DIVA TALK: Liz on Disc, Polly on Stage and a Final Saigon...

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Liz on Disc, Polly on Stage and a Final Saigon...
Hello, diva lovers. Because of a few special projects I’m working on, “Diva Talk” will run every other Friday through the Tony Awards. Now, to the divas . . .

Hello, diva lovers. Because of a few special projects I’m working on, “Diva Talk” will run every other Friday through the Tony Awards. Now, to the divas . . .

If Liz Callaway sometimes lacks onstage the dramatic intensity of Betty Buckley or the lump-in-your-throat honesty of Bernadette Peters, on recordings she has become one of the finest vocalists around. Her smooth as-silk tones are rich, creamy and often very exciting; additionally, she has one of the least noticeable transitions from chest (belt) to head voice in the business. In the past decade Callaway has released several non show recordings, two without and one with her sister, jazz vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway. Liz’s latest effort salutes the songs of the sixties and allows the singer a chance to apply her vocal wizardry to a host of favorites from this era, including “Monday, Monday,” “Up, Up and Away” and that Petula Clark classic, “Downtown.” In fact, in the liner notes for her CD, Callaway jokes, “Some might argue that this was really just an excuse for me to fulfill my lifelong fantasy of recording ‘Downtown.’ They may be right.”

The 14-track recording, which is now available via the Fynsworth Alley website (www.fynsworthalley.com), also includes a bonus track for those who order the recording online. Interestingly, the bonus track “Here, There and Everywhere,” is the title track from Andrea Marcovicci’s most recent recording, which also features the songs of the sixties generation. If forced to choose which of the two to purchase, I would have to go with Callaway’s, as both the arrangements and vocal work on her disc are the more exhilarating. (Of course, true diva fans will need to have both for their collections!)

Highlights of Callaway’s “The Beat Goes On” include a belty version of Promises, Promises’ “Half As Big As Life”; a passionate, beautifully sung version of “You Don’t Own Me,” which was also given new life in the Bette Midler blockbuster, First Wives Club a few years ago; a sweet version of Hair’s “Frank Mills”; the toe-tapping, but deceptively aching “Wedding Bell Blues”; and a surprisingly affecting take on “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.” If her versions of “Moon River” and “Downtown” don’t rival those of the late Nancy LaMott’s, her rendition of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” is perhaps the most moving one you’ll encounter and is the highlight of this great recording. “Liz Callaway: The Beat Goes On” was produced by Bruce Kimmel and features musical direction and arrangements by Alex Rybeck.

On March 8 at the Belasco Theatre, Emmy-winning actress Polly Bergen will begin delighting audiences with her rendition of one of Stephen Sondheim’s stunners, “I’m Still Here.” Bergen, of course, will be starring as Carlotta Campion in the eagerly awaited revival of the Sondheim/James Goldman masterpiece, Follies, which will officially open on April 5. Bergen, who won an Emmy Award for her portrayal of the late Helen Morgan in the Playhouse 90 production of “The Helen Morgan Story,” was recently lauded by critics for her night-club act at Feinstein’s at the Regency, which was directed by Richard Jay-Alexander. Those who witnessed Bergen’s act tossed around words like “legendary” and “remarkable,” which makes her Broadway “comeback” even more exciting. The former star of TV’s “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” will be featured in an upcoming Playbill article by Harry Haun, and I thought you would enjoy reading a few of her choice quotes:

about an experience on a recent flight to New York:
“I flew in night before last, and on the plane was this young, tall, slim, very pretty blonde. She had the most gigantic dark sunglasses on. We landed in New York, and it’s like eight o’clock at night, and she’s got the sunglasses on and the big sable coat, and she’s sweeping out, and I looked at her, and I wanted to say, ‘Honey, get off it. You’re going to end up the way everybody else does. You’re here today, and you’re gone tomorrow.’ It was so interesting to see that. I remember it being me. I remember the dark glasses and the sable coat and the walking off of the plane . . . I think everybody has that moment in time, if you’ve been remotely successful in the business. I mean, I was, I guess, to some extent, a movie star and a television star and a recording star and a Broadway star. There was not much that I didn’t do -- whether I did it well or not, the fact of the matter is I did it -- and you look back and realize how very seriously you took all that, at the moment. I think women had much more of a tendency to do it in those days because then it was really all about being a star and not so much about being an actress.”

