I spent one of the most enjoyable hours this past Monday night at a group sales (for those who book large theatre groups) presentation of scenes from the current Broadway company of Chicago (Ute Lemper and Karen Ziemba) and the upcoming revival of Annie Get Your Gun (Bernadette Peters).
First up was a 30-minute selection from Kander and Ebb's Chicago, which began with that show's opening number, the spirited "All That Jazz." For anyone who feared this Tony-winning revival would lose some of its fire once Bebe Neuwirth departed, rest assured, it hasn't. Lending her own quirky energy to the role of Velma Kelly is the European sensation Ute Lemper, whose striking physical appearance is only a small part of the package. Not only is she a splendid dancer with some of the longest legs you'll ever see, she has a unique voice that soars to the rafters. You're never quite sure where the sound is coming from, but all of a sudden Ms. Lemper lets loose with a jazz-inflected note that thrills. Listen to her last few notes on "All That Jazz," and you'll hear what I mean.
Equally wonderful is the new Roxie Hart, Karen Ziemba,the third to play the role on Broadway, following -- literally -- in the footsteps of Ann Reinking and Marilu Henner. Ziemba brings her own charm to the role, and although she has built her career portraying more honey-coated characters in Crazy for You and Steel Pier, she is equally at home playing this merry murderess: Witness her facial expressions and the way she moves and contorts her body in "We Both Reached for the Gun." The new Billy Flynn, Brent Barrett, is equally as suave as his Tony-winning predecessor, James Naughton, but possesses a voice that is even stronger, and his final notes on "Gun" are thrilling.
The audience was also treated to the second-act duet between Lemper and Matron "Mama" Morton, "Class." As Mama, Marcia Lewis remains a gem, always finding the most comical way to approach a line of dialogue or the best vocal style to deliver one of Fred Ebb's brilliant lyrics. The Chicago selection concluded with Lemper and Ziemba's superb dancing in "Hot Honey Rag" and the entire cast's reprise of "All That Jazz." If you've yet to see Chicago, it is still one of the most electric nights you'll spend in the theatre, with a superb, sexy chorus of singers/dancers. And, if you've seen just the original cast, get yourself back to the Shubert Theatre to see this new, equally wonderful group of talented actors.
The selections from Annie Get Your Gun immediately followed, beginning with Tom Wopat's simple, slowed-down rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business." Ron Holgate, who plays Colonel Buffalo Bill (the owner of the "most famous Wild West show that has ever traveled across the country") came on stage next, announcing, "You have just seen excerpts from the 1997 Tony winner, which has been playing in this very theatre for the last two years. You are now going to see excerpts from my show, which has not yet run two years. In fact, we've only been rehearsing for two weeks! And we don't have any sets and costumes and we don't have orchestrations yet, but what we do have is Frank Butler . . .and Annie Oakley. . .and this is their story as told under my big top." After a few more verses of "Business" were offered, out came the ever youthful Bernadette Peters as Annie Oakley, with her cascading locks in a countryish pony-tailed style. She and Wopat exchanged a few lines of dialogue, and there is already a great chemistry between the two performers -- observe Peters' expression as she looks into Wopat's eyes for the first time. After a bit of prodding from Peters (as Annie Oakley), Wopat launched into a portion of "The Girl I Will Marry"; he has a gentle way with a lyric, and applied his rich baritone to Irving Berlin's classic song. Peters then sang a reprise of the tune, gently caressing the notes in a beautifully lyrical rendition, which segued into a portion of the comical "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun."
Peters switched to a more contemplative mode to sing a tender version of "Moonshine Lullaby" to the young children, who, in this updated version of AGYG, are Annie Oakley's nieces and nephews rather than her siblings. Listening to Peters sing this Berlin gem, one is reminded why she has become one of the musical theatre's most sought-after and beloved performers. Peters manages to take a song you've heard dozens of times and transform it into something fresh and exciting, with a subtle vocal inflection here and a little trill there. She and Wopat then offered a moving "They Say It's Wonderful," which segued into my favorite song of the evening, a terrific, riotous take on "Old-Fashioned Wedding." Demonstrating that she is one of the best comedic performers around, Peters found every possible laugh during this tongue-twisting sing-off. As always, it was a joy to watch her perform, and Annie promises to be one of the biggest hits of the season.
