Is it possible to co-star in a Tony-winning Broadway musical and still be miserable?
If you're Jackie Hoffman it is. Such is the premise of Hoffman's new one-woman show, The Kvetching Continues, which I caught this past Monday night at the Public Theater's Joe's Pub. The often-hysterical, sometimes shocking one-hour act, directed by Michael Schiralli with musical direction by Dave Brunetti, is a mix of stand-up comedy with a handful of songs thrown into the mix.
Hoffman, whose previous acts have lamented her lack of job opportunities and sex life, has had to reconceive her routine now that she is part of the cast of the colossal hit Hairspray and boasts a steady boyfriend. But fear not. Hoffman still has plenty to kvetch about. The basis of her act revolves around the fact that although she is part of Hairspray, she is only onstage for a mere three minutes. In fact, her opening number — featuring music by Lon Hoyt and lyrics by Hoffman — is titled "Three Minutes on Broadway." Dressed in a Norma Desmond-esque turban and accompanied by a stuffed dog, Hoffman sends up her image as Broadway star and later reveals the glamour of "the Broadway": a backstage toilet that doesn't flush, current tourist audiences who don't comprehend the irony of the show, producers who no longer allow her to understudy one of the roles ("okay, so I added a few ad libs"); and the monotony of saying the same lines over and over and over again eight times a week.
Hoffman is more amusing when talking than singing (it's a rangy voice but not particularly pleasant on the ears). All the songs boast lyrics by Hoffman, and although parts are quite humorous, they're not as laugh-out-loud funny as her terrific, often caustic banter. Song titles include the aforementioned "Three Minutes on Broadway"; a reworking of Stephen Sondheim's "I'm Still Here," sung from the perspective of a spoiled child actress; a tribute to the Jewish holiday "Shavuot"; "Eurotrash," based on her recent let-down-of-a-trip to Italy; and "Gay Baby," a lament about the unavailability of her gay friends (and former playmates) who are now having children. Particularly hilarious among Hoffman's stand-up bits: her mother's constant fears that she is going to be let go from Hairspray — "Does everyone get Monday off?" "Have they let you sign your new contract?"; the various press events she has endured, including an evening at a Jewish community center where one elderly woman implored, "Do a line from Hairspray. I haven't seen it yet!"; all the ad-libs she hasn't been allowed to say on "the Broadway" (you'll have to see the show for these unprintables); and her descriptions of the various Broadway fundraisers, including Broadway Bares and Broadway Barks.
Two warnings: If you write about Hoffman, don't call her rubber-faced. And, if you see her show, make sure your cell phone is off. It's the first time I ever felt sorry for an audience member whose cell phone rang during the show — oy vey, the kvetching that followed!
(The Kvetching Continues plays Feb. 2 (sold out) and 9 (sold out) and March 1 and 15 at 9:30 PM and March 8 and 29 at 7:30 PM. Joe's Pub is located at 425 Lafayette Street, between East 4th Street and Astor Place. Tickets are available at the Public Theater's box office or by calling 212 539-8778.)
Last week's announcement — by Playbill On-Line London correspondent James Inverne — that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh are planning a 2005 revival of Webber and Tim Rice's Evita has surely excited fans — including this one — of the late-seventies musical.
The original Hal Prince staging, which debuted in the West End and then on Broadway, was simply brilliant. I was 11 at the time, but I can still remember the excitement of the Act I finale, both the sheer belting power of star Patti LuPone and the chorus who marched forward with lit torches proclaiming the arrival of "A New Argentina." However, as innovative as the staging was at the time, the show now needs reconceiving. I've seen several Evitas in the past decade, and the show cries out for a top-notch director to put a new stamp on the musical.
The casting of Eva, of course, will also be critical, and one wonders whether as much of a media frenzy will surround the revival as it did the original, which produced two bona fide stage stars, Elaine Paige (in London) and the aforementioned LuPone. Since the announcement I've been ruminating over possible Evas, and it's a difficult decision — the role requires a terrific singer (capable of belting high Es and even a few Fs), an actress who can span the range of emotions and one who can dance her way through "Buenos Aires." Those who I would have suggested a few years ago — Alice Ripley, Carolee Carmello, Ruthie Henshall — may (or may not?) now beyond the appropriate age. Eva Peron died when she was 33, and the show requires the actress to portray her as a teenager through her death. Of course, I still wouldn't mind hearing Ripley belt the score to the rafters; her thrilling "Rainbow High" still lingers in my memory.
Of the younger generation, I've been most impressed with the voices of Dance of the Vampires' Mandy Gonzalez and Wicked's Eden Espinosa. Both boast incredibly impressive belts and could surely handle the score excitingly. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about a new Evita, so if you have the chance, e-mail me your ideas.
IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: An all-star concert presentation of Snoopy! The Musical will be presented April 12 at the Peter Norton Symphony Space. Christian Borle, who is currently co-starring in Thoroughly Modern Millie, will play the title role in the musical based on Charles M. Schultz's classic comic strip "Peanuts." Borle will play opposite his Millie star (and girlfriend), Tony Award winner Sutton Foster. Foster, who is co-producing the concert with Jamie McGonnigal, will play Peppermint Patty. Keeping it all in the family, Hunter Foster, now on Broadway in Little Shop of Horrors, will be Linus, and Hunter Foster's wife, Jennifer (Taboo) Cody, will be Sally. The remainder of the cast will include Avenue Q's Ann Harada as Lucy and Bat Boy's Deven May as Charlie Brown. Ben Rimalower will direct the evening, and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky will musical direct and conduct. Co-producers include Linda Gabler, Jonathan Ross and Matthew Stock. The concert is a benefit for the Pied Piper's Children Theatre of New York City. Tickets, priced $21, $65 and $150, will go on sale March 2 at the Symphony Space box office, (212) 864 5400. The $150 ticket includes a pre-show reception at Symphony Space and an after-party at Citrus. Symphony Space is located in Manhattan 2357 Broadway at 96th Street. . . . Anna Bergman, who was featured in the Kennedy Center production of A Little Night Music, returns to Manhattan with her acclaimed cabaret act, Across a Crowded Room. Soprano Bergman will offer her tribute to romance Feb. 13, 14, 27 and 28 and March 5, 6, 12 and 13 at the Stanhope Park Hyatt New York on East 81st Street. Show time is 8:30 PM with dinner at 7 PM. Featuring direction by Sara Louise Lazarus and musical direction by Alex Rybeck, the concert will include songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein. Rybeck will accompany Bergman on piano in March; Joseph Thalken will be her accompanist in February. Cabaretgoers can expect to hear such tunes as "Close as Pages in a Book," "Blah, Blah, Blah," "Juliet's Waltz," "I Still Believe in Love," "We're Gonna Be All Right" and "Con Te Partiro." Singer-actress Bergman said, "I am thrilled to be performing these songs that have enchanted and moved people for so many years, and I am delighted to be returning to a venue as magnificent and intimate as The Stanhope." The Stanhope Park Hyatt New York is located at 995 Fifth Avenue at 81st Street. There is a $40 cover charge with dinner required. For reservations, call (212) 650-4737 or visit www.stanhopeparkhyatt.com. . . . It's a busy season for Liza Minnelli and the late Judy Garland. Not only are the mother-and-daughter songstresses featured in the new Hugh Jackman musical The Boy From Oz, but acclaimed celebrity impersonators Tommy Femia and Christine Pedi will bring the famous mother-daughter act back to life next month at Don't Tell Mama. On Saturdays, Feb. 7, 14, 21 and 28 Femia (as Garland) and Pedi (as Minnelli) will offer Judy Garland & Liza Minnelli Live! at the intimate Manhattan cabaret. Show time is 11 PM. The duo won a 2003 MAC Award for Outstanding Musical Comedy Duo. Their cabaret evening will include Judy and Liza's greatest hits as well as several contemporary songs the two never had the chance to perform. Don't Tell Mama is located in Manhattan at 343 West 46th Street. There is a $20 cover and a two-drink minimum; call (212) 757-0788 for reservations. . . . Former Miss America Kate Shindle returns to the Ars Nova Theater for two performance of her solo show, Me and My Shadow—Songs I've Heard in Pageants! Shindle will offer her cabaret evening — which includes songs and tales about her life during and beyond the pageant life — Feb. 8 and 22 at 7 PM at the intimate Manhattan theatre. Me and My Shadow features the music of John Kander and Fred Ebb, William Finn, Frank Wildhorn and Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich. The Ars Nova Theater is located at 511 West 54th Street. Tickets, priced at $15, are available by calling (212) 868 4444 or by visiting www.smarttix.com. . . . Four-time Tony Award winner Angela Lansbury hopes to return to the small screen in a new comedy series. Lansbury, who will be seen in the Hallmark Hall of Fame drama "The Blackwater Lightship" on CBS Feb. 4, told the Associated Press that she never plans to retire and would like to take a stab at a half-hour television comedy program. Said Lansbury, "I want to do a half-hour comedy series. That would allow me to perform in front of a live audience. I almost did it before — I chose between a half-hour comedy and 'Murder, She Wrote.' Nobody told me how much more work that would be...It won't be a sitcom. I didn't say that word. It would be a half-hour comedy series. I've got to give it a try!" Before that happens, Lansbury fans can catch the actress as 84-year-old Granny in the aforementioned "Blackwater Lightship." About her casting in that television production, Lansbury told AP, "[Director John Erman] called me at my house in Ireland, which is where the film is set, while I was standing at my stove. He said, 'Angie, if you have the guts, you should do this role.' And I said, 'Well, you know me, and I do have the guts.'" The made-for-TV film co-stars Dianne Wiest and Gina McKee. And, more Lansbury! On April 20 Warner Home Video will release the 1982 television version of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street on DVD. Co-starring Lansbury and George Hearn, this version of Sweeney won three Emmy Awards and three Cable Ace Awards when it originally aired. Although the 139-minute recording will not include bonus features, the original video and audio masters have been restored and remixed, and the new DVD will be presented in full-screen with Dolby 5.1 audio. In a statement, Warner Home Video Senior Vice President George Feltenstein said, "It was the multiple camera work and direction in this TV version that created the ground breaking sense of intimacy and fluid movement. The genius of Sondheim’s score, Harold Prince’s phenomenal stage direction, and the amazing performances of Angela Lansbury and George Hearn are beautifully preserved in this outstanding production... While sadly, some original productions of [Sondheim's] other hits — like Company, Follies, and A Little Night Music — are lost to the memories of those lucky enough to have seen them, we’re fortunate that the producers of Sweeney Todd... had the foresight to preserve it for the ages. The WHV restoration from the original antiquated videotape masters makes Sweeney Todd...look and sound better than ever. Even people familiar with this production from earlier VHS and broadcast incarnations will be awed by the great improvement in picture and sound." April 20 will also mark the release of another Sondheim work, the Hollywood whodunit film "The Last of Sheila." A collaboration of Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, the film was directed by Herbert Ross and starred James Coburn, James Mason, Raquel Welch, Dyan Cannon and Richard Benjamin. The Warner DVD will include several special features: commentary by actors Benjamin, Cannon and Welch; the theatrical trailer; and subtitles in English, French and Spanish. The running time is 119 minutes. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street will have a list price of $24.98. "The Last of Sheila" will sell for $19.97. . . . The upcoming Disney/Cameron Mackintosh stage production of Mary Poppins has found its leading lady. Laura Michelle Kelly, who plays Hodel in the current Broadway revival of Fiddler On the Roof, will play the beloved nanny — the role originated on screen by Julie Andrews — in the musical, which begins performances at London's Prince Edward Theatre Dec. 15. Kelly made her London stage debut at 16 in Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and she recently co-starred in Mackintosh's West End revival of My Fair Lady. Mackintosh and Disney Theatricals' Thomas Schumacher said, "When we started discussing the casting of Mary Poppins for the stage, we dreamt of finding an actress who was on the brink of stardom, but not yet associated by the public with a particular role, and would be in her mid twenties as envisaged by Pamela Travers. Julie Andrews was 27 when she so memorably created Mary in the film. We are thrilled that Laura Michelle Kelly, who will be 23 when Mary Poppins opens in London, has won the part having successfully played the title roles in our productions of My Fair Lady and Beauty and the Beast, and we feel sure that she will bring her own unique quality to this extraordinary and much loved role." . . . Tony Award winner Phyllis Newman is at work on a new musical about her life with her late husband, the famed lyricist Adolph Green. With a working title of Newman & Green, the musical love story would star Newman as well as a small cast of actors. British director Jude Kelly, the artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse, is helping Newman shape the musical, which will feature new tunes plus songs from the Comden and Green songbook. A workshop is planned for late spring.
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Jan. 31 in Sibling Revelry in Boston, MA
Feb. 7 in Sibling Revelry in Riverfront, IL
Feb. 13 with Jason Graae in Salt Lake City, UT
Feb. 14 with Jason Graae in Palm Springs, CA
Feb. 26-28 with Jason Graae in West Palm Beach, FL
Feb. 29 with Stephen Schwartz and Friends in Wilton, CT
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:
Feb. 27-29, 2004 at the Myerhoff Hall in Baltimore, MD
March 12, 2004 at the New Jersey PAC in Newark, NJ
March 13 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Louise Pitre in Concert:
Jan. 31, 2004-Feb. 8 in Sweeney Todd with the Calgary Opera Company at the Jubilee Auditorium in Canada
February 13 at the Capitol Theatre in Windsor, ON
February 28 at the Sanderson Performing Arts in Brantford, ON
February 29 at the Silverthorn C.I. Auditorium in Toronto, ON
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!