams: Her two MGM career scrapbooks.

Even more theatre favorites have been added to the ever-growing lists of artists taking part in Broadway Backwards III, which is scheduled for Feb. 4 at the American Airlines Theatre. As previously announced, the annual Broadway Backwards concert — featuring male singers performing songs traditionally sung by women and women singing tunes written for men — will be hosted by The Ritz's Seth Rudetsky and will boast the talents of Lainie Kazan, Karen Mason, Julia Murney, Liz Callaway, Jen Colella, Tony Yazbeck, Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Beach, Charles Busch, Cheyenne Jackson, Nancy Dussault, Malcolm Gets, Tituss Burgess, David Burtka, Tastiskank (Kate Reinders and Sarah Litzsinger), Len Cariou, Brooks Ashmanskas, Sandy Duncan, Jose Llana and The Little Mermaid's Sierra Boggess. Newcomers to the evening — a benefit for New York's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Community Center — include Kerry Butler, Anthony Rapp, Ann Harada, Julie Halston, Michelle Blakely and Aaron Lazar. Only $250 orchestra seats remain; they are on sale through theatermania.com. For more information visit www.gaycenter.org.

Tony Award winner Priscilla Lopez, who will return to the Broadway stage later this season in the new musical In the Heights, will host a benefit for the A-T Children's Project Jan. 21. Entitled A Very Special Evening, the benefit will be held in the Clark Studio Theatre at the Samuel B. and David Rose building at Lincoln Center. Lopez, who has hosted most every benefit for the charitable organization since its inception in 1994, will be joined onstage by co-host Louis Zorich. Show time is 8 PM. A Catered Affair's Kristine Zbornik will perform as will pianists Natalia Kazaryan and Matthew Graybil. Attendees can also expect to enjoy a dance piece by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, featuring Yuki Osagawara and Kurt Froman; and tenor James C. Martin, composer Nancy Ford and the American Guild Ambassadors performing songs from Ford and Gretchen Cryer's show for The American Girl Stores. Lincoln Center's Clark Studio Theatre is located in The Samuel B. and David Rose Building at 70 Lincoln Center Plaza. For further information or to purchase tickets, visit www.atcp.org.

Tony Award winner Audra McDonald will make a rare New Jersey concert appearance April 5 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. McDonald will be backed by a full orchestra for the 8 PM concert in Prudential Hall, which will feature a mix of tunes from Broadway and Hollywood. Audiences can expect to hear songs by Stephen Sondheim, Rogers and Hart, Lerner and Loewe, Harold Arlen, Kurt Weill, Jerry Herman and George Gershwin, among others. The cabaret season at the Chase Room — located within NJPAC — will also feature several theatre favorites. Faith Prince, who is headed back to Broadway later this season in A Catered Affair, will offer An Evening with Faith Prince Jan. 26 at 7 and 9:30 PM. Klea Blackhurst and Billy Stritch will team up for Dreaming of a Song: The Music of Hoagy Carmichael Feb. 9 and 7:30 PM; their show will feature such tunes as "Georgia on My Mind," "Stardust," "Skylark," "Heart and Soul," "I Get Along Without You Very Well," "In the Still of the Night," "The Nearness of You" and "Two Sleepy People." Two-time Tony Award winner James Naughton will perform his acclaimed cabaret evening, Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night, March 22 at 7 and 9:30 PM. And, former Miss Saigon and Cats star Liz Callaway will play the Chase Room May 3 at 7 and 9:30 PM. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center is located at One Center Street in Newark, NJ. For tickets call (888) 466-5722 or visit www.njpac.org.

The latest solo recording from Tony Award winner Betty Buckley, "Quintessence," is currently available for pre-sale in the Playbill Store. The new disc, Buckley's second on the Playbill Records/Sony BMG Masterworks Broadway label, is due in stores Feb. 5, and the single CD can be purchased on line for $13.95. The CD's title refers to the quintet of musicians who have accompanied Buckley on record and in live performances for over a decade. They include musical director Kenny Werner on piano, Tony Marino on bass, Billy Drewes on reeds, Todd Reynolds on violin and Dan Weiss on drums. The complete track listing for "Quintessence" follows: "So Many Stars," "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top," "Like a Lover," "Stardust," "Cry Me a River," "Dindi"/"How Insensitive," "No One is Alone," "Anyone Can Whistle," "Blame it on My Youth"/"I've Grown Accustomed to His Face," "Something's Coming," "The Man I Used to Love" and "Get Here." Buckley — whose debut CD on the Playbill Records label, "Betty Buckley 1967," hit the Billboard charts — will celebrate the release of "Quintessence" with an upcoming engagement at Feinstein's at Lowes Regency. Directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, Buckley will perform "Then & Now" at Feinstein's Feb. 5-23.

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

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