DIVA TALK: Judy Kuhn's Songbook Debut; Five Year Thoughts and More

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Judy Kuhn's Songbook Debut; Five Year Thoughts and More


I attended the 10 PM performance of Judy Kuhn's American Songbook concert at Lincoln Center this past Saturday. Kuhn, who has garnered Tony nominations for her work in Chess, Les Miserables and She Loves Me, presented an evening entitled "The Singers: Contemporary Interpretations." Dressed in black pants and a flowery top, the ever youthful Kuhn began her show with "I Don't Want to Grow Up," a Tom Waits tune that set the tone of the evening, which included several obscure tunes and, unfortunately, none from any of Kuhn's various theatre outings.

Kuhn, I feel, possesses one of the finest voices the musical theatre has ever produced. It's a rangy instrument that is equally comfortable belting Broadway pop ballads — Chess's "Someone Else's Story" or the title song from Rags — or singing higher soprano works like She Loves Me's "Ice Cream." Not only rangy, Kuhn's voice is an extremely rich, vibrato-filled tone that flows out of her with seemingly little effort. I find her chest/belt tones most particularly lush and often quite exciting.

Although Kuhn didn't offer any of her own theatre "hits," she did perform several songs by theatre writers, including two Harold Arlen classics, "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." The charming Kuhn seems a bit less comfortable on these jazzier standards than she does on the ballads. In fact, when she just stands still or sits and delivers a story song, she is thrillingly focused and often quite moving. I particularly enjoyed her delivery of Jeff Blumenkrantz's "Departure," a setting to music of an Edna St. Vincent Milay poem. One of my favorite tunes of the evening followed "Departure," David Cantor's "Last Go 'Round," a witty tune about a woman who has lived many lives and has, perhaps, finally found her true love ("I've been everything from Pope to petty crook/It seems I'm several centuries older than I look/When I go this time I'm finally off the hook/I know my words astound/But I swear I'm not unsound/It's now or never darling/For this is my last go 'round").

Kuhn also offered a particularly sweet rendition of Adam Guettel's "Baby Moon," which was first recorded by Tony winner Audra McDonald. Kuhn prefaced the song with a story about her seven-year-old daughter who, as a baby, often screamed when her mother tried to sing her a lullaby ("The higher I sang," Kuhn explained, "the louder she creamed."). Now, Kuhn happily confessed, she recently overheard her daughter tell a friend that Britney Spears is only her second favorite singer. "She didn't actually say who was her first," Kuhn joked, "but I can hope." Kuhn followed "Baby Moon" with a lovely, heartfelt delivery of Billy Joel's "Lullabye" and concluded her evening with a belty take of Laura Nyro's "And When I Die." She returned with a beautiful medley of Richard Rodgers' "My Heart Stood Still" and "Lover." Kuhn seemed to enjoy her evening, and one only hopes this will be the beginning of another facet of her career, concert/cabaret performer. But, Judy, next time, have pity on your theatre fans and include some of your Broadway hits!

Kuhn's repertoire for her American Songbook debut follows:
"I Don't Want to Grow Up" (Tom Waits)
"All I Want" (Joni Mitchell)
"Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer)
"Let the Wind Carry Me" (Joni Mitchell)
"Departure" (Jeff Blumenkrantz)
"Last Go 'Round" (David Cantor)
"Come Rain or Come Shine" (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer)
"Susan's Dream" (Kurt Weill/Alan Jay Lerner)
"Baby Moon" (Adam Guettel, orchestration by Bruce Coughlin)
"Lullabye" (Billy Joel)
"Home" (Karla Bonoff)
"And When I Die" (Laura Nyro)
"My Heart Stood Still"/"Lover" (Rodgers & Hart)

RECENTLY SEEN: I greatly admired Jason Robert Brown's Broadway debut, Parade, which had an all-too-short run at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre. I thought Brown's Tony-winning score was beautiful and with a bit of tweaking — perhaps removing or reconceptualizing the role of the reporter and streamlining it to one act — the show could have been a hit. So, I was quite excited to see his latest offering, The Last Five Year, which is currently playing Off Broadway's Minetta Lane Theatre. I'm also a big fan of song-cycle musicals: Andrew Lloyd Webber's Tell Me On a Sunday/Song & Dance remains one of my favorite ALW scores and shows, so I'm always interested to see a new production that is told entirely in song.

I find the concept of Last Five Years quite intriguing, having a couple relive their five-year, ill-fated relationship from opposite directions. Jamie (Norbert Leo Butz) sings about the couple's union from the moment they meet until they break apart, and Cathy (Sherie Rene Scott) belts her songs, which begin with the separation and go backward in time to the initial meeting. Lately, I find — with musicals anyway — that I'm either taken in by the first number or I never get completely absorbed by the action onstage. And, with Last Five Years I was completely captivated by Scott's delivery of "Still Hurting." I did find that it took me awhile to warm to Butz, but by the end I was completely captivated by both of their stories. Butz and Scott — who possesses a thrilling belt — offer terrific performances, vocally and acting-wise, and Brown's writing continues to impress, the most gifted composer-lyricist of his generation. Thankfully, Sh-K-Boom Records has recorded the 90 minute musical, which shouldn't be missed by diva fans.

