DIVA TALK: Nancy LaMott Revisited Plus Backwards Chats with Butler, Duncan, Kazan and More

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Nancy LaMott Revisited Plus Backwards Chats with Butler, Duncan, Kazan and More
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Nancy LaMott
Nancy LaMott

"Nancy LaMott—Ask Me Again" is the new, posthumously released two-CD set of songs performed by the late, great Nancy LaMott. It's an entirely fitting title, since "Ask Me Again" is a long-lost Gershwin gem that Michael Feinstein unearthed a few years back, and this new, thrilling collection features 20 treasures that would have been lost to LaMott admirers had it not been for the efforts of composer David Friedman, who promised LaMott on her deathbed that he would help spread her gifts of music around the world. To that end, Midder Music has already released "What's Good About Goodbye?" and "Nancy LaMott: Live at Tavern on the Green."

Most of the songs on "Ask Me Again" were part of a private collection owned by radio personality Jonathan Schwartz — tunes recorded during 1988-1994 that LaMott had gifted Schwartz, her longtime champion, throughout the years. Some were performed live in concert, others on radio station WQEW, while several were piano-and-voice recordings preserved at small studios.

The majority of the tunes feature piano accompaniment by Christopher Marlowe, LaMott's musical director, whose arrangements are an integral part of the beauty of these recordings. LaMott, who was arguably the finest singer the cabaret world produced in the past few decades, was blessed with a honey-toned sound and a rangy, powerful belt; more than that, however, she was able to find the essence of a song and convey that to the listener simply, beautifully and without emotional or vocal overindulgence. Onstage LaMott was sunny without ever being blindingly so, and she embraced realism without any touch of world-weariness. Her voice was filled with a natural warmth that could pierce the soul, and she never sacrificed melody or a song's lyrical intention for vocal acrobatics.

Nancy LaMott's soon-to-be-released CD and DVD

The first CD begins with Leslie Bricusse's "You and I," and each successive track is simply terrific. Whether she's joyously singing "Cheek to Cheek" or tugging at the heart with "On My Way to You," LaMott's gifts as an expert interpreter are on full display. She also scores with the little-heard Jule Styne tune "Killing Time," a belty "Call Me Irresponsible" and the Cole Porter classic "Easy to Love." On the second disc, LaMott offers a wonderful version of Van Morrison's "Moondance" and a simple, slowed-down take on "The Wind Beneath My Wings." She performs a full-voiced "The Music That Makes Me Dance," and the disc's highlight may be a heartfelt reading of "No One Is Alone" that simply melts into another Stephen Sondheim song, "Not While I'm Around." The recording's penultimate number is a definitive version of Rodgers and Hart's "I Didn't Know What Time It Was," which was recorded Dec. 9, 1995, just days before LaMott's untimely death from uterine cancer: Here, LaMott was singing about love found as if her life depended on it. . . and perhaps it did. What may be even more treasured by LaMott fans is the first Midder Music DVD, "Nancy LaMott: I'll Be Here With You," which offers a mix of rare live performances spanning the years 1978-1995. The disc boasts 24 selections and captures the life of a singer through changing hair styles and fluctuating weights. It's quite remarkable to watch the transition in LaMott's performance style and look: She begins as a Liza Minnelli-ish belter and through the years finds her own vocal style that is second to none — one where her quieter tones were as emotionally potent as her biggest belt. Among the many highlights are a wonderful, comic version of the Gershwins' "It Ain't Necessarily So"; a wholly unexpected yet emotionally potent version of Billy Joel's "Time to Remember" in which LaMott demonstrates she's an equally gifted interpreter of pop tunes; a simple reading of the holiday tune "I'll Be Home for Christmas"; a pairing of "Out of This World" and "So in Love" that is simply riveting; a tender "I'll Be Here With You"; a heartbreaking "Moon River" performed just weeks before her death; and an uplifting "Listen to My Heart."

Both "Nancy LaMott—Ask Me Again" and "Nancy LaMott: I'll Be Here With You" will arrive in stores Feb. 12. The complete track listings follow:

"Ask Me Again" CDs
CD 1:
"You and I"
"Ask Me Again"
"The Shadow of Your Smile"
"Cheek to Cheek"
"Sophisticated Lady"
"On My Way to You"
"Easy to Love"
"Killing Time"
"Call Me Irresponsible"
"Right as the Rain"

CD 2:
"You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me"
"September in the Rain"
"I Only Have Eyes for You"
"The Wind Beneath My Wings"
"You'll Never Know"
"The Music that Makes Me Dance"
"No One is Alone"/"Not While I'm Around"
"I Didn't Know What Time it Was"
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"