about her decision to leave MGM years ago for New York:
“I was signed for five years, but I hated myself on screen. One day I just said, ‘Mr. Wallis, I’m a bad actress, and I’m leaving.’ And I left. [I went to New York to sing], something I knew how to do, [and to study acting with Lee Strasberg].”

about being on a Broadway stage:
“I love big stages. That’s where I feel most at home, most exhilarated. There is nothing in my career that has brought me the kind of joy I get just walking out on the stage. Not television. Not movies. There is something about walking out on a stage that is the most fulfilling thing in the world.”

Next week, the first Encores! presentation of the season, A Connecticut Yankee, will open at City Center. Featuring a score by Rodgers and Hart, a book by Herbert Fields and direction by The Secret Garden’s Susan H. Schulman, Yankee’s most-famous song is probably “Thou Swell,” and the comical “To Keep Me Love Alive” is often heard in New York cabarets. I thought you would be interested to read the complete cast, which follows:

Arthur Pendragos/later King Arthur will be played by Henry Gibson
Gerald Gareth/Sir Galahad will be played by Sean Martin Hingston
Martin Barrett (The Yankee) will be played by Steven Sutcliffe
Albert Kay/Sir Kay will be played by Mark Lotito
Fay Morgan/Morgan Le Fay will be played by Christine Ebersole
Evelyn Lane/Dame Evelyn will be played by Nancy Lemenager
Alice Carter/Alisande (Sandy) will be played by Judith Blazer
Angela/Maid Angela will be played by Megan Sikora
Henry Merle/Merlin will be played by Peter Bartlett
Sir Launcelot will be played by Ron Leibman
Guinevere will be played by Jessica Walter
Dancers: Robert M. Armitage, Vance Avery, David Eggers, Anika Ellis, Matt Lashey, Elizabeth Mills, Aixa M. Rosario Medina, Megan Sikora
Singers: Anne Allgood, Kate Baldwin, Tony Capone, Julie Connors, John Halmi, Chris Hoch, Robert Osborne, Frank Ream, Keith Spencer, Rebecca Spencer, J.D. Webster, Mimi Wyche