Annie Get Your Gun will begin performances at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Dec. 29. The opening night in Washington is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 7, 1999, and the show will play through Sunday, Jan. 24, 1999. The performance schedule is as follows: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8pm with matinees on Saturdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 1:30 and 7 PM. Tickets are priced at $20-$75; call Instant Charge at (202) 416-8000. The musical will arrive on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre a week later on Tuesday, February 2, 1999. The official Broadway opening night is Thursday, March 4, 1999, and the performance for the B'way schedule is as follows: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 PM. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are priced at $35-$75; call TicketMaster at (212) 307-4100.
There is very exciting news on the Betty Buckley front. It appears that BB will indeed star in the new Nicky Silver play, The Eros Trilogy. The comedy -- in which Buckley will play two roles -- is scheduled to begin performances in Jan. at the Vineyard Theatre, and it will be Ms. B's first non-singing stage role since she began her critically acclaimed run in Sunset Boulevard. Silver is best known to New York audiences for such comedies as The Food Chain, Pterodactyls and Raised in Captivity. Stay tuned for ticket and scheduling information.
I would be hard-pressed to suggest a more enjoyable evening than sitting in Rainbow & Stars -- 65 stories high above Rockefeller Plaza -- watching the magnificent view of the city and listening to the lush, velvety tones of Karen Akers. Akers is currently performing at this beautiful cabaret through Dec. 5, and her latest act adds many new songs to her repertoire as well as a few welcome old favorites. Dressed in a fiery red outfit, the stunning, six-foot chanteuse began the evening with Lerner and Lane's "You're All the World To Me," which was followed by "Sailing On," one of my personal favorite Akers tunes. Written by Dean Pitchford and Alan Menken, Akers first recorded the song about a decade ago on her album "In a Very Unusual Way," and she is singing better than ever. A beautifully shaded version of The Scarlet Pimpernel's "Storybook" in both French and English was next, a song that she built to a thrilling climax, pleading, "Come be the love I can hold now. Storybook love leaves me cold now. Show me the way to stop dreaming. . ." Akers continued in French with "Drouot," one of two songs by the late European singer Barbara that she performed during the 65-minute set. An impassioned "I Don't Want To Know" from Jerry Herman's Dear World preceded two songs from the recent Off-Broadway hit, When Pigs Fly: the comical "Torch Song 1" and the poignant "Laughing Matters." Akers then belted the hell out of Noel Coward's "Twentieth Century Blues" and had some fun with "Back on Bass" from the Maltby and Shire revue, Closer Than Ever.
The second song by Barbara, "L'Aigle Noir," which had a beautiful, haunting melody, was a perfect prelude to my favorite song of the evening, Kurt Weill's "Lost in the Stars": Akers slowed down the tempo of the classic tune, carefully enunciating each and every word while reveling in the song's wonderful melody. A combination of "Crazy He Calls Me" and "Crazy" received an emotional delivery, and the star of Nine and Grand Hotel finished her recital with a stentorian version of one of Edith Piaf's signature tunes, "Mon Dieu." Another Piaf classic, "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," which has also become an Akers staple, was a fitting ending to an enchanting evening of song. Be sure to catch Akers in action at Rainbow & Stars, her last engagement before this club shuts its doors. (Show times are 8:30 and 11:00 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays; there is a $40 music charge, and dinner is required at early shows. Call (212) 632 5000 for reservations.)
Loni Ackerman currently stars in The Story Goes On, a new revue of the work of Richard Maltby and David Shire through Dec. 13 at the Kaufman Theatre. Directed by Ray Roderick with Mr. Shire at the piano, tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200. The Kaufman Theatre is located on 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues.
LAURIE BEECHMAN TRIBUTE
The list continues to grow: More names are being added on a daily basis to the list of performers who will salute the late Laurie (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats, Les Miserables) Beechman this Nov. 30 at a concert held at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Titled Let the Memory Live Again: A Musical Celebration for Laurie Beechman, the evening will benefit Gilda's Club, where Beechman found support during her struggles with ovarian cancer.