"I'll Be Here with You" DVD
"But the World Goes 'Round"
"Another Mr. Right"
"Some Other Time"
"Loud is Good"
"Time to Remember"
"You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby"
"The Blues"
"I Love a Piano"
"It Ain't Necessarily So"
"The Darktown Strutters' Ball"/"Alexander's Ragtime Band"
"Alexander's Ragtime Band"/"The Darktown Strutters' Ball"
"Where Do You Start?"
"We Can Be Kind"
"Time After Time"
"Just in Time for Christmas"
"I'll Be Home for Christmas"
"The Best is Yet to Come"
"All the Things You Are"/"I'm Glad There is You"
"I'll Be Here with You"
"Help is On the Way"
"Out of This World"/"So In Love"
"Waters of March"
"Moon River"
"Listen to My Heart"

For more information visit www.nancylamott.com.

Broadway Backwards, the annual benefit for New York's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Community Center, is quickly becoming one of the more anticipated concerts of the theatre season. Created by Robert Bartley, who also directs, Broadway Backwards III — featuring male singers performing songs traditionally sung by women and women singing tunes written for men — will be presented Feb. 4 at the American Airlines Theatre. To date the starry list of performers boasts host Seth Rudetsky as well as Kerry Butler, Anthony Rapp, Ann Harada, Julie Halston, Michelle Blakely, Aaron Lazar, Lainie Kazan, Karen Mason, Julia Murney, Liz Callaway, Jen Colella, Tony Yazbeck, Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Beach, Charles Busch, Cheyenne Jackson, Nancy Dussault, Malcolm Gets, Tituss Burgess, David Burtka, Tastiskank (Kate Reinders and Sarah Litzsinger), Len Cariou, Brooks Ashmanskas, Sandy Duncan, Jose Llana and Sierra Boggess.

In keeping with the theme of the upcoming benefit, I posed the same two questions to a few of those scheduled to perform: (1) If you could play one theatre role that was written for the opposite sex, what would it be and why? and (2) What is one song written for the opposite sex that you've always wanted to sing? Answers follow.

David Burtka, seen on Broadway in Gypsy and Off-Broadway in The Play About the Baby:
(1) Probably something intense — really intense, say Medea or Lady MacBeth. Women's parts are often richer, deeper, emotionally. I'd love to play a part where I go absolutely crazy!
(2) I'm not sure. Maybe "Times Like This" from Lucky Stiff. It's such a sweet, yet moving song. You don't see many women songwriters, but when women tell a story, it's more true to heart. Lynn Ahrens is amazing.

Kerry Butler, with Curtis Holbrook and André Ward, in Xanadu
photo by Paul Kolnik

Kerry Butler, who is currently starring in Broadway's Xanadu while recording her first solo CD (she also has a recurring role on TV's "Lipstick Jungle"):
(1) Mickey in Blood Brothers. That was my first Broadway show, and I actually would like to play every part in it! The characters age 20 years throughout the show, so that is fun, and it is almost like a play with music. I love that show!
(2) "Soliloquy" from Carousel, again another great dramatic song. Len Cariou, who is currently directing Glengarry Glen Ross for the Manitoba Theatre Centre's 50th anniversary:
(1) Mrs. Malaprop in The Rivals.
(2) "The Man I Love."

Sandy Duncan, who will be seen later this season in the City Center Encores! production of No, No, Nanette:
(1) Any leading man in a Rodgers and Hammerstein show because they are all flawed, but with enormous strength, vulnerability, sensitivity and sex appeal. What's not to like about that whether you are male or female? Besides, everyone in the cast and audience gets a crush on you. I have done nearly all them and I know this to be true.
(2) Billy Bigelow's "Soliloquy" from Carousel.

Neil Patrick Harris, star of TV's "How I Met Your Mother" and Broadway's Assassins and Cabaret:
(1) Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd. Funny, loopy, yet dark. Good theatre roles should incorporate darkness...
(2) Wow. Maybe "And I Am Telling You (I'm Not Going)" from Dreamgirls. I remember being hypnotized by Jennifer Holiday's gaping, vibrato-laden maw when she performed at the Tony's. It's an image that has seared into my mind. Probably the most ferocious song ever.

Lainie Kazan, who will join Rene Taylor and Joe Bologna in a production of their comedy Bermuda Avenue Triangle this April at the Kravis Center in Palm Beach, FL:
(1) Tevye in Fiddler of the Roof. It's an extraordinary role with pathos, humor, humanity and wonderful music.
(2) "Soliloquy" from Carousel.

