DIVA TALK: A Diva-Filled Salute to Friedman & Krieger

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: A Diva-Filled Salute to Friedman & Krieger


That Lillias White. That Alix Korey. That Norm Lewis. Boy, can they sing! All three -- plus a host of other talents -- were on hand Monday, June 14, to take part in a fundraiser for Beth Simchat Torah, New York City's Gay and Lesbian Synagogue. Organized by "Rosie O'Donnell Show" writer and Broadway musician Seth Rudetsky, the benefit saluted the works of two gifted, gay New York composers, David Friedman -- whose songs have been brought to life by such singers as Alix Korey, Ann Runolfsson as well as the late Laurie Beechman and Nancy LaMott-- and Henry Krieger, the composer of Dreamgirls and Side Show. Rudetsky deserves kudos for corralling an extraordinary cast and designing an evening that started off on a high note, built from there and ended with a phenomenal performance by Lillias White.

Because she had to rush to the Imperial Theatre, where she is currently starring as the doomed Fantine in Les Miz, Alice Ripley opened the evening opposite her Side Show co-star, Emily Skinner. The two reprised that show's finale, offering a thrilling rendition of "I Will Never Leave You." Rudetsky, who also served as the evening's host, later explained that "I Will Never Leave You" was originally written to open Side Show. At that time, however, the musical was going to also feature the twins as young children, singing "I Will Never Leave You" to each other; however, when that idea was abandoned, the song was repositioned as a message of ultimate acceptance.

Because he, too, had to rush to the Broadway Theatre where he has assumed the role of John in Miss Saigon, Billy Porter was the second performer of the evening, delivering a gospel-tinged version of Dreamgirls' "I Am Changing." That was the first of three songs of the evening that were originally written for women but for this evening delivered by men. After the two Henry Krieger songs, it was time for a tune by New York composer and cabaret favorite David Friedman. Rudetsky explained that this Friedman tune was written as a duet for Placido Domingo and Linda Eder, and tonight Norm Lewis and Alix Korey (by the way, both are currently starring in the Helen Hayes Performing Arts Center's production of Company) would play the opera singer and the "sassy belter," respectively. Both Lewis and Korey's voices soared on this melodic pop ballad with multiple, exciting key changes.

"We Can Be Kind," a song Friedman originally wrote for Nancy LaMott and recorded by the late artist on her "Listen To My Heart" album, was the next offering, and it was wonderfully executed by Fascinatin' Rhythm's Sara Ramirez. Each time I hear Ramirez's voice, I like it more and more; she possesses a lush sound and pop-style delivery that is extremely pleasing. The first of two fight scenes from Dreamgirls followed, featuring Smokey Joe's Cafe's Brenda Braxton as Deena, Aisha de Haas as Lorrell and Tony-winner Lillias White as Effie. The three offered a riveting performance of "Heavy Heavy," and each had the chance to shine. White's performance was particularly thrilling; if possible, she's singing even better now than she did when she played Effie in the Broadway revival of the musical nearly a decade ago. It was a true family affair when Rudetsky's sister Beth took to the stage to accompany herself on piano while singing what is, perhaps, David Friedman's best-known song, "Listen to My Heart." Ms. Rudetsky possesses a very soothing voice, which is reminiscent (especially in her lower tones) of both Karen Carpenter and Helen Reddy. Her brother also joined in, backing her on strings.

The first male version that I have witnessed of "Who Will Love Me As I Am" was sung with passion by Jason Opsahl and Paul Castree, providing a different twist to Side Show's first-act finale. The current star of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, former Annie Andrea McArdle, spoke about the upcoming TV production of the Charles Strouse-Martin Charnin musical. McArdle will portray "Star to Be," the role originated on Broadway by her late friend, Laurie Beechman. McArdle then belted the hell out of Friedman's heartfelt anthem, "Help Is On the Way."

The third selection from Dreamgirls found the gloriously voiced Lillias White singing a solo version of "One Night Only." White is, perhaps, the best riffer in the business, and she performed a high-voltage version of this Krieger tune. Darius de Haas, recently of Fascinatin' Rhythm fame, showed off his own amazing vocalisms, performing a song Krieger and Bill Russell wrote to open the Gay Games, "(Take the Flame and) Pass It On."

Before he began David Friedman's "We Live on Borrowed Time," Norm Lewis explained that the song had extra significance that night because he and Korey had been in a car accident the evening before, which totaled Korey's car, but thankfully left the two unscathed. Lewis then proceeded to wring every ounce of emotion from the Friedman ballad. I know I've said this before, but, for me, Lewis has the best voice of any man on Broadway. When he opens his mouth, out pours the richest, golden tones. A critic once compared Karen Akers' voice to "silver bells wrapped in velvet," and that explanation is equally true of Mr. Lewis's sound. (When is this man going to have a solo album?)