IN OTHER NEWS Lawyer-to-the-stars Mark Sendroff will turn 50 this weekend, and Saturday night his many friends (and clients) in the entertainment industry will salute him in a show entitled Mark Sendroff’s Night of 1000 Star Clients: The Musical. The evening, which will be held at the famed Laura Belle restaurant will include cocktails, dinner and the show, featuring performances from Rosemary Clooney, Linda Lavin, Kaye Ballard, Polly Bergen, Randy Graff, Ann Hampton Callaway, Sam Harris, Margaret Whiting, Lainie Kazan, Marcia Lewis, Nancy Dussault, Lesley Gore, Julie Wilson, John McDaniel and many, many other luminaries. The mini-musical is being supervised by Richard Jay-Alexander, who most recently directed Barbra Streisand’s final concerts, and will include a tribute to the late Nancy LaMott, one of Sendroff’s former clients. Karen Mason will honor LaMott’s memory by singing “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” a song LaMott recorded for Sendroff’s Mostly Mercer album, which will soon be re-released on CD. (That track was also the title song for LaMott’s first solo disc on Midder Music.) Night of 1000 Star Clients promises to be a super evening for a super-nice guy . . . It was confirmed this week that Tony and Olivier Award winner Patti LuPone will bring her Matters of the Heart concert act to the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, N.J., on March 20 at 8 PM. Tickets range from $45 to $90 and may be purchased by calling (973) 376-4343 or by visiting www.papermill.org . . . Having just completed her run as Ellen in the Broadway company of Miss Saigon, London’s Ruthie Henshall will make her New York cabaret debut tomorrow night, Saturday, Feb. 3 at the FireBird Cafe (11 PM). Henshall will also play the intimate room on Saturday, Feb. 10. You can expect to hear the Olivier Award-winning performer sing tunes from her many theatre outings, including Oliver!, Crazy for You, A Chorus Line, She Loves Me and others. The FireBird Cafe is located on New York’s Restaurant Row, and there is a $30 cover and a $15 food/drink minimum; call (212) 586-0244 for reservations . . . Next Saturday, Alison Fraser will bring her cabaret act to Mamaroneck's Emelin Theater (Library Lane; 914-698-3045) for two shows, 7 PM and 9:30 PM. Featuring Romance/Romance composer Keith Herrmann on piano, Fraser will re-create some of the songs she has performed onstage in Romance and The Secret Garden, as well as tunes from her newest CD, "Men in My Life." . . . I was very happy that the Sunday New York Times devoted a feature article to Laura Benanti, one of the musical theatre’s most exciting finds in the past few years, who is currently starring opposite Lewis Cleale in Manhattan Theatre Club’s Time and Again. I first heard Benanti sing on Varese Sarabande’s “The Stephen Schwartz Album,” and I was completely thrilled by her voice, one of the more beautiful instruments to be found on any stage. In just a few short years, Benanti has scored major successes in The Sound of Music revival, replacing Rebecca Luker later in the show’s run; Swing!, where she garnered her first Tony Award nomination; and in the Encores! presentation of Wonderful Town, which, unfortunately, never made it to Broadway. In Barry Singer’s Times article, “With a Song in Her Heart,” Benanti speaks about many topics, including her notion for successful musical theatre producing. Says the talented young star, “If [producers] took the money and started promoting real musical-theatre performers, they would get that money back. If they’d promote some young talent the way they promote Cheryl Ladd [recently in Annie Get Your Gun], then that young talent would become bankable, and people would come to see him or her. I don’t at all mean this to sound self-serving, but to me they just show a lack of judgment. Unless things change, musical theater is just going to be canned goods.” Benanti also explained that she will take a three-month break after Time and Again to work on her own music. . . Another sensational songstress, cabaret legend Julie Wilson, will appear in concert on Feb. 14 to benefit the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Entitled Julie Wilson on Valentine’s Day, the 8 PM concert will be preceded by cocktails at 7 PM at W. Union Square (201 Park Avenue South at 17th Street). Tickets, priced at $125 for one seat and $200 for a pair, are now on sale through GMHC Special Events at (212) 367-1531. Don’t miss your chance to see the singer The New York Times has labeled “the most elegant and fiercely expressive singer-actress on New York’s cabaret circuit.” . . . Former Triumph of Love star Susan Egan will be cabaret singer Lisa Richard’s special guest star during Richard’s concert on Saturday, Feb. 10 at Laguna Beach High School (625 Park Avenue, Laguna Beach, CA). Tickets for the concert, which will benefit Laguna’s No Square Theatre, are available by calling (949) 515-6254 . . . Be sure to tune in this Sunday, Feb. 4, to WBAI 99.5 FM (on the internet at www.wbai.org) for Everything Old Is New Again, which will salute the music of the late Judy Holliday. You will hear Holliday's renditions of “Just in Time,” “Drop That Name,” Alec Wilder's “Trouble Is a Man” and "”What's the Rush,” a song Holliday co-authored with Gerry Mulligan. Listeners will also be treated to four renditions of the Irving Berlin classic, "How Deep Is the Ocean?" by Liza Minnelli, Bing Crosby, Lina Koutrakos and Jim Caruso.

A MEMORABLE EXIT I wasn’t able to attend the last performance of Miss Saigon, one of my favorite musicals; however, a good friend, writer, diva lover and French film director, Stephane Ly-Cuong, flew in for the event, and I asked him to write a few words about the final night of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s Saigon. Says Ly-Cuong:

“For the last four weeks of Broadway’s Miss Saigon, Lea Salonga returned to the role that made her famous and garnered her various distinctions, including a Tony and an Olivier Award. Needless to say, the excitement was high for her final performance. As soon as the lights dimmed, the audience went wild, giving warm applause to just about anyone onstage or in the orchestra pit.

