DIVA TALK: Tonys Approach Plus Chats with Nominees Melissa Errico and Christine Ebersole

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Tonys Approach Plus Chats with Nominees Melissa Errico and Christine Ebersole
Hello, diva lovers! As you all know, the 2003 Tony Award nominees were announced May 12.
Melissa Errico at this year's Tony Nominee Luncheon.
Melissa Errico at this year's Tony Nominee Luncheon. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

I was thrilled that Gypsy’s Bernadette Peters and Tammy Blanchard were both nominated for their performances — for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, respectively. Other nominees in the former category include Melissa Errico for Amour, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio for Man of La Mancha, Elizabeth Parkinson for Movin’ Out and Marissa Jaret Winokur for Hairspray. Blanchard will vie for her award with Jane Krakowski (Nine), Mary Stuart Masterson (Nine), Chita Rivera (Nine) and Ashley Tuttle (Movin’ Out).

I attended the Tony press reception this past Wednesday at The View on the 48th floor of the Marriott Marquis. I had the chance to chat with a few of this year’s nominees, including Melissa Errico, Christine Ebersole and Tammy Blanchard; all were completely charming and very excited about their nominations. I also had the pleasure of speaking with Flower Drum Song’s David Henry Hwang and Gypsy’s John Dossett; the latter spoke lovingly about his co-star, Bernadette Peters. Said Dossett, “She’s a dream. I’ve been a New York actor for 25 years, and it just doesn’t get better than this. As talented as [Bernadette] is, she’s that nice.” And, when asked how long he will stay with the musical, the talented actor joked, “My stock answer now is 16 years and then retire! I’m signed for a year, and we’ll see after that. I’m just having a great time.” A sunny, ebullient Blanchard also had nothing but praise for Gypsy’s Momma Rose: “Oh, [Bernadette is] the best. Every time I see her, my heart just pounds. I love her so much. She’s so sweet.”

The multi-talented Melissa Errico — who received her first Tony nomination for her delightful (and beautifully sung) performance in the short-lived Michel Legrand musical Amour — is keeping quite busy these days with her new solo recording “Blue Like That” (Manhattan Records); the upcoming star-studded production of Threepenny Opera at the Williamstown Theatre Festival; a one-night-only My Fair Lady concert at the Hollywood Bowl; and a TV pilot — about a matchmaking lawyer — that was just picked up for the fall on NBC.

Question: I really enjoyed Amour. Do you think it would have run longer had it opened later in the season?
Melissa Errico: [I think] it would have made it a little longer or maybe we would have understood it better if we’d just given it a little time, perhaps gone out of town. It just needed a little time. Q: It does seem particularly hard to open a show in New York now, with people going on-line after a first preview to review a show . . .
ME: And our set was collapsing after the first preview! My balcony was like the Titanic [Laughs.]

Q: Were you excited about the Tony nomination?
ME: Oh my God, I was overwhelmed, totally shocked and delighted, and so proud of the show. And, it’s weird because the show left us so quickly, and now we’re making a small impact, and people are remembering it, going, ‘Oh, I missed it’ or people are saying, ‘Oh, I saw it and I liked it’ or ‘When’s the cast album coming out?’ So I feel like it’s being given another life. [The Amour cast recording is due in stores July 8 on the Sh-K Boom Records label.]

Q: I wonder if the show will be staged anywhere else.
ME: I think they are trying to get it done at the Donmar [Warehouse in London], actually.

Q: Would you go do it there?
ME: If I’m available, yeah.

Q: What are you working on now?
ME: Well, I’m doing Threepenny Opera at Williamstown with Betty [Buckley] and Karen Ziemba and Randy Graff. And then, right after that, I’m going to do some concerts for my record, which is doing pretty well. I’m really excited about that!

Q: You have such a beautiful voice — it can be very soothing and very exciting, too.
ME: Thank you. I’m learning what it is, its own character. I started so young, and I just was imitating people or doing Julie Andrews’ roles or Mary Martin’s roles. I’m really trying to find how I want to use it, how I want to sound.

Q: How do you think you want to use it? Will you stay in theatre?
ME: Oh, of course, I just mean even within theatre, how I want to use it — the range of my voice, the areas I want to use. And, in my own concerts, I am finding my own style. [My concerts are] a mixture of old and new standards — I’m sort of calling them ‘New Standards.’

Q: I’ve heard you’re going to be part of My Fair Lady at the Hollywood Bowl in August.
ME: I am, with John Lithgow and Roger Daltrey, who’s playing my dad, and there’s some other cool people. Paxton Whitehead, who did it on Broadway with me — it’s like old home week! I’m looking forward to that. . . . I’ll also be doing Joe’s Pub again around the U.S. Open with my band. And, oh God, my TV pilot got picked up yesterday! “Miss Match” with Alicia Silverstone and Ryan O’Neal. I totally forgot!

Q: What’s the pilot about?
ME: It’s about a woman — it’s a true story actually, this crazy woman who’s a divorce lawyer, and she goes to a wedding of her buddy. And her buddy’s the bride, and [the bride] toasts her, and says, ‘I’d like to thank my friend Katie for setting us up, and she set up three other couples who are here today.’ And The New York Times prints up an article about the wedding that says, ‘The matchmaker Katie. . .’ And she gets a thousand phone calls at her office that week to be a matchmaker. And she’s like, ‘No, no, I’m a lawyer.’ . . . There’s a woman in New York who’s a lawyer by day and has a matchmaking business. This is about her life.

Q: What part do you play?
ME: I’m the girl who makes her a matchmaker, and I’m the girl she can never set up!

Q: Will you be filming here in New York?
ME: It’ll be filming in L.A., but I have yet to find out how many episodes they’re going to guarantee me, so I’ll just try to keep it at a minimum so I can cook up something here. I’m all hot-to-trot to do another show! [Laughs.] This is really making me want to do [Broadway] again.

It’s been an extremely busy season for Tony Award winner Christine Ebersole, who began the year in the acclaimed Lincoln Center revival of Dinner at Eight, for which she just received a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play. Ebersole followed that gig with her current run in Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads at the Minetta Lane Theatre. Below is my brief chat with the beautiful voiced Ebersole:

Question: How are you feeling about being nominated for a Tony this year?
Christine Ebersole: Very excited, very thrilled! [Hairspray’s] Marc Shaiman called and told me, and I didn’t think I’d gotten one.

Q: Why not?
CE: I was nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award for Dinner at Eight but in the Best Actress category. So, when it came to Tony time, I thought, ‘Well, there’s no way I can compete with Vanessa Redgrave and Fiona Shaw and all those people,’ particularly when the show hasn’t been running for many months. So, when he called me and said, ‘Congratulations,’ I said, ‘What for?’ I was so thrilled that I just started screaming because I think it’s really exciting and important that we got recognized for a show that’s not running right now.

Q: Your singing voice is so versatile — you can really sing anything. What was your training?
CE: Well, I really think it was a gift from God that I received a good voice. My father sent me about ten years ago a tape that he had made of me singing ‘Jingle Bells’ at the age of three. And it’s completely on pitch. . . So it was just something I was given, a gift I was given at birth. I think what was nurtured — my mother’s love of music and my love of music and my love of singing — so it was just nurtured along that way. And then it just sort of turned into show business! [Laughs.]

Q: Do you have a preference for musical theatre versus non- musicals?
CE: I think the hardest thing in the world is a musical. It’s really back-breaking. [Laughs.] I think it’s very satisfying in terms of the music.

Q: I would think musicals would give you more of a high at the end of the performance.
CE: That’s from a singer’s point of view, but then from the actors’ point of view, plays usually offer more challenge as an actor because I think a lot of times the scripts, even though they’re great in musicals, I think sometimes they take you to the song. They want to lead you to the next song, and then you express your emotions through the song. Whereas in a play, you express it in the words. So, it’s a different experience, but one is not less than the other — they’re just different.

Q: What else is happening for you now?
CE: I’m doing Talking Heads, which is down at the Minetta Lane Theatre, and that’s been a treasure trove. The words of Alan Bennett are just magnificent. So, every night it is such a gift to be able to go onstage and be able to relay this character through his words. There are some other things in the fire, too.

Q: Anything you can talk about?
CE: Yes, I’m working with Kathie Lee Gifford and David Pomerantz on a new musical about Aimee Semple McPherson [1890-1944], who was an evangelist. It’s about her life. She was a very famous evangelist in Los Angeles; she was actually more famous than Chaplin and had more press than Garbo in her day. She started the Foursquare Church — it has millions of followers in the world today. She was a great healer; there were many documentations of her healings, and she was this great theatrical evangelist. She would put on these big shows, and 10,000 people would flock to the church at the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. She was a controversial figure because there was a disappearance. People were looking for her, and she claimed that she was kidnapped. People thought she was off having an affair. And she died of a drug overdose at 53.

Q: Who’s writing the musical?
CE: Kathie Lee Gifford wrote the book and the lyrics, and David Pomerantz wrote the music, along with some songs by David Friedman. . . I’m [playing] the evangelist. . . We’re going to have another reading of it to see where it goes.

IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK: The Broadway-bound production of Little Shop of Horrors — starring Alice Ripley and Hunter Foster — will be recorded in June. A spokesperson for the production confirmed that the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical will be recorded June 23 by Sony Classical. A release date has yet to be announced. . . . Fynsworth Alley has reissued two recordings from its catalogue. Judy Kuhn’s solo album, “Just in Time: Judy Kuhn Sings Jule Styne,” and the Off-Broadway musical john & jen — starring Carolee Carmello and James Ludwig — are now back in stock. Kuhn’s solo recording features the work of Jule Styne, the late composer of Bells Are Ringing, Funny Girl and Gypsy. The 14-track CD boasts liner notes from director Trevor Nunn as well as a new message from singer-actress Kuhn, who recorded the disc while performing in the L.A. production of Sunset Boulevard. Carolee Carmello — now back on Broadway in Urinetown — and James Ludwig starred in the Off-Broadway debut of john & jen, a two character musical by Andrew Lippa (music) and Tom Greenwald (lyrics and book). john & jen played six months at the Lamb’s Theatre in 1995 (Carmello was eventually succeeded by Michele Pawk), and the recording boasts orchestrations by Jason Robert Brown. . . . The past, present and future of original cast recordings will be the topic of conversation at a June 7 panel discussion at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. The panel for In Stereophonic Sound includes a mix of record company executives and musical theatre performers. Those scheduled to take part in the event include Sh-K-Boom Records co-founders Sherie Rene Scott (of Aida fame) and hubby Kurt Deutsch; Decca Broadway’s senior director Brian Drutman; DRG Records president Hugh Fordin; and Seymour Red Press, a veteran music coordinator for several Broadway musicals. In Stereophonic Sound is free and open to the public and will be held at 3 PM in the Library’s Bruno Walter Auditorium, 111 Amsterdam Avenue at 65th Street. . . . Chanteuse Mary Cleere Haran will return to the Algonquin’s Oak Room May 27. Haran will bring her latest act, My Shining Hour — Movie Songs & Love in the 1940’s, to the famed Oak Room for five weeks, ending her run June 28. Don Rebic will accompany the singer actress on piano with Chip Jackson on bass. Haran’s newest show spotlights songs that defined the forties in film and offers a tribute to Bing Crosby on the occasion of his centenary. Cabaretgoers can expect to hear Haran sing such tunes as “That Old Black Magic,” “Long Ago and Far Away,” “But Beautiful,” “Put the Blame on Mame,” “The Boy Next Door,” “Out of This World” and “Moonlight Becomes You.” Haran will play Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 9 PM, with late shows Friday and Saturday at 11:30 PM. There will be a $50 music charge at all shows with a $20 food/beverage minimum. The Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel is located at 59 West 44th Street; for reservations call (212) 419-9331. . . . Audiences can journey from Kansas to Oz — and back again — with Dorothy and the rest of the “Wizard of Oz” gang in Sing-A-Long Wizard of Oz next month at the Gershwin Theatre. From June 12-29, the interactive sensation — which premiered to rave reviews in Chicago — will play Broadway’s Gershwin Theatre, which will soon house the “Oz”-related musical Wicked. The Sing-Long evening combines audience participation and the classic 1939 film. The digitally restored and remastered film — starring a young Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale — will be shown in its original large-screen format on a 23-foot-high by 32-foot-wide screen. The evening begins with a Master of Ceremonies who will introduce the film and will also lead the filmgoers through the audience participation. Additionally, each attendee will receive a “Perform-A-Long Fun Pack,” which includes a kazoo, bubbles, a noisemaker and a magic wand. Audiences are also encouraged to dress as their favorite character from the classic film, and those who do will be invited to join an on-stage costume parade. Prizes will be awarded for “imagination and creativity.”Sing-A-Long Wizard of Oz will play June 12 at 8 PM; June 20 at 8 PM; June 21 at 11 AM, 3 PM and 8 PM; June 22 at 2 and 6 PM; June 27 at 8 PM; June 28 at 11 AM, 3 PM and 8 PM; and June 29 at 2 PM and 6 PM. Tickets go on sale June 1. Tickets, priced between $15 and $40, will be available by calling (212) 307-4100 or by visiting the Gershwin Theatre box office at 222 West 51st Street. For more information, go to www.singalongoz.com.


Betty Buckley in Concert:

May 31 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA

Liz Callaway in Concert:

Now in The Look of Love at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre
May 16 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA

Barbara Cook in Concert:

June 5-22 at the Kennedy Center for the Perf. Arts in Washington, DC
Sept. 7-8 at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL
Sept. 13 at the Tulsa Opera House in Tulsa, OK
Sept. 20 in Bethlehem, PA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Oct. 3 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA; concert with Marilyn Horne
Nov. 22 at Carnegie Hall in New York, NY

Patti LuPone in Concert:

Aug. 5 at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Oct. 25 at Symphony Hall in Boston, MA (“Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda”)
Nov. 7-9 with the Houston Symphony ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")

Maureen McGovern in Concert

May 30 - 31 at the Palmer Events Center with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Austin, TX
June 7 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN

Christiane Noll in Concert

May 24 Williamsburg, VA with the Virginia Arts Festival
Aug. 28 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 29 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Aug. 30 San Diego, CA with San Diego Symphony
Oct. 11 Chattanooga, TN with Don Pippin
Dec. 31 Des Moines, IA with Des Moines Symphony & Brad Little

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

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