The campiest moment -- but one full of much joy and laughter -- followed: an all-male version of the title song from Dreamgirls performed by the talented trio of Adam Hunter, Ric Ryder and Jason Opsahl. The three not only sang beautifully, but performed the song with the entire original choreography! And, proving once again that she is one of the funniest gals around town, Alix Korey was able to top the "Dreamgirls" number by singing David Friedman's riotous "A Simple Christmas Wish," i.e., "Rich, Famous and Powerful." David Friedman, who was in attendance for the tribute, then took to the stage and spoke movingly about the loss of his muse, Nancy LaMott. After, he sat at the piano to premiere his latest ballad, a beautiful tune entitled "I Can Hold You."

The only plausible finale, one that could possibly end the evening on an even higher note than the rest of the performance, was "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going." Actually, the entire fight scene leading up to that torrent of emotion was performed by Brenda Braxton as Deena, Aisha de Haas as Lorrell, Kevin-Anthony as James Early, Darius de Haas as C. C., Norm Lewis as Curtis and Lillias White as Effie. And, White's performance of the song was the most compelling version of the tune that I have heard in years; truly a tour de force. A perfect ending to a perfect evening.

IN OTHER NEWS It was very exciting to receive the official press release for the upcoming production of Marie Christine, the new musical by Michael John LaChiusa that will bring three-time Tony winner Audra McDonald back to Broadway. The musical -- set in the late 1800's in New Orleans and Chicago -- is described as "the story of a passionate young Southern woman and her all-consuming love for an ambitious sea captain" and will feature choreography and direction by Graciela Daniele. Christine will begin previews on October 28 at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre with an official opening on December 2. Will the supremely gifted McDonald add another Tony to her already impressive collection? Time will tell . . . Last week I posted the web address of one of several Ruthie Henshall pages, and I received an e-mail from the head of the official Ruthie Henshall site. The official site is located at http://www.ruthie.org, so check it out! Ruthie, of course, continues to wow audiences in the Broadway company of Chicago, and she will be a part of Cameron Mackintosh's Putting It Together (the Stephen Sondheim revue), which is scheduled to begin previews on Broadway at the Barrymore Theatre on October 9 with an official opening on October 28 . . . One of Australia's leading divas, Geraldine Turner, has released her latest solo album. Entitled "When We Met," the recording is available from Desiree Records and includes Turner's version of "As If We Never Said Goodbye." The star, who has appeared onstage in Chicago and Anything Goes, was originally mentioned for the role of Norma Desmond in the Australian production of Sunset Boulevard, but, of course, that demanding role went to the supremely talented Debra Byrne. Desiree Records has also reissued one of Turner's previous recordings, "Torch Songs." . . . Melanie Vaughan, late of the Lincoln Center production of Parade, will co-star with the singing Ringmaster of Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey Circus, Eric Michael Gillett, in It Takes Two: The Songs of Sondheim. The critically-acclaimed show, which was originally premiered in 1998, will be presented tomorrow, Saturday, June 26 at 7 and 9:30 PM at the Emelin Theatre (153 Library Lane, Mamaroneck, N.Y.). Reservations may be made by calling the theatre's box office at (914) 698-0098; tickets are priced at $26 and $15 (for Emelin members) . . . And, finally, fans of the legendary Doris Day will be thrilled to learn that three decades of Day's work for Columbia Records can be found on Golden Girl: The Columbia Recordings 1944-1966, which is now available in record stores. Among the 48 tracks are such hit tunes as "Sentimental Journey," "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)," "Secret Love," "Lullaby of Broadway" and five previously unreleased tracks: "I Speak to the Stars," "You're Good To Me," "Let the Little Girl Limbo," "Tacos, Enchiladas and Beans" and "That Jane from Maine."

**I received several e-mails this week regarding Betty Buckley's upcoming master classes. I have spoken with her press rep, and I should have more information for next week's column. Stay tuned!



Following is Brightman's "One Night in Eden" U.S. concert tour schedule:
June 25 N.J. Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ
June 27 Mann Music Center in Philadelphia
June 28 Symphony Hall in Boston
June 29 Center for the Performing Arts in Providence, RI
July 1 Wolf Trap in Washington, D.C.
June 2 and 3 Sands Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, NJ

A host of new concert dates follows. The list is continually growing, so check the Betty Buckley website on PBOL for the latest changes.
June 29 Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA
July 20 Point Lookout in Camden, ME
July 27 Mann Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA
Oct. 9 Tilles Center in Greenvale, NY
Oct. 22 (class); October 23 (concert) Krannert Center for the Performing Arts; Foellinger Great Hall in Champaign-Urbana, IL
Oct. 24 Sangamon Stage University Auditorium in Springfield, IL
Nov. 6 State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ
Nov. 14 Cincinnati, OH (venue to come)
Dec. 6-7 St. Barths Church in New York, NY
Dec. 17 City Center in Coral Springs, FL
Dec. 18 Atlantic University Auditorium in Boca Raton, FL
Dec. 31 Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT

LuPone will sit down with writer Sheryl Flatow in front of a live audience to discuss her stellar career. "A Conversation with Patti LuPone" is being presented by the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum (PALM) on Wednesday, June 30 from 6 to 7 PM at PALM, 401 Van Ness Ave., 4th Floor. For ticket prices and other info, call PALM at (415) 255-4800 . . . La LuPone will also join opera star Bryn Terfel for a concert version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd to be held at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall from May 4 to May 6 in the year 2000. The performers will be backed by the New York Philharmonic, and the event, which will be recorded, will celebrate Sondheim's 70th birthday.

Karen Mason will perform at the Bradstan Inn in White Lake New York on June 20, and on September 25 KM will perform in concert to benefit Dallas Children's Theatre Fairmont Hotel, Dallas.

On July 4, you can catch the singer on PBS's broadcast of "A Capital Fourth" performing a medley of songs by the late Hoagy Carmichael. From July 15 through the end of that month, McGovern will appear in a production of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the Sundance Summer Theatre in Sundance, Utah. Other concert dates follow:
Aug. 14 Maureen McGovern and the Duke Ellington Orchestra (100th Anniversary Salute, The Great Auditorium at Ocean Grove, NJ
Aug. 19-20 Midway Stage at 1776, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Aug. 23 SCERA Amphitheater, Orem , Utah
Aug. 24 Kenley Centennial Amphitheater, Layton, Utah
Sept. 5-6 Jerry Lewis Telethon (check local listings) ELAINE PAIGE
Paige will appear as the special guest of Cliff Richards at his concerts in Hyde Park, London, on July 16, 17 and 18. Tickets are available from First Call: 0171 420 1000. And, don't forget, EP will make a special appearance in New York City in May when she will perform at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation's spring gala on Wednesday, May 5 at the New Christie's Auction House in the city. The event is being hosted by Barbara Walters, and Paige -- who is expected to sing a handful of her biggest hits -- will be accompanied on the piano by Tony Award-winning composer Marvin Hamlisch. For more information about this worthy event, contact The Breast Cancer Research Foundation at (212) 572-4249.

BERNADETTE PETERS On June 29, the two-time Tony Award-winning actress will take part in a live interview on WLIM radio (in Long Island) at 5 PM. Peters will also deliver a pre-recorded message on the Macy's Fireworks Show on WPIX (Channel 11 in the metropolitan area) at 9 PM. And, on Saturday, Aug. 7 at 8 PM (PBS), don't forget to watch her thrilling, live solo concert, which was taped last year in London to a standing-room-only audience.

Patti LuPone is the first diva at the Donmar Warehouse, performing her new concert act, "Matters of the Heart," from Aug. 9 through Aug. 21. Audra McDonald's reign runs from Aug. 23 to Aug. 28, and Sam Brown will open on Aug. 31 and close Sept. 4. The performance schedule is Monday through Saturday at 8 PM with matinees on Saturday at 4 PM. Tickets go on sale Monday, May 17; call 011 44 171 637 9041 for reservations.

This summer's San Francisco Pops series will include appearances from Patti LuPone and Marin Mazzie. La LuPone will perform her new one-woman show, "Matters of the Heart," on July 1 and 2 with Rob Fisher as musical director. On July 10, an evening entitled "Rodgers and Hammerstein and Friends" will feature performances by the husband-and wife team of Marin Mazzie and Jason Danieley. Tickets are available through the San Francisco Symphony Ticket Service (415-864 6000) or by visiting the symphony's website at www.sfsymphony.org. . . . Also, two of cabaret's finest performers, Andrea Marcovicci and David Campbell, will appear together on June 11 and 12 at the Alcazar Theatre (650 Geary Street). Tickets, which are priced at $35, are available by calling Star Classics (415) 552-1110.

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

by Andrew Gans
e-mail me at agans@playbill.com

Diva Talk is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard, 1976- 1998.

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