DIVA TALK: Chatting with Piazza/Idaho's Elena Shaddow Plus News of Buckley and Marshall

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Piazza/Idaho's Elena Shaddow Plus News of Buckley and Marshall
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Elena Shaddow
Elena Shaddow

Singer-actress Elena Shaddow, who made her Broadway debut during the original New York run of the epic musical Les Misérables, is about to mark another first: her New York Musical Theatre Festival bow. Shaddow has been cast as Cassie Purdy in Idaho!, "The Comedy Musical" that will play a limited engagement Sept. 25-Oct. 4 at Off-Broadway's 37 Arts Theatre. Directed by Matt Lenz, the new musical penned by Buddy Sheffield and Keith Thompson — described as "a tale of love and sex on the prairie baked to bawdy perfection and set during the 'Golden era' of Broadway" — also features Rob Sutton, Beth Curry, Jay Rogers, Ramona Keller, Blake Hammond and Stacy Todd Holt, among others. Shaddow, whose Broadway credits also include Sweet Smell of Success, the Tony-winning revival of Nine, the 2004 production of Fiddler on the Roof and Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White, also played the role of the love-struck Clara in the national touring company of Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas'The Light in the Piazza. These days, the young artist is especially busy, combining her stage work with her newest role as mom to seven-month-old baby girl Adelina Rose Harrington. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Shaddow about her current work for NYMF as well as her roles in Les Miz, Nine and Piazza; that interview follows.

Question: How did you get involved with Idaho!?
Elena Shaddow: Well, I, like anyone else, had auditioned, but prior to that I worked in college with the guy who wrote the music to the show, Keith Thompson. He had contacted me about a reading that they were doing in New York last fall . . . but I was out on tour with The Light in the Piazza, so I couldn't do it. And then this all came about for NYMF. He wrote me an email, and he said, "Would you consider coming in to audition?" And I, of course, said, "Yes," and the rest is history. [Laughs.]

Question: Had you done a NYMF show before, or is this your first?
Shaddow: No, this is it — my first time being a part of NYMF.

Question: What's the rehearsal schedule like for a NYMF production?
Shaddow: It's the same as any production contract. It's six days a week, ten to six. It's a full rehearsal schedule, but it's just truncated. It's very short — two weeks.

Question: How are rehearsals going so far?
Shaddow: Great. It's very fast and furious. We're already up on our feet running scenes.

Elena Shaddow with Idaho! co-star Rob Sutton
photo by Richard Termine

Question: Tell me a little about the show and the character that you play.
Shaddow: I play Cassie Purdy, Cassandra Purdy, and she is the mail-order bride who arrives in town of . . .The town that I arrive in is this tiny little Podunk town in the middle of Idaho. I play this mail-order bride that arrives to marry the wrong man, and then I fall in love with the right man. That's pretty much my character. She is the regular old ingénue, very innocent and sweet. Question: I take it that Idaho! is a send-up of musical comedies?
Shaddow: It definitely it. It is 100 percent an homage to the golden age of those musicals from the fifties, but it's a new book musical, and it's kind of naughty. It's definitely a little subversive, which is great. It's fun for us actors to get into it — we make fun of our own art form.

Question: Tell me about the score.
Shaddow: The score is actually really beautiful and complex and very fun. It's completely original, all original music. There are big production numbers, and there are very sweet solos, and sometimes it goes from honoring the Rodgers and Hammerstein style all the way to Sondheim to a very original style of writing. It's pretty great — it's really interesting and it's really fun.

Question: Do you think the show could have life beyond the Festival?
Shaddow: Absolutely. I think there's definitely a market for the [show], and there is a niche that this style of this show fits into. I would say it follows in the footpath of [title of show], where it's a little tongue-in-cheek and it comments on itself a little bit, but in a great way. I definitely think that there is a place for this kind of a show right now in musical theatre. I'm hoping. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. [Laughs.]

Question: Since we haven't spoken before, I want to go back a bit. Where were you born and raised?
Shaddow: I was born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and raised in a little town called Chagrin Falls, Ohio. It's like a picturesque little white-picket fence town with a waterfall running through it.

Elena Shaddow and Rob Sutton
photo by Richard Termine

Question: When did you start performing?
Shaddow: I was a kid. I did kids' theatre, so I'd say about 8-10. Question: Were there any singers or actors that you admired at the time?
Shaddow: I think I was so all over the map, I don't necessarily think I had any. I think I started getting my talent crushes as I got older, maybe in high school or college. Bernadette Peters has always been somebody that I've admired. She is just incredible to me, unique and special. She is always somebody that sticks out. Of course, as I get older, and as I grow, my list expands, expands, expands, so I'm in love with every performer I meet. Now I'm in love with Christine Andreas and Vicki Clark and Kelli O'Hara. I idolize all of them. I really do. I'm a dork. [Laughs.]

Question: When did you know that performing would be your career?
Shaddow: I would say that toward the end of high school, I was pretty much set that this is what I wanted to do for a living. I applied to three different schools and got into NYU, and that was it. I wanted to go to New York. I got a music degree, and by my senior year of college, I was in Les Miz.

Question: Do you remember your first night making your Broadway debut?
Shaddow: Oh, of course. Who doesn't? Oh, my God, that's it! That's the moment you dream about your whole life. I just remember getting onstage, and I had chills. I literally had chills going up and down my spine. I was like, "Oh, my gosh, I am on a Broadway stage performing in front of 1,200 people." It really is the most incredible feeling that I've ever had. When you step on a Broadway stage for the first time — I don't care if you're the second [chorus person] from the left — you are thrilled, 100 percent thrilled. It's really exciting. It was pretty fantastic.

Question: After Les Miz what was next for you?
Shaddow: I went on to do Sweet Smell of Success, where I understudied Kelli O'Hara. It was my first original musical. That was another fantastic experience and very educational to say the least. [Laughs.] It was such a controversial show, too, which I didn't even realize at the time. . . . It came at a time when New York City had just gone through 9/11, and the city didn't really want dark shows at that time. . . . It definitely has a darker tinge to it, and people either loved it or vehemently hated it. [Laughs.] I didn't even realize that that would happen. I was just so excited to be a part of this brand-new show. . . . but I loved the show as well. That was definitely very educational. That was the year of Millie. That was the year that Thoroughly Modern Millie won a million Tony Awards. [Laughs.] . . . And we closed shortly after that.

Question: Do you have a favorite Broadway experience so far?
Shaddow: I would have to say it was Nine. That was incredible. It really was the most beautiful show that I have ever been a part of, aside from The Light in the Piazza [on tour]. It was just so special. We all became so close. We were like sisters. There were 14 women and just Antonio, the only male. We were like this little family, and it was just so beautiful and lush and sensual. I feel that that show made me embrace being a woman as opposed to a little girl. It really did. It made me grow up. I was the youngest one in the cast at the time. I was looking up to all of these gorgeous "Glam-azons," and I was like, "How the heck did I get to be a part of this show?" This little girl from Ohio that's so Podunk, and I was a part of this beautiful, gorgeous show, so that, for me, was pretty special.

Elena Shaddow with Christine Andreas in The Light in the Piazza tour
photo by Joan Marcus

Question: How did The Light in the Piazza tour come about?
Shaddow: I had auditioned for it several times back when they were auditioning for the original cast for Broadway. Nothing came of those auditions, but I think that they had always kept me in the back of their minds as somebody who might be a good replacement. . . . So I went in again for the replacement for Kelli [O'Hara], and that never came about. And then the tour came about, and I guess third time's the charm. I went in, and maybe it was my familiarity with the material, maybe it was just that I wasn't as nervous because I had been in for it twice before and thought, "Hey, they're never going to cast a brunette anyway! Let's be realistic here." [Laughs.] And they did! I was so excited to get cast in that show. To get cast as Clara was really phenomenal. Question: It's such a great show. What was it like playing Piazza, which isn't a typical musical comedy, around the country? What was the audience response like in different places?
Shaddow: It was interesting. Certain cities that you would expect [audiences] to be jumping out of their seats or really welcoming you were a little chilly, I would say. Other markets where you would expect them to not quite get it or not be as savvy to the special show that was The Light in the Piazza… it was the opposite. I would say, for instance, San Francisco was not as receptive as we would have expected. But then we were in Des Moines, Iowa, and they were standing on their feet — standing ovations — and we were really amazed by that! It was quite interesting. But I would say as a general rule, across the board, audiences were very receptive to the show. It is a very special and beautiful show.

Question: What was it like singing the Piazza score?
Shaddow: It was incredible. It was very difficult. It's a difficult score, and it definitely took me a while to build it into my body. It's a very physically demanding role. I did a lot of running and crying and yelling. The different styles of singing within the score for Clara are very demanding. I went from having to sing almost 100 percent classically to belting to singing like a little girl at points. It really ran the gamut of style.

Question: You had mentioned this before… Was there ever any talk of asking you to dye your hair or to wear a wig?
Shaddow: I did wear a wig in the show. I did wear a wig that was close to my natural color. I used to have very long hair, but the show I did prior to The Light in the Piazza was a regional production of Carnival over at Paper Mill Playhouse. I had to cut my hair to my chin, so when I went in for my audition for The Light in the Piazza, they were like, "Well, we thought you had long hair." I was like, "Sorry." I said, "As this grows, if it grows fast enough, I'll dye my hair. I don't care. We can use my own hair." But it was just too short to use. We tried a blonde wig on me, and [director] Bart Sher took one look at me and said, "You look absolutely ridiculous! So let's just leave you as a brunette." That's what it is. There are brunettes in America, come on! There are brunettes in North Carolina. [Laughs.]

Question: I know you also performed the song cycle Maury Yeston had been written for Andrea Marcovicci, December Songs. How did that come about? Had you heard someone else perform it?
Shaddow: No, actually Maury suggested that I do it. Maury is a friend of mine. Ever since I did Nine, he and I would collaborate on different things. He would have me come and record some of his new songs. I would do demo work for him, basically. As we would work together, we would talk and chat and he'd give me ideas: "You'd be great in this role…" Then, one day he said, "You know, you should really sing December Songs" in the key that he wrote it — it's actually for a soprano. He said, "When I wrote it, I wrote it with a sopranos voice in mind," even though Andrea Marcovicci . . . [has] a very low voice, so he had to transpose everything lower for her. He was curious to hear it sung by a soprano. I started, just sort of tinkering around with it, and then, slowly but surely, I learned every piece and then put it into a cabaret, basically a little show, and did it. I've performed it twice now.

Question: How do you find working in cabaret versus the theatre?
Shaddow: The first time I did it, I was terrified. [Laughs.] It's so close, and it's so intimate. I'm not used to stepping onstage as myself. I'm used to stepping onstage as a character, so there is a little bit of safety there, and you're a little bit removed from the audience. The second time I did it, I actually started enjoying myself, and I added a second little act to December Songs, a second part of it where I finished the song cycle and then I actually talked to the audience and got a little bit more comfortable speaking and not having a script and just being myself. It was great. I like it. I would like to do more of that kind of work because it is actually very fun. Question: Do you have any other projects in the works other than Idaho!?
Shaddow: Right now, no… I just had a baby a few months ago…

Question: Congratulations! A boy or girl?
Shaddow: A girl. Her name is Adelina.

Question: How is motherhood going?
Shaddow: It's fantastic. It's life-changing. It's one of those things where your entire life gets put on hold for a while. I came home from tour, and I got pregnant I'd say six weeks after I got home. . . . This is my first production back since I've had the baby, so I'm getting my career back going and starting back up. . . . I have one concert planned for December. It's part of a developmental reading called Mother Russia, and that's going to be at Carnegie Hall.

Question: How has it been so far combining rehearsals and having the baby?
Shaddow: It's intense. It's really intense, and it's emotional, leaving my little girl with a babysitter. Luckily, my mom and dad live close. They moved from Ohio. They live close now, so my mom comes to help out. She'll baby-sit, and that definitely helps. It's very, very tricky. I don't know how women do it. I am just blown away by these working mothers who can do it all. They inspire me daily.

[Idaho show times are Sept. 25 at 8 PM, Sept. 26 at 5 PM, Sept. 28 at 5 and 9 PM, Sept. 30 at 9 PM and Oct. 4 at 9 PM. Tickets, priced $20, go on sale Sept. 1 by calling (212) 352-3101 or by visiting www.nymf.org. 37 Arts Theatre is located in Manhattan at 450 West 37th Street. For more information visit www.IdahoMusical.com.]

Gay Marshall

Gay Marshall, who played a year-long run in the acclaimed revival of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, will make her Metropolitan Room debut with a new show featuring the songs made famous by the late Edith Piaf. Simply titled Gay Marshall Sings Piaf, the singing actress' shows are scheduled for Oct. 4, 11 and 18 at 9:45 PM. The Saturday evenings will also celebrate Marshall's forthcoming new CD of Piaf songs. The exhilarating performer, who possesses an emotion-filled alto, told me earlier this week, "I am so thrilled to finally have recorded a CD of Edith Piaf songs, many of which I have translated, so they go from one language to the other making them more available to an English-speaking audience without losing the French atmosphere. The orchestrations are beautiful — they're a new slant on an old style, so it's not some kind of imitation, otherwise you could simply go and buy Edith herself. I worked for authenticity with a modern touch!" Marshall, press notes for her new show state, "lived in Paris for years, is a longtime Edith Piaf addict, and has written and performed a one-woman show about her. Although she's done many American musicals and loves singing almost every style of music, this material has remained her favorite. . . . Incorporating existing translations plus her own adaptations, many of the numbers are an original mix of French and English." Audiences can expect to hear Marshall's versions of "La Vie En Rose," "No Regrets," "Spring At Last!" and "Avec Ce Soleil," among others. The Metropolitan Room is located in Manhattan at 34 West 22nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. There is a $20 cover charge and a two-drink minimum; call (212) 206-0440 for reservations. Visit www.metropolitanroom.com for more information. Good news for fans of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show"! Kid Ro Productions in association with Telepictures Productions will release a new DVD featuring selections from the first season of that daytime chat program, which often celebrated the Broadway stage. Entitled "The Rosie O'Donnell Show—Season One: Rosie Reminisces," the 90-minute DVD features O'Donnell's interviews with Cher, Penny Marshall and her first guest, George Clooney. A scrapbook with original photos and captions, written by O'Donnell, is also included with the recording. O'Donnell will discuss the DVD release on HSN (Home Shopping Network) Sept. 21. Her live appearances are scheduled for noon, 6 PM and 11 PM ET; she will also take calls from viewers. "For the first time ever," DVD press notes state, "Rosie sits down and watches highlights of Season One and the loyal viewers get to be a part of it. Rosie reminisces about the behind the scenes stories as she remembers the fun and games that make up the premiere season of 'The Rosie O'Donnell Show.'" "The Rosie O'Donnell Show—Season One: Rosie Reminisces" is priced $19.95 and includes free shipping and handling. The DVD is being sold exclusively on HSN.

Merkin Concert Hall's 2008 "Broadway Close Up: An Inside Look at the World of Musical Theatre" series will kick off Oct. 6 with a tribute to the work of Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, who are best known for their record-breaking Off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks. The 8 PM concert will feature the talents of Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba, Martin Vidnovic, Ken Kantor, Nick Spanger, Susan Watson, Dick Latessa and Donna English. Veteran film dancer Marge Champion and legendary choreographer Donald Saddler will also be on hand to perform the world premiere of a new dance. Sean Hartley will host the tribute, which will also feature an appearance by lyricist Jones. For tickets call (212) 501-3330 or visit www.kaufman-center.org. The Merkin Concert Hall at the Kaufman Center is located at 129 West 67th Street.