IN OTHER NEWS This week, Polly Bergen stepped into the role of the world-weary Fraulein Schneider in the Tony-winning revival of Cabaret at Studio 54. I will be speaking to Bergen next week for an upcoming column devoted to the Emmy-winning actress. Bergen, by the way, will announce the upcoming Drama Desk Award nominations on Tuesday, April 30 at the Friar's Club . . . Karen Akers, who starred on Broadway in Nine and Grand Hotel, will be honored with the 2002 Board of Directors Award at this year's MAC Awards, which will be distributed April 1 at New York's Town Hall. On April 5 and 6 the statuesque actress/singer will take to the stage of The Emelin Theatre in Mamaroneck, NY (153 Library Lane); reservations may be made by calling (914) 698-0098. The striking contralto will also perform at the Barns at Wolf Trap on April 27. Akers recorded her concert video, "Karen Akers: On Stage at Wolf Trap" — which also aired on PBS stations across the country — at the famed theatre in Vienna, VA, which is located at 1635 Trap Road (call 1-800-955-5566 for reservations). And, Akers will settle in for a month-long gig at The Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, where she will sing from April 30 through May 25; call (212) 840-6800 for reservations . . . "Jerome Kern: Life Upon the Wicked S.T.A.G.E" is the latest release from the LML Music label, and the two-CD set is a live recording of the 17th Annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event (S.T.A.G.E.), which raises money for several HIV/AIDS organizations throughout Southern California. This year's concert paid homage to Jerome Kern and boasted a host of talented performers including Charles Busch, Alan Campbell, Carole Cook, Pam Dawber, Melissa Errico, Joely Fisher, Bonnie Franklin, Robert Morse, Pamela Myers, High Panaro, Brock Peters, Valarie Pettiford, Roger Rees, Ron Rifkin, Joan Ryan and Bruce Vilanch . . . The Kennedy Center may be spending the summer with Stephen Sondheim, but April 14 will be an all Rodgers affair at the Washington, D.C. landmark when some of Broadway and Hollywood's finest performers take part in the Kennedy Center's Tenth Annual Gala. This yearly spring soiree will pay tribute to the late Richard Rodgers, and performers scheduled to sing classic and lesser-known Rodgers tunes include Kristin Chenoweth, Audra McDonald, Shirley Jones, Rita Moreno, John Raitt, Mitzi Gaynor, Celeste Holm, Howard Keel and Samuel Ramey. Tickets to the performance only are now on sale by calling the Kennedy Center box office at (202) 467-4600. Tickets to the reception and the performance are available by calling the Gala Hotline at (202) 416-8338. There is also talk that the event may be filmed for a television broadcast. Stay tuned for more!


Betty Buckley in Concert:
March 30 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA
April 8 Benefit Concert at the Studio Arena Theater in Buffalo, NY
May 4 Benefit Concert at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, IL

Barbara Cook in Concert:
April 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (Mostly Sondheim)
April 9 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, NY (June Lebell series: The Sound Of Broadway)
April 12-13 Marilyn Horne and Barbara Cook at the Warton Center at Michigan State University in MI
April 18-28 at the Mohegan Sun in CT
May 14 Cook receives the New Dramatists’ Lifetime Achievement Award at the Marriot Marquis Hotel in New York, NY
May 19-20 with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA
June 5-9 and June 12-16 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, DC
June 23-Aug. 26 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York, NY (Mostly Sondheim)
July 5 at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts in Long Island
August 14-18 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, DC
Oct. 19 at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA
Nov. 17 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ

Linda Eder in Concert:
April 5 -6 at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX
April 12 at the Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT
April 13 at the State Theatre of New Brunswick in New Brunswick, NJ
April 18 at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA Maureen McGovern in Concert:
April 30-May 6 & May 8-May 13 Cinegrill Grand Re-Opening, Los Angeles, CA
May 17-18 "Works of Heart" Seminar - New York, NY
June 22 "Music by the Lake," Lake Geneva, WI
June 29-Aug. 17 Dear World at Sundance Theater, Sundance, UT
July 4 at the Caramoor Center for Music & the Arts at the Venetian Theater, Katonah, NY
Sept. 1-2 MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon, Los Angeles, CA
Sept. 20 - 22 Grand Rapids Symphony at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids, MI
Sept 26-29 North Carolina Symphony, Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, NC
Oct. 30-Nov. 3 American Music Therapy Association Conference in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 19-Dec. 1 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8 at Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9 Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit, Carnegie Hall in New York City
Dec. 12 - 14 at Orange County Performing Arts Center Founders Hall in Costa Mesa, CA

Bernadette Peters in Concert:
April 5-6 at the Orange County Perf. Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
April 13 at the Providence Perf. Arts Center in Providence, RI
April 20 at Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis, MO
April 26 at the Hilbert Circle in Indianapolis, IN
May 18 at the Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, PA
June 19 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY
Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at the Morton H. Meyerson Hall in Dallas, TX

Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!

—By Andrew Gans

Today’s Most Popular News: