DIVA TALK: The Gals of Funny Girl PLUS Diva News!

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: The Gals of Funny Girl PLUS Diva News!
The Second Annual Benefit Concert for The Actors' Fund of America

The Second Annual Benefit Concert for The Actors' Fund of America

I've heard "Don't Rain on My Parade" performed by dozens of singers, many with extremely exciting renditions. But no one since Barbra Streisand has delivered the song as thrillingly or with as much zest as Lillias White, one of the many wonderful performers at Monday's all-star Funny Girl concert. It was one of the few moments during the evening where the thought "I wonder what it was like seeing Streisand perform this song on Broadway" never crossed the mind. Part of that may be due to the fact that White and Streisand's styles are so completely different, and White was smart enough to use this to her advantage. Her version of "Don't Rain On My Parade" was almost a gospel anthem, complete with soaring climaxes and several riffs. In fact, one of the many things that makes White's singing so enjoyable — apart from the sheer power of her tone and her investment in each lyric — is her use of riffs. But unlike so many of today's pop singers, White doesn't riff every other note. She uses them sparingly, and in doing so, makes them so effective. Hopefully White will record the tune at some point, as her rendition deserves a wider audience than the sold-out crowd who rewarded the Tony Award winner with a frenzied applause (myself included).

If White was the evening's high point, there were several other terrific moments. Vocally, the additional standouts were Thoroughly Modern Millie's Sutton Foster, who received the first screams of ecstasy of the night after her rendition of "I'm the Greatest Star"; Carolee Carmello, whose belty "The Music That Makes Me Dance" was exceptional (her focused, piercing voice, singing "and hiiiiiiiiiis is the onlyyyyy muuuuusic that makes me dance" was thrilling); Julia Murney, who despite being somewhat cool in the preceding dialogue scene, provided an intense, moving, full-voiced "People," sensationally belting "are the luckiest peeeeeeople (wow!) in the wooorld"; Kristin Chenoweth, whose comic timing (she and Spencer Kayden offered, perhaps, the most comedic Fanny moments) and amazingly high coloratura added to the humor of "His Loves Makes Me Beautiful," which also showcased Jason Danieley's gorgeous, powerful tenor; Jane Krakowski, who looked a touch too beautiful but pulled out all the stops in the production number "Sadie, Sadie"; the always entertaining Bebe Neuwirth, who sang, danced and charmed in "Rat Tat Tat Tat"; and Judy Kuhn, who delivered "Who Are You Now?" with her usual golden tones.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the evening — directed by Peter Flynn and choreographed by Devanand Janki and Robert Tatad — was waiting for each successive Fanny to take the stage: What actress would be next? What would she be wearing? What should would she sing? How would she sound? It was an extremely clever idea on the part of artistic producer/musical director Seth Rudetsky, not only because it enabled a host of stars to take part, but it solved the problem of finding someone to fill Streisand's enormous shoes.

As for some of the questions those not attending probably have: Can Ricki Lake sing? (Well, she's on pitch, but she has the sound of a non-singer with an uncontrolled vibrato.) How did Andrea Martin handle the ballad "Funny Girl"? (One of the "Funniest Girls" around, Martin was at a disadvantage following such tremendous singers, especially with a song that requires long, held notes, something her voice just isn't suited for; that said, however, she looked terrific and, being a huge Martin fan, I'm always happy just to see her onstage — acting, singing, telling jokes, whatever.) How was Ana Gasteyer in a non-"Saturday Night Live" scene? (Gasteyer actually has a pleasant, strong voice, although she seemed a bit nervous and was less funny than she usually is on SNL.) And, for those who did attend: Who was the unbilled Fanny in the second half of the evening? (Veteran stage actress Alice Playten, who has appeared in the original Broadway companies of Gypsy; Oliver!; Hello, Dolly! as well as Rumors and Seussical!). And, for those keeping track, here are the Fannys and their songs:

"I'm the Greatest Star" (Sutton Foster)
"Cornet Man" (Idina Menzel)
"Nicky Arnstein #1" (Ricki Lake)
"His Love Makes Me Beautiful" (Kristin Chenoweth)
"I Want To Be Seen With You Tonight" (LaChanze)
"People" (Julia Murney)
"You Are Woman, I Am Man" (Ana Gasteyer)
"Don't Rain On My Parade" (Lillias White)
"Sadie, Sadie" (Jane Krakowski)
"Rat Tat Tat Tat" (Bebe Neuwirth)
"Who Are You Now?" (Judy Kuhn)
"Funny Girl" (Andrea Martin)
"The Music That Makes Me Dance" (Carolee Carmello)

As for the remainder of the cast: Whoopi Goldberg — the first Fanny of the evening — brought star power to the opening and closing scenes; Peter Gallagher offered his usual charm and throbbing baritone to the role of Nicky Arnstein, and it was a kick to watch many of the Fannys flirt, kiss and even grope the matinee idol; veteran actresses Kaye Ballard (Mrs. Brice) and Marcia Lewis (Mrs. Strakosh) seemed to relish their time onstage as much as the audience enjoyed watching them; John Scherer offered fine work as second banana Eddie Ryan; Len Cariou provided an imposing, yet caring Florenz Ziegfeld; and Streisand impersonator Stephen Brinberg and three others in drag (Varla Jean Merman, Edie and Michael Benjamin Washington) offered some hilarious moments during "His Love Makes Me Beautiful." Other "names": John Bolton as John and Director, Adrienne Lennox as Emma, Kristin Zbornik as Mrs. O'Malley, Christine Pedi as Mrs. Meeker, Gary Beach as Keeney, Brad Oscar as Paul and Richard Kind as Renaldi. Also seen in split second parts: Sam Harris, Stephanie Mills and even Robin Byrd.

Following last year's Dreamgirls concert, Funny Girl was the second of what seems to be a yearly fundraising event for The Actors' Fund of America. If next season's title is still up for grabs, how 'bout an all-star Evita with a different actress playing each scene? I think Eva has about 20 songs, so let's start the list now!

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: Judy Kuhn, who was one of the many Fanny Brices in the Sept. 23 Funny Girl benefit concert (see above), will return to the intimate stage of Joe's Pub on Nov. 11. The star of such musicals as Les Misérables, Chess and She Loves Me, Kuhn will perform her acclaimed concert act, which she debuted this past spring during Lincoln Center's American Songbook series. Kuhn will offer two shows on Nov. 11 at 7:30 and 9:30 PM where she is expected to perform Joni Mitchell's "All I Want" and "Let the Wind Carry Me"; Tom Waits' "I Don't Want to Grow Up"; Kurt Weill's "Susan's Dream"; and Harold Arlen's "Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street, between East 4th Street and Astor Place. Tickets are available at the Public Theater's box office, on-line at www.telecharge.com or by phone at (212) 239-6200 . . . The cast of last season's Prodigal — the Australian musical that premiered at The York Theatre Company in Feb. 2002 — will head into the recording studio in October. JAY Records, the independent label run by John Yap, will record the musical by Mathew Frank (music) and Dean Bryant (book and lyrics) on Oct. 7 and 8. The original Off Broadway cast, including Kerry Butler (Hairspray, Bat Boy), Alison Fraser (Romance, Romance; Secret Garden; March of the Falsettos), Joshua Park (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), Christian Borle (Jesus Christ Superstar, Footloose, Amour) and David Hess (Annie Get Your Gun), will all take part in the recording. There is no official release date at this time . . . A host of Broadway favorites can be heard on the new CD, "Broadway Romances Manhattan," which will be released Oct. 22 to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Produced by singer-actress Lynn Pinto and sound engineer George Huckins, the duo who launched the successful holiday CDs for BC/EFA ("Carols for a Cure"), the recording includes these tracks: "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon for New York" - Jose Llana; "New York State of Mind" - Louise Pitre; "Lullaby of Broadway" - Marc Kudisch & Gavin Creel; "Harlem Waltz" - Martine Allard; "Manhattan" - Christopher Sieber; "What More Do I Need?" - Judy Kaye; "I Can't Help but Fall in Love" - Sam Piperato; "7th Street and Avenue A" - Ann Hampton Callaway; "Don't Sleep in the Subway" Eric Michael Gillett; "Autumn in New York" - Karen Mason; "I Happen to Like New York" - Bryan Batt; "Big Yellow Taxi" - Lynn Pinto; and "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters" - Manley Pope. "Broadway Romances Manhattan" will be available at Virgin and other select music stores and through the Broadway Cares website. Go to www.bcefa.org for more information . . . And, finally, the next three gals to take up residence at the Westside Theatre in The Vagina Monologues are three musical theatre stars: Phyllis Newman, Lea DeLaria and The Lion King's Tsidii Le Loka. The threesome will perform Eve Ensler's long-running play Oct. 3 through Oct. 22.


