DIVA TALK: An Interview With Nell Carter + A Joyous Concert

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: An Interview With Nell Carter + A Joyous Concert
It was during a performance with The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus that the exuberant singing actress Nell Carter decided that the concert should be recorded, sold, and all proceeds should go directly to the Chorus' Financial Assistant Network Club (FAN Club). One problem. The show had not been set up for a professional live recording. Thankfully, however, the show was being taped for the company's archives, and that recording -- in good enough condition for release and featuring Carter's glorious performance -- is now available on compact disc.

It was during a performance with The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus that the exuberant singing actress Nell Carter decided that the concert should be recorded, sold, and all proceeds should go directly to the Chorus' Financial Assistant Network Club (FAN Club). One problem. The show had not been set up for a professional live recording. Thankfully, however, the show was being taped for the company's archives, and that recording -- in good enough condition for release and featuring Carter's glorious performance -- is now available on compact disc.

It's been a decade since Carter's brother, Dr. Bernard Taylor, lost his battle with AIDS, and the gifted conductor/pianist, Carter says with a catch in her throat, was "the best friend I ever had in my life." Reached by phone from her Beverly Hills home, the Tony Award-winning Ain't Misbehavin' star spoke lovingly about her late brother and the San Francisco Chorus, whose music touched both her and her brother's lives deeply. It's only natural that Carter, who nabbed a Tony singing the music of Fats Waller, should believe that music has healing powers: "I think music and laughter are the two things that can keep you alive. Someone who is really depressed, tell them a joke, and they may come out of it for even just a moment. Or play them something. For me, you can put on something by Bach, and I'll feel better. Or put on 'Sexual Healing' or anything by Eric Clapton." Because she believes in music's medicinal powers, Carter wanted to insure that the men of the chorus -- who so inspired her brother and herself -- would be able to continue singing should any hardship befall them. "I wanted to set up a fund," Carter explains, "because people don't know that you have to pay to be in a choral group. You have to pay to be a member, you have to pay to keep these tuxes. And if you're ill or if you're laid off, who's gonna take care of you if you can't afford your dues? I wanted the guys," she emphasizes, "to have money, to have dignity when they need medicine, when they need a new tie, when they don't have shoes, when they don't have food or are too sick to get around. I wanted to do something."

Carter's mid-performance inspiration, she believes, has much to do with her love for her brother and for her difficulty in letting him go. "When my brother was dying, I had everything I thought, but I didn't have a cure. I spent so much time trying to find the cure and blaming people for not having a cure that I missed the time just sitting with him and listening to the music he loved . . . I was going through a time at that moment of letting my brother go. I thought that the concert should be recorded and that proceeds should go directly to the FAN club."

Carter has been blessed with the gift of music, possessing a voice that can swing with the sounds of Waller or Duke Ellington or belt out a Broadway show-stopper. Her way with a song is currently on display in the just-released video of "My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies," which aired on PBS stations earlier this month. About that starry evening of diva worship, Carter had this to say: "All the performers were glad to be together, rooting for each other. I shared a dressing room with Bebe [Neuwirth] and Linda [Eder] . . . Everyone had a dressing room, but everyone hung out in the big green room and applauded for each other and wished each other on. It was a really, really great night." Carter was a bit shocked, however, to learn that Dorothy Loudon's heartfelt rendition of Ballroom's "Fifty Percent" was omitted from the PBS broadcast (it will, however, appear in the in-store version). "That I don't understand," Carter says, "People cried. It was so beautiful. It was a heart-breaking moment. And [Dorothy] played it. That's what I call theatre. When a performer can make you feel that you're in a room with them and them alone and they are sharing something very intimate." Carter, too, has offered her share of such theatrical moments, and when asked about a return to The Great White Way, she enthusