DIVA TALK: Chatting with Toxic Avenger's Diana DeGarmo Plus News of Clark, Salonga, Ebersole

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Toxic Avenger's Diana DeGarmo Plus News of Clark, Salonga, Ebersole
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Diana DeGarmo
Diana DeGarmo

She was the young girl (age 16) with the big voice in the third season of the smash hit TV singing contest "American Idol," narrowly missing the big win by approximately two percent of the vote (former Color Purple star Fantasia took the crown that season), and now Diana DeGarmo is back onstage in the acclaimed Off-Broadway musical The Toxic Avenger at New World Stages. DeGarmo, a Birmingham, AL, native who boasts a powerful, rangy belt, is no stranger to the legitimate stage. She won kudos for her Broadway debut in Hairspray, playing the role of best friend Penny Pingleton in the Tony-winning production, and has since appeared in the national tour of Brooklyn the Musical and a recent staging of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with another former "Idol" contestant, Anthony Fedorov. For the next several months, however, the numerous DeGarmo fans can catch the exuberant performer as Sarah, "the sexy, blind librarian," in the new musical penned by Joe DiPietro (I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) and Bon Jovi founding member David Bryan. Last week I had the chance to chat with the delightful, good-spirited DeGarmo, who spoke about her work on stage as well as her "Idol" past; that interview follows:

Question: How did this role in Toxic Avenger come about for you?
Diana DeGarmo: I was sought out by the producers, which was the most flattering thing that has come my way in a long time — because in this industry, everyone's really dying for a job, so everyone's trying so hard to work and to keep going because the economy just sucks. . . .And when the email came, I was like, "What? They…hold on. Huh?" They said they had seen me play Penny, and [spoke with] other people that had worked with me, and lots of really neat things, so I was like, "Okay, this sounds interesting!" So I researched [the show] . . . and I came and saw the show, and I thought it was absolutely hysterical, and my agents and I [felt] this was just going to be such a great move for everybody, and it was kind of a no-brainer from that point on.

Question: What was the rehearsal process like — I know a lot of times when you replace an actor in a show you don't get all that much time.
DeGarmo: Yeah, it was about nine days, which was pretty intense. When you're the first people to do [a show], you get to go do the whole tech-ing experience, and you get to have months of being able to fine-tune things, and pick what's funny and what's not, and just get the rhythm of your show down. This one was kind of like, "Okay, and you're off!" [Laughs.] I've really been fortunate, though, that in both shows where I've replaced people, I've been able to go in after people who were really talented, and who left big shoes [to fill], so I kind of have to step up to the plate, and I'm like, "Okay, alright! I've got my batting hat on! Let's go!" You're kind of forced to just really think quickly on your feet, and I find that that makes me come up with better things, and better ideas, and I have to do it. I don't really have time to marinate. [Laughs.] It was really fast and furious, but not grueling. It wasn't like a 10 to 6 rehearsal, which is what we did for Joseph, which I just came from a couple weeks ago.

Diana DeGarmo in The Toxic Avenger
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: With another "American Idol."
DeGarmo Yes, with Anthony Fedorov! So that was a 10 to 6 [rehearsal schedule], and it felt like the whole day. Here, luckily, because I live fairly close to the theatre, it's just my part [to rehearse], so we're not having to rehearse 40 other people. It's just a few hours, you get in there, and you get your stuff [done]. And the show, by now, they have everything completely written out, and they're like, "Okay, this is what you do. You go here, and here." And because [the character I'm playing is] blind, it's a lot of tracking, which is great. I felt, "Okay, I can handle this." At first, I was a little. I was like, "Oh my gosh, I have to play a blind girl! What am I doing?" Question: How did your first performance go?
DeGarmo: Great! It was so wonderful. The put-in [rehearsal] was earlier that [same] day, and I thought my head was going to explode, to be honest, because of the rehearsal process. [Laughs.] . . . It was just mainly Nicholas Rodriguez and I, and Keith [Coughlin], our assistant choreographer, and Kelly [Hance], our [production] stage manager. They're trying to play seven different people, and run around, and you can't really get the full feel of everything. And in the first put-in, it was [the addition of] hair, make-up, costume, sound, people! In my head, I literally thought, "Oh my gosh. I'm not going to make it." But I went home, took a nap, didn't stress about it, and just trusted myself, and went back to the theatre a couple hours later, and had a wonderful show. It was a great weekend, and I'm excited to restart this next week, all fresh faced and bushy-tailed! [Laughs.] Question: How would you describe Sarah?
DeGarmo: Sarah is a very sweet, honest and wholesome girl, but once you get to know her, she's a little freaky, and I like it! She's, like I said, very sweet, and always says what's on her mind with a smile. She's always really nice to people, but she definitely knows what she wants, and she's going to get it!

Question: Do you have a favorite moment in the show for her yet? DeGarmo: Oh, wow, there are so many. The show is just written so well that you automatically get laughs, and get great moments without even having to really do much, which is wonderful. [Laughs.] It makes the actor's job so much easier. . . . It's so smart. Oh golly, I really love when I have to say "Pootie" because so many people don't expect that word. It's kind of a build-up [to that moment], and the audience is like, "What is she going to…?" And then I say "Pootie," and it just cracks people up. And thank goodness I'm being held by Toxie — my face is in his shoulder — because I'm cracking up because it's so funny every night.

Question: What's it been like working with Nancy Opel?
DeGarmo She is beyond amazing. The first time I saw the show, I remember walking out thinking, "Okay, that show is funny, but damn, that woman is hysterical." She is brilliant! She sings her face off, she's funny, and she always has such a great attitude about everything. . . . She's so nonchalant. She's so wonderful, and she's been so sweet to me. She is learning Chinese during the show, which blows my mind. I'm back there going, "Okay, what am I supposed to say next, what am I putting on, and what am I doing?" and she's back there [practicing Chinese]. She's awesome, and I hope to learn so much from her, because she's had such an amazing career, and she's such a cool lady.

Question:You've done a lot of theatre in the past few years. What has surprised you about the demands of doing a show?
DeGarmo: You know, it's funny because I've had this talk with a few people in different shows. It's mainly what surprises other people who are not in the entertainment industry, let's put it that way. They are the ones who are the most flabbergasted by what we do, and by our lifestyle, per se, and I try to break it down. I'm like, "Okay, most people go to a 9 to 5 job. Now, imagine all the energy you use during that period. Now squish that into about two hours, and that's my job. All of that energy that you use throughout an entire day, I have to create within a two-hour period." [Laughs.] And I think that's the most amazing thing. Sometimes even my mom is like, "Why are you so tired?" When I did Joseph, I'm like, "Oh gosh, I just need to sleep." And she said, "I don't understand why you have to sleep so much." And I'm like, "Mom, I have a show tonight, and it's long and tedious!" [Laughs.] What I love about The Toxic Avenger is that it's a one-act show. There is no intermission, and the show keeps you going the entire time. There is never a lull where you stop and you sit offstage, like at intermission, and you think, "Oh my gosh, I'm so tired" or "Okay, well let's go do the second act," which I've experienced, and I think everyone has at some point when you're doing a show. This show just keeps you going. . . . It happens so quickly.

Question: You were also supposed to be part of the Godspell revival last season. That must've been very disappointing that it didn't come in to New York.
DeGarmo: Yeah, it was.

Question: Do you know what happened with the show?
DeGarmo: I do. Basically, the economy just bit us in the butt. That's the long and short of it. We lost a huge chunk of our funding, and we kind of flailed for a few days, and we were trying to grab anything that anyone would offer us. We got a lot of really great "We wish you luck," and well-wishes. But everyone is really nervous, and everyone is very scared about putting shows up unless it's a guaranteed money [maker] . . . which stinks, because that's part of what makes what we do so fantastic. It's about people taking a chance with something, and then all of the sudden, people realizing, "Wow, we took a chance on something so big, and it's come back ten-fold for us." But when the economy is so wishy-washy and so timid, people are less likely to take that chance. But we all decided, as a cast, that Broadway was just not ready for us! [Laughs.] Ironically, when I went and saw Toxic Avenger, Sara Chase was still in the show, and she and I were scheduled to do Godspell together. I was kind of hiding out, and I couldn't say [I was joining Toxic] because I was trying to respect producers' wishes. So I sat in the audience, and at the very end, I, of course, stood up and gave them a standing ovation because the show is awesome, and she looked out at me and was like, "What are you doing here?" She pointed me out in the audience, and I was just like, "Hi!" [Laughs.] So, it's been funny and it's been really cool just trying to stay connected with that cast. Maybe one day we'll come back around. I mean, the cast was so ridiculously talented, so it's destined to happen again sometime soon.

Nick Cordero and Diana DeGarmo in The Toxic Avenger
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: I remember on "Idol," your mom was very involved with your career. Is she still as involved?
DeGarmo You know what, she's my mom. That's the best part. No matter what, she's always going to be a part of everything I do. Because at the end of the day, I always know she has my best interest at heart. I come from a single parent home, so it's not like I have 47 brothers and sisters I can call. She's my rock, all the time. My brother doesn't get what I do at all. [Laughs.] Question: Is he older or younger?
DeGarmo: He's older. He's stationed in DC, so he's excited now because now he's a little closer. He can come see the show. . . . [My mom is] always a part of me, but now I'm 22, so she's kind of set me free. She's always there, though, to kind of monitor. [Laughs.]

Question: Do you keep in touch with any of the "Idol" people from your season?
DeGarmo: Not really [from] my season anymore. It's just like doing a show. You bond with these people, you become connected, but after a while you just slowly float apart. It stinks, and people change numbers, but life goes on. But thanks to the show, all of us from other seasons automatically have something very unique in common, we've all bonded in different ways. Like Anthony Fedorov and I became buddies. Kimberley Locke and I are really close, from season three. Ironically, I live in Nashville most of the time, and it's become my home base now, and [also living there are] Melinda Doolittle, and Bo Bice, Bucky Covington, Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler. It's just a whole long list of Idols that live there, and we keep running into one another. It's fun, and it's a good common thread for us.

Question: Does performing on "Idol" seem like a lifetime ago at this point?
DeGarmo Oh my gosh, yes. It does. I've been really, really blessed that since "Idol," I've been able to do so many things, and so many different things. I've never really done the exactly same thing twice, which is pretty cool. I totally think that I love my life being completely unpredictable, and whatever happens happens. Part of me feels like that was so long ago. . . . I'm doing this little questionnaire about "What was life like when you were 17?" and they are asking all of these normal 17-year-old questions, and I'm going, "Well wait, at 17, that was the year after 'Idol,' and my life was complete chaos." I'm like, "I don't know what my craziest thing I did was to get a boy's attention. I didn't even care!" So, it's wild to think that, being 22, I'm so blessed to be back in the city, being a part of such a great cast, and yet, at the same time, I feel like I barely have done anything.

Question: Since it seems to be the topic for the past week or so, what do you think about Paula Abdul not returning to Idol this season?
DeGarmo: In my honest opinion, it's not going to be the same. It just won't. She's been there since day one, and she is that sweet spot of the judges that the rest of them just don't have. [Laughs.] Plain and simple. The rest of them, they may be nice in some form or fashion, but she truly is there to be your cheerleader and to help coach you along. It's going to be interesting, because people know she has some funny antics on the show — that's part of what draws people to the show nowadays. People want to see what's going to happen with Paula tonight. And she's one of the nicest people. I mean, I did the show how many years ago now? And I went back this past season, and she saw me and came running toward me, and gave me a big hug and was like, "Oh my gosh, you look beautiful, and I love your hair!" She was just so sweet, and none of the other judges did that. And I appreciate that as a former contestant, because a lot of people get lost in the shuffle after their seasons are over. So that's my opinion. It's just not going to be the same.

[New World Stages is located in Manhattan at 340 West 50th Street. For tickets call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com. For more information visit www.TheToxicAvengerMusical.com.]

Christine Ebersole

Two-time Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole and cabaret veteran Michael Feinstein will team for a new duets show next month at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. Ebersole and Feinstein will present Good Friends Sept. 8-12 at the intimate nightspot. Attendees can expect classic standards and Broadway hits by Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Rodgers & Hart and Jerry Herman, in addition to rarities from the Great American Songbook. Musical director John Oddo will lead an all-star band. Show times will be Tuesday and Wednesday at 8:30 PM and Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 PM and 10:30 PM. For ticket reservations call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com and TicketWeb.com. Emmy, Grammy and Tony Award winner Bette Midler will celebrate the 30th anniversary of her hit film "The Rose" next month in Beverly Hills. Midler and director Mark Rydell will participate in an onstage discussion following the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' screening of the film Sept. 25. The screening is scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Tickets for "The Rose" are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID, and may be purchased online at www.oscars.org, in person at the Academy box office or by mail. Doors open at 6:30 PM. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. All seating is unreserved. For more information call (310) 247-3600 or visit www.oscars.org.

The Light in the Piazza Tony winners Victoria Clark (Best Actress in a Musical) and Ted Sperling (Best Orchestrations, with Adam Guettel and Bruce Coughlin) will join forces this fall at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. The musical duo will play the intimate nightspot Oct. 20-24. Show times are Oct. 20-22 at 8:30 PM and Oct. 23-24 at 8 and 10:30 PM. Feinstein's is located at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street in New York City. For ticket reservations call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com and TicketWeb.com.

Details about the 2009 fall season at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room have been announced. The 30th anniversary season at the famed Manhattan nightspot will kick off with veteran crooner Jack Jones, who will perform Sept. 9-19. Jones will be followed by original Nine and Grand Hotel star Karen Akers, who will present an all-Cole Porter program simply titled "Akers Sings Porter" Sept. 22-Oct. 24. Paula West and the George Mesterhazy Quartet will then hold court Oct. 27-Nov. 14. The year will conclude with Algonquin favorite Andrea Marcovicci, who will celebrate the Johnny Mercer centenary in her latest act. Marcovicci will offer "Skylark: Marcovicci Sings Mercer" Nov. 17-Dec. 26. Currently scheduled for 2010 are Bill Charlap and Sandy Stewart; Steve Ross; KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler; and Maude Maggart. The Algonquin Hotel is located in Manhattan at 59 West 44th Street. Call (212) 419-9331 for reservations; visit www.algonquinhotel.com for more information.

ArtSpeak!, the award-winning DC-area arts education program, will launch its 13th season Sept. 21. The 7 PM event, which will be held in the W.T. Woodson High School auditorium in Fairfax, VA, will feature Broadway actors Julia Murney (Wicked) and Heidi Blickenstaff ([title of show]). Murney and Blickenstaff, who will be interviewed by ArtSpeak! founder and producer Mark Shugoll, will also perform and sign autographs. Audience members will be able to ask questions and win autographed CDs by playing ArtSpeak! trivia. ArtSpeak!, according to press notes, is intended to "excite students about theater and to encourage them to attend theater in their area." In September Murney and Blickenstaff will appear in Signature Theater's First You Dream: The Music of Kander and Ebb. ArtSpeak! is free and open to the public, including both students and adults. For more information call (301) 656-0310, ext. 102.

The National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) will present a concert spotlighting songwriters who have participated in past Festivals of New Musicals. The Songwriter Spotlight concert will be held Sept. 7 at Birdland and will feature the songs of David Kirshenbaum (Vanities, Summer of '42), Dan Lipton and David Rossmer (JOE! The Musical, "Don't Quit Your Night Job") and Brad Alexander and Adam Mathias (See Rock City & Other Destinations). The composers will share songs from past, present and future projects. The evening — part of the Broadway at Birdland concert series — will feature the vocal talents of Kate Baldwin, Sarah Stiles, Jenn Colella and Steve Rosen. Show time is 7 PM. A portion of the proceeds will support NAMT, the not-for-profit organization that includes a New Works program and the 21st Annual Festival of New Musicals, which takes place in October; visit www.namt.org. Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street. There is a $25 cover and a $10 food/drink minimum; for reservations call (212) 581-3080 or visit www.BirdlandJazz.com.

Elaine Paige, the leading lady of the British musical theatre who made her Broadway debut in Sunset Boulevard, will bring her concert tour to Australia and New Zealand this fall. Paige is scheduled to visit those destinations in October and November, according to her official website. The acclaimed singing actress will also film a new DVD during one of her Australian tour dates. Tour dates follow: Oct. 24 at Hamer Hall, Melbourne, www.theartscentre.com.au, Oct. 25 at Festival Theatre, Adelaide, www.bass.net.au; Oct. 27 at Brisbane Convection Centre, www.ticketek.com.au, Oct. 30 at the Royal Theatre, Canberra, www.ticketek.com.au; Oct. 31 at the State Theatre, Sydney, www.ticketmaster.com.au; Nov. 2 at the Burswood Theatre, Perth, www.ticketek.com.au; Nov. 6 at the Aotea Centre, Auckland, booking information to be confirmed; and Nov. 8 at the Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, booking information to be confirmed. In related news, Paige's new live recording, "Elaine Paige Live — Celebrating a Life on Stage," will be released worldwide on iTunes Sept. 21.

Three performances of Frank Wildhorn & Friends will be presented in September to benefit The Nevada Conservatory Theatre at UNLV. The starry concerts — featuring composer Wildhorn at the piano — will be offered Sept. 4 at 8 PM, Sept. 5 at 8 PM and Sept. 6 at 7 PM at Las Vegas' Judy Bayley Theater. Jeff Calhoun will direct the evening with musical direction by Koen Schoots. A 32-piece orchestra will back Broadway artists Linda Eder, Lea Salonga, Rob Evan and Douglas Sills. For tickets, priced $40-$100 (opening night gala), call (702) 895-ARTS.

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

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