Betty Buckley in Concert:

Sept. 28 at the Haugh Performing Arts Center in Glendora, CA
Oct. 3-6 at the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, TX
Oct. 22-Nov. 9 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York, NY
Nov. 16 at the Performing Arts Center of SUNY-Purchase in Purchase, NY
Dec. 6 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC

Liz Callaway in Concert

September 30 in the Merrily We Roll Along Reunion Concert in New York, NY
October 5 with the Westchester Philharmonic concert of Richard Rodgers music
May 16, 2003 in "Broadway Showstoppers" with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops in Philadelphia, PA Barbara Cook in Concert:

Oct. 1-5 at the Merriam Theatre in Philadelphia, PA
Oct. 19 at the Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA
Nov. 2 at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts in Brooklyn, NY
Nov. 7 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ
Nov. 9 at the Harriman Arts Program of William Jewell College in Kansas City
Nov. 22 at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT
Dec. 3-16 at the Royal Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 20 at the Robert Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 31, 2003 at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Long Island, NY
Feb. 14-16 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, PA

Linda Eder in Concert:

Oct. 12 at the Union County Arts Center in Rahway, NJ
Oct. 25 and 26 with the Charlotte Symphony in Charlotte, NC
Nov. 1-3 at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, PA
Nov. 8 in Providence, RI
Nov. 20 at the Community Theatre in Morristown, NJ
Nov. 23 at the Warner Theatre in Torrington, CT
Dec. 1 at the Bass Hall in Austin, TX
Dec. 3 at the Verizon Wireless Theatre in Houston, TX
Dec. 4 at the Majestic Theatre in Dallas, TX
Dec. 12 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota, FL
Dec. 16 at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 17 at the Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, FL
Dec. 18 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 20 and 21 with the Atlanta Symphony at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, GA
Jan. 3 and 4, 2003 with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore, MD
Jan. 25 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT
Jan. 30 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, CA
Feb. 1 at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek, CO
Feb. 14 at the Proctor's Theatre in Albany, NY

Patti LuPone in Concert

Oct. 4 at the Tillis Center at Long Island University in Greenvale, NY ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
March 27, 2003 at the East County Performing Arts Center in Cajon, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 28-29 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 30 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

Maureen McGovern in Concert:

Sept. 26 - 29 with the North Carolina Symphony at Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, NC
Oct. 24 at the annual Cabaret Convention in New York, NY
Oct. 30-Nov. 3 at the American Music Therapy Association Conf. in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 2 at the Rialto Center for the Performing Arts in Atlanta, GA
Nov. 9 at the Landmark Theatre Gala in Port Washington, NY
Nov. 10 at the Hanford Civic Auditorium in Hanford, CA
Nov. 19-Dec. 1 at the Plush Room in San Francisco, CA
Dec. 6 at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA
Dec. 8 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA
Dec. 9 Laurie Strauss Leukemia Benefit at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY
Dec. 14 at the Boca Pops Big Band Series in Boca Raton, FL

Bernadette Peters in Concert:

Sept. 28 at the Weidner Center in Green Bay, WI
Oct. 5 Sundome Center in Sun City West, AZ
Oct. 24 at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in Indianapolis, IN
Oct. 26 at the Kleinhans Auditorium in Buffalo, NY

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

—By Andrew Gans

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