Casting is now complete for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' Broadway: Three Generations, a three-act evening featuring condensed versions of Girl Crazy, Bye Bye Birdie and Side Show. Lonny Price will direct the performances, which are scheduled to play the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater Oct. 2-5; Academy Award winner Shirley Jones will host. As previously announced, the starry cast will boast Randy Graff, Brooks Ashmanskas, Lisa Brescia, Jenn Colella, Michael McElroy, Laura Osnes and Max von Essen. Newcomers to the company include Ned Eisenberg, Leslie Kritzer, Michael Mulheren, James Snyder and Bobby Steggert. Three Generations, which reopens the renovated Eisenhower Theater, will "track the development of the Broadway musical over three overlapping generations of composers," according to press notes. Tickets, priced $25-$90, are available by visiting www.kennedy-center.org.

Andrea Marcovicci

Famed cabaret singer Andrea Marcovicci, who will return to the Algonquin's Oak Room in November, and her mom, forties torch singer Helen Marcovicci, will each release a new recording this fall. Marcovicci's mom — who still boasts a textured, powerful belt — will celebrate her 90th birthday with a brand-new CD that will feature such tunes as "My Melancholy Baby," "The Twelfth of Never," "Autumn Leaves," "For All We Know," "In the Still of the Night" and "Blue Skies," among others. Andrea Marcovicci's new compilation disc will feature tunes from her early recordings as well as three brand-new tracks. Release dates will be announced shortly; both discs will be available by visiting www.marcovicci.com. Before the end of the year, Andrea Marcovicci will play the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia, PA (now through Sept. 28); The Gardenia in Los Angeles, CA (Oct. 10 and 11); The Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko in San Francisco, CA (Oct. 14-Nov. 2); the Singletary Center for the Arts in Lexington, KY (Nov. 8); and The Algonquin's Oak Room (Nov. 11-Dec. 27). The cast of The Marvelous Wonderettes, the "cotton-candy colored non-stop pop musical" that officially opened Sept. 14 at the Westside Theatre Upstairs, headed into the recording studio Sept. 18 to lay down tracks for the show's original cast recording. PS Classics, the label "dedicated to the heritage of Broadway and American popular song," will release the recording Nov. 11. Grammy Award winner Jeffrey Lesser is producing the disc. The cast comprises Farah Alvin (Nine, The Look of Love, Saturday Night Fever) as Missy, Beth Malone (Ring of Fire) as Betty Jean, Bets Malone as Suzy (she originated this role at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre) and Victoria Matlock (national tours of Wicked and Evita) as Cindy Lou. For more information visit www.marvelouswonderettes.com or www.psclassics.com.

West End musical theatre star Elaine Paige will kick off the launch of her memoir, "Memories," Sept. 23 at London's National Theatre. Paige will be interviewed by theatre writer and Playbill.com columnist Mark Shenton during the Platform series event, which will begin at 6 PM in the National's Olivier Theatre. A book signing will follow the discussion about Paige's award-winning stage career. Oberon Books Ltd will publish Paige's autobiography, which is titled "Memories," Oct. 2. Paige created the role of Grizabella for the West End production of Cats, where she introduced the song "Memory" to London audiences; her numerous other stage credits include Evita, Chess, Anything Goes, Piaf, Sunset Boulevard and The Drowsy Chaperone. For more information visit www.elainepaige.com or www.nationaltheatre.org.uk.

Betty Buckley

And, finally, the remarkable, one-and-only Betty Buckley makes a rare New York City concert appearance next week at the famed jazz club Birdland. The Tony-winning actress, who garnered rave reviews for her work in the summer film "The Happening," will play a five-night engagement at the intimate nightspot beginning Sept. 23. The inimitable Buckley has titled her new show, which runs through Sept. 27, The Music @ Birdland. Show times are 8:30 and 11 PM nightly. The famed singing actress will be backed by her jazz quartet, which comprises Clifford Carter on keyboards, Billy Drewes on sax, Tony Marino on bass and Anthony Pinciotti on drums. Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. There is a $40-$50 cover charge and a $10 food/drink minimum. For reservations call (212) 581-3080 or visit www.birdlandjazz.com. Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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