DIVA TALK: The Joys of Divas

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: The Joys of Divas
Hello, diva lovers. Since this is my last diva column of the year, I wanted to wish everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful, diva-filled New Year!

Hello, diva lovers. Since this is my last diva column of the year, I wanted to wish everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful, diva-filled New Year!

What is it about the theatre that is so rejuvenating and life-affirming? I can be in a not-so-great mood when I enter a theatre, and if the show is a moving, wonderful one, I can leave feeling on top of the world. I know performers often talk about the healing powers of the theatre -- you can feel awful, have the flu or what have you, and once you stand onstage, you’re almost magically healed. Karen Akers once referred to the stage’s powers as “Dr. Footlights.” And, what’s more, just the prospect of good theatre is enough to put me in a good mood. Example: Last week, I received a copy of a press release from Barlow/Hartman Public Relations, which is quickly becoming the most successful Broadway press agency in town, owned and run by two nice, hard-working guys, John Barlow and Michael Hartman. The mailing listed all of the new shows they will be representing this spring, and I’m genuinely excited about each one.

First up is Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends, which begins previews at the Booth Theatre (222 W. 45th Street) on Tuesday, Jan. 29. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a huge Bea Arthur fan for years, mostly from her TV work on “All in the Family,” “Maude” and “The Golden Girls,” which thankfully all continue to live on in syndication via Lifetime, Nickelodeon and TVLand. When I originally heard about the tour of Arthur’s one-woman show, I hoped it would make its way to Broadway, and now, finally, it has. Described as a “warm and funny musical evening in which Bea Arthur tells of the triumphs and tribulations of her celebrated career,” the evening also features 17 songs from the former co-star of Fiddler on the Roof and Mame, including such gems as “Bosom Buddies,” “It Never Was You,” “Some People” and the Ballroom torch song, “Fifty Percent.” Bea Arthur on Broadway: Just Between Friends (with Billy Goldenberg at the Piano) officially opens on Feb. 17 and runs through March 10; call (212) 239-6200 for reservations...
Next on the Barlow/Hartman schedule is an Off-Broadway offering at the Minetta Lane Theatre, which is located at 18 Minetta Lane. Entitled The Last Five Years, it is the new musical from Jason Robert Brown, the composer/lyricist of Parade. Brown is probably the most exciting young composer on the scene, the only new blood (along with the late Jonathan Larson) who has a gift for melody that rivals the masterminds who have come before him. Parade, which closed much too soon after its Broadway premiere, contained some glorious music and offered many moving moments, and one can only hope The Last Five Years will offer at least a few of those exhilarating moments. The new musical is much smaller in scale, however, a two-person production that explores the intense relationship between a young married couple, who will be played at the Minetta by Thou Shalt Not’s Norbert Leo Butz and AIDA’s Sherie René Scott. The Last Five Years, which features direction by Daisy Prince, begins previews on Tuesday, Feb. 12 with an official opening on Sunday, March 3; call (212) 307-4100 for tickets . . .
Another new musical follows, this one on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre, 302 W. 45th Street. It boasts music from A Chorus Line’s Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by one of cabaret’s finest composer/lyricists Craig Carnelia. (If you’re a cabaret fan, you will know many of Carnelia’s marvelous tunes, which have been sung by the likes of Karen Akers, Andrea Marcovicci, Betty Buckley and others. Some of his better-known works include “The Picture in the Hall,” “Flight,” “I Met a Man Today,” “Just a Housewife,” and “The Kid Inside.”) The musical also features a book by John Guare and a cast that includes John Lithgow and Brian d’Arcy James, the latter one of the few male singers whose singing I find almost as thrilling as my favorite gals. Brian d’Arcy James, you may remember, was a standout in the musical Titanic, and it still irks me that he didn’t receive a Tony nomination for his stellar performance in that show. Hopefully this season’s nominations will right that wrong. In any case, the musical is Sweet Smell of Success, and it reaches the Martin Beck on Saturday, Feb. 23 with an official opening on Thursday, March 14; call (212) 239-6200 for tickets to this musical, which features direction by Miss Saigon’s Nicholas Hytner...
Then comes the stage version of The Graduate featuring an all-star company: Kathleen Turner, Alicia Silverstone and American Pie’s Jason Biggs. The Graduate will have its first preview at the Plymouth Theatre (236 W. 45th Street) on Friday, March 15 with an official opening on Thursday, April 4. Adapted and directed by Terry Johnson, The Graduate promises to be an amusing evening of star-gazing and a welcome return to an American classic, this time in a different medium...
The final offering is a new musical comedy, Thoroughly Modern Millie, based on the acclaimed Hollywood film. Starring Sutton Foster, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Harriet Harris and Marc Kudisch, this musical features a book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan, new music by Jeanine Tesori, new lyrics by Mr. Scanlan, choreography by Rob Ashford and direction from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown’s Michael Mayer. Millie will play at the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway at 46th Street, beginning Tuesday, March 19. It’s official opening is scheduled for Thursday, April 18, and tickets can be purchased by calling (212) 307 4100.