Jose Llana, whose current projects include Cara Reichel and Peter Mills' Honor, a musical adaptation of As You Like It for the Prospect Theater Company, and a reading for a new musical at New Dramatists, The Listener:
(1) Kim in Miss Saigon. Every Filipino kid growing up who wanted to do theatre worshipped this show. And I could always call Lea for pointers.
(2) "Green Finch and Linnet Bird." "Not Getting Married Today." Anything Sondheim wrote. The American Airlines Theatre is located in Manhattan at 227 West 42nd Street. Only $250 orchestra seats remain; they are on sale through theatermania.com. (For $1,500 and $5,000 tickets — includes preferred seating, after party and membership in the Center's Leadership and President's Circle — e-mail Jeffrey Klein at jklein@gaycenter.org.)

For more information visit www.gaycenter.org.

Kelli O'Hara

Kelli O'Hara, who will return to the Broadway stage later this season in the Lincoln Center Theater revival of South Pacific, will release her debut solo recording in May. On May 6 O'Hara's "Wonder in the World" is scheduled to arrive in stores on the Ghostlight Records label. The recording features music arranged and orchestrated by O'Hara's Pajama Game co-star, Harry Connick, Jr. Connick also accompanies O'Hara on piano on 12 of the recording's 14 tracks. The recording features covers of Billy Joel and James Taylor tunes as well as original songs and tunes from the Great American Songbook; among the titles are "The Sun Went Out," "Wonder in the World" (a duet with Connick, Jr., who penned the tune), "And So It Goes," "Here Now," "All the Way," "And I Love You So," "Spooky" and "Fire and Rain." Tony Award winner Idina Menzel, last on Broadway in Wicked, will celebrate the release of her new solo recording with a performance at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. Menzel will take part in a performance and CD signing at the Manhattan music store Jan. 29 at 6:30 PM. Those who purchase Menzel's "I Stand" — beginning at 9 AM on Jan. 29 — will receive a wristband to attend the performance/signing. "I Stand" is scheduled to arrive in stores around the country Jan. 29. Menzel will also make an appearance on NBC's "Today Show" that same morning. The Virgin Megastore is located in Manhattan at 1540 Broadway; for more information visit www.idinamenzel.com.

Natalie Joy Johnson, who currently stars in Legally Blonde at the Palace Theatre, will debut a new club act at Therapy next month. Johnson is scheduled to play the Manhattan nightspot Feb. 25 at 9 PM and March 4 and 13 at 11 PM. Her new show features special material penned by John Hill, musical direction by Brian Nash and direction by Joy's Ben Rimalower. There is no cover charge or minimum for Johnson's concert. Therapy is located in Manhattan at 348 West 52nd Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. For more information visit www.therapy-nyc.com or call (212) 397-1700.

Tammy Faye Sings is the title of a Feb. 18 concert at the Metropolitan Room, which will feature songs from the musical Big Tent, which is tagged "The Tammy Faye Bakker Musical." The 9:30 PM concert at the Manhattan nightspot will feature the talents of Wicked's Stephanie J. Block and Jersey Boys' Sebastian Arcelus as well as Leah Hocking, Jim Stanek, DB Bonds, Kate Rockwell, Jenny Hill, Natalie Douglas, Quiana Parler, Linda Balgord, Jodie Langel, Eric Briarley, Casey Clark, Ryan Driscoll and Hedi Weyhmueller. Jeffery Self, who penned the book for the Tammy Faye musical, will host the evening. The band will feature Big Tent composers Ben Cohn and Sean McDaniel on, respectively, piano and drums with Ric Molina on guitar and Dave Kuhn on bass. The Metropolitan Room is located in Manhattan at 34 West 22nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. There is a $15 cover charge and a two-drink minimum; call (212) 206-0440 for reservations or visit metropolitanroom.com. For more information visit myspace.com/tammymusical.

And, finally, congratulations to Doris Eaton Travis, the audience favorite at the annual BC/EFA Easter Bonnet Competition, who was the Grand Marshal of the recent parade to kick off the Art Deco Weekend in South Beach, FL. The 31st annual celebration of Art Deco paid tribute to the Broadway musicals of the thirties and forties; and, who better to be Grand Marshal than Travis, who at 103, is the last surviving original Ziegfeld Follies "girl"? By the way, this year's Easter Bonnet Competition will be presented April 28 and 29 at a Broadway theatre to be announced. For more information visit www.broadwaycares.org.

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

"Before the Parade Passes By": Grand Marshal Doris Eaton Travis (r.) with Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower, who declared Jan. 18 Doris Eaton Travis Day.
"Before the Parade Passes By": Grand Marshal Doris Eaton Travis (r.) with Miami Beach Mayor Matti Bower, who declared Jan. 18 Doris Eaton Travis Day.
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