Salonga’s entrance was greeted enthusiastically, and she certainly did not disappoint the numerous fans who attended the show. Her performance was incredibly amazing, probably more than ever, with her voice sounding as good, if not better than the original recording. Her acting ability has grown over the years -- she has certainly gained confidence -- and her voice has remained as clear and powerful as when she created the role.

Opposite Salonga was British diva Ruthie Henshall as Ellen. With her gorgeous voice and impressive acting skills, Henshall portrayed a strong and determined Ellen, an interesting change from many other actresses who have played the role in a more compassionate and understanding way. Her pairing with Salonga resulted in one of the most beautiful ‘I Still Believe’ duets I’ve heard.

As the show ended, the entire cast was given an instant standing ovation, with, of course, a special burst of applause for Salonga. Then, producer Cameron Mackintosh and composer Claude-Michel Schonberg both made short speeches before red balloons fell from the ceiling on a cheering audience, now eager to see new material from this successful team.”


Following is Buckley’s most recent, ever-growing concert schedule:
Feb. 10 Palm Springs Convention Center in Palm Springs, CA (fundraiser)
March 3 Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA
March 11-12 at the Geary Theater in San Francisco, CA
March 16-17 at the Bottom Line in New York, NY
April 1 at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA
April 16 at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, TX
May 12 College of Staten Island’s Center for the Arts in Staten Island, NY
May 24 at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston, MA
June 17 at the Le Petit Theatre in New Orleans, LA
August 25 at the Great Waters Music Festival in Wolfeboro, NH
October 6 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ (with Michael Feinstein)
November 24 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ (with Michael Feinstein)
December 6 at Abravenal Hall with the Utah Symphony in Salt Lake City, UT (Xmas program)

Feb. 2 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Feb. 12 Master Class at the Juilliard School in New York, NY
Feb. 23 and 24 at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos, CA (with Michael Feinstein)
April 21 in Palm Desert, CA
July 9 at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL

Eder in concert:
Feb. 2 in Phoenix, AZ at the Orpheum Theatre
Feb. 3 at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek, CO; (888) 920 2787
Feb. 15-17 in Washington, D.C. at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; (202) 467-4600
Feb. 23 at the Westbury Music Fair in Long Island, NY; call (516) 334 0800
Feb. 24 at the Community Theatre in Morristown, NJ; (973) 539-8008
March 8 in Clearwater, FL at the Ruth Eckerd Hall; (727) 791-7400
March 9 in Sarasota, FL at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall; www.vanwezel.org
March 10 in Melbourne, FL at the Maxwell C. King Center for the Performing Arts; (407) 242-2219
March 17 at the Thomasville Cultural Center in Thomasville, GA (912 226-0588)
March 22 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA
April 29 at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA (978-232 7200)

May 31-June 3 in Pittsburgh, PA at Heinz Hall; call (412) 392 4900

Several concert dates have been added to Patti LuPone’s ever-growing schedule. What follows are La LuPone’s confirmed concert appearances as of this week:
April 8 ("Matters Of The Heart") at Duke University’s Page Auditorium in Durham, North Carolina; (919) 684-4444
August 3 and 4 at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, CA

What follows is Mason’s up-to-date performance schedule:
March 17 Appearance at 92nd Street Y with Craig Carnelia in New York, NY
May 9-20 at Davenports cabaret in Chicago, IL

The two-time Tony winner, who recently concluded her run in Annie Get Your Gun, is now on a U.S. concert tour:
March 29 at Proctor’s Theatre in Schenectady, NY
April 6 at the Bass Perf. Hall in Fort Worth, TX (with symphony)
April 7-8 at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston, TX
April 19 at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto (with symphony)
April 28 at the Pasquerilla PAC in Johnstown, PA
May 11-12 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN (with symphony)
May 18-20 at the Myerson Hall in Dallas, TX (with symphony)

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

By Andrew Gans

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