My discman broke a few weeks ago. Since I never got around to buying a new one before my trip home for the holidays, I dug out my old walkman, which gave me the chance to listen to some live recordings I hadn’t heard in awhile. What is it about live recordings that make them so enjoyable and a must for the true Broadway collector? Why do we need to have a copy of every Norma Desmond or every woman who played Evita? And, why do we need not one copy of Elaine Paige in Sunset Boulevard but two or three (for the record, I never heard Paige hold the world “home” in “As If We Never Said Goodbye” as long as she did during her first six-week run in the London production)? Perhaps there’s no clear answer to this madness, but true fans know that performances change from night to night, and what’s sung in head voice one evening, might be thrillingly belted the next. And, not only do performances change slightly from night to night, but an actor’s take on a role can change dramatically from the beginning of the run to the end. The three tapes I brought with me for my bus ride home were a live recording of Betty Buckley’s first London concert, performed during her West End run in Sunset Boulevard; a recording of Bernadette Peters in the Broadway production of Song and Dance (a fairly new acquisition, as my first copy broke from over use); and an evening with the late Nancy LaMott at the Algonquin Hotel.
I hadn’t heard Buckley’s concert in awhile, and was thrilled by her song selections and her singing: intense versions of “Pirate Jenny” and “Surabaya Johnny”; gender switched, belty takes on “Marry Me a Little” and “Finishing the Hat” plus many others. The live tape, which was actually a BBC radio broadcast, also included a few tunes that didn’t make it to the Sterling Records release: a Gershwin medley that included “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” “Embraceable You” and “Fascinatin’ Rhythm,”; the Maltby-Shire tune, “What About Today?”; Amanda McBroom’s “Dreamin’”; and Peter Pan’s “Never Never Land.” It was also fun to revisit Bernadette Peters’ dynamic performance in Song and Dance, which wasn’t captured quite well enough in the show’s RCA Victor cast recording. That show depended so much on Peters’ interaction with the audience, and a studio recording could never capture the stage magic she exhibited in her Tony-winning role as Emma, the English hat designer. The humor she brought to the letters home to her mother as well as the vocal flourishes she added during the show’s run were not captured on the cast recording. The few Nancy LaMott tapes I have are some of my most treasured, and it’s hard to believe that this month marks six years since LaMott’s untimely death from cancer. The recording I listened to, a gift from another LaMott fan, was one of her last acts, Something Cool, which featured exquisite renditions of “Cool,” “Up on the Roof,” “Shoes,” “So Many Stars,” “Lazy Afternoon,” “Ordinary Miracles” and perhaps my favorite version of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Waters of March.”

One couldn’t help feeling a bit sad as Julie Andrews was serenaded by some of Broadway’s finest voices during this Wednesday’s airing of “The Kennedy Center Honors,” always one of the finest TV programs of the year. Andrews, whose voice was badly damaged after throat surgery, was one of this year’s esteemed honorees, and those Broadway actors who were present to honor the former star of My Fair Lady and Camelot included Kristin Chenoweth, Audra McDonald, Rebecca Luker, Patrick Wilson, Jeremy Irons and Robert Goulet. As I listened to the glorious voices of Chenoweth, McDonald and Luker, I wondered what Andrews must have been thinking, knowing that she is no longer able, like these women, to create the sounds that make an audience cheer. Thankfully, however, Andrews was always a wonderful actress as well and has continued to act in films and on television. I also realized that the majority of the new generation of female Broadway stars -- Chenoweth, McDonald, Luker, not to mention Laura Benanti and Melissa Errico -- are sopranos rather than belters. I must admit, for me, that it’s still the belters (Bernadette Peters, Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone, Elaine Paige, Judy Kuhn, Lea Salonga, et. al) who possess the voices I find the most exciting. . . Andrews was also the subject of an interview in last Sunday’s New York Times. Writer Craig Wolff spoke to Andrews about her career, her voice and the operation that has left her unable to sing. “Over all, I don’t dwell on it,” Andrews said, adding, “I haven’t given up, and I’m grateful for what I’ve had, grateful this happened now, not sooner.” Ms. Andrews, forever our Mary Poppins and Maria von Trapp, remains a class act.

OTHER JOYS: Tony winner Donna McKechnie will return to Arci’s Place in N.Y.C. with ten performances of her acclaimed act, “An Evening with Donna McKechnie: My Musical Comedy Life.” McKechnie will perform January 3-12 at Arci’s, and tickets to the show are $30 with a $15 food/drink minimum. Call (212) 532-4370 for reservations . . . On this Sunday’s (Dec. 30) broadcast of Everything Old Is New Again (9-11 PM on WBAI 99.5 FM or go to http://www.2600.com/offthehook/hot2.ram*), you can expect to hear four renditions of “In Passing Years,” including those by Nancy LaMott, Lee Lessack, Frank Dain and Rick Jensen, the song’s composer. The radio program will also spotlight the new CD “Liza Minnelli Ultimate Collection,” and two lucky listeners will win a free copy of Minnelli’s new release . . .


That Tony-winning dynamo, Betty Buckley, has just released a new slate of concert performances, which follows:

January 4 & 5, 2002 at the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford, CT
March 15 & 16, 2002 with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, NC
March 30 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA

April 12 and 13 with Marilyn Horne at Michigan State University’s Warton Center in MI
April 26 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA
June 5-9 and June 12-16 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theatre in Washington, DC

The Tony and Olivier Award-winning actress has also just released a whole new slew of concert dates, which follow:

February 9, 2002 at the Tilles Center with the Long Island Philharmonic (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
February 22-23, 2002 at the Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo, NY with the Buffalo Philharmonic (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)

February 28 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY (“Coulda Woulda Shoulda”)

Jan. 4, 2002 at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater
Jan. 6 at the Barbara Mann Hall in Ft. Myers
Jan. 7 at Van Wezel Hall in Sarasota
Jan. 9 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach
Jan. 10 at the City Center in Coral Springs
Apr. 5-6 at the OCPAC in Costa Mesa

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

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