The most recent performer who has signed on is Phantom of the Opera star Davis Gaines, who will join two other masked Phantoms, Kevin Gray and Brad Little, onstage to perform "The Music of the Night." Others scheduled to perform include Betty Buckley, Sam Harris, Christiane Noll, Douglas Sills, Andrea McArdle, Melissa Hart, Robert Evan, Raymond Jarimillo McLeod, Kevin Gray, Dodie Pettit, Grant Prickett, Karen Mason, Ken Page, Dan Schiff, Brad Little, Lisa Kain Marcelli, Christine Andreas, Terrence Mann, Linda Eder, Mary Testa, Amy Jo Arrington and more. ( Patti LaBelle was forced to withdraw due to booking commitments.) Call (202) 226-1780 for more information or visit Congressman Fox's web site (http://www.house.gov/fox).
BB concert line-up:
Dec. 28 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 29 at the Kravis Center for the Perf Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 30 in Fort Lauderdale, FL
Dec. 31 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, FL
Jan. 14, 1999 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, CA
Jan. 16 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, DE
February 6 at the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, CA
April 17 at the Lehman Center for the Perf. Arts in Bronx, NY
April 23 at the College of New Jersey in Erwing, NJ
May 3 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, Ill.
Nov. 20 at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in York, PA
Nov. 21 at the Southern Theatre in Columbus, OH
Dec. 8-9 at the FAU Auditorium in Boca Raton, FL
LuPone will bring her acclaimed, new concert act, "Matters of the Heart," to the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia on Jan. 11 and 13, 1999. The new act, which premiered this past August in California, was conceived and directed by Scott Wittman, the same man responsible for her Broadway concert, Patti LuPone on Broadway. The new act is an evening of original and contemporary music and boasts an eclectic mix of songwriters, including works by Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter and Randy Newman. For ticket info and orders, go to www.tickettek.com.au/Sydney Festival Home Page or www.sydneyfestival.org.au. Trivia buffs will recall that Patti has performed in Australia on one other occasion when she received critical acclaim in the Australian production of Evita in the early eighties.
After her Sydney engagement, LuPone will bring the new act to the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert, California on Jan. 29 and 30, 1999. Call the McCallum's box office at (760) 340-2787 for tickets. And, on March 5, 6, and 7, 1999 she will appear with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore. Tickets go on sale Jan. 4, 1999 but may be purchased during the Symphony's early sale from Dec. 1 to 23; call (410) 783-8000.
Nov. 11-21, Mason will open Davenports, a new cabaret space in her home town of Chicago.
Below are a few concert bookings for the star of stage and screen: Nov. 11-22 in a production of Of Thee I Sing at the UCLA Freud Theatre, in Los Angeles, CA
Dec. 10-13 with the Phoenix Symphony in Phoenix, Arizona
IN CELEBRATION OF LIFE
The seventh annual In Celebration of Life performance will be held this Sunday, Nov. 22 at 8pm at The Church of St. Paul The Apostle (Columbus Avenue at 60th Street). The evening, which will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, matches performers with composers and lyricists, who have created new songs focusing on life. All songs are written expressly for the evening, and this year's program boasts such Broadway and cabaret performers as Tom Andersen, Liz Callaway, David Campbell, David Garrison, Randy Graff, Judy Kaye, Alix Korey, Norm Lewis, Karen Mason, Marin Mazzie, Cass Morgan, Phillip Officer, Evan Pappas, Alice Ripley, Julie Wilson and many others. Those composers and lyricists whose work will be performed during the evening include Ricky Ian Gordon, Carol Hall, Nan Knighton, Henry Krieger, Stephen Schwartz and more. Tickets for In Celebration of Life 7 are $60 (includes a post-performance reception) and $30 and may be purchased by calling (212) 265-3495 x309.
RAINBOW & STARS
Karen Akers Nov. 17 - Dec. 5
Darlene Love begins Dec. 8
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching!
by Andrew Gans
e-mail me at email@example.com
Diva Talk is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard, 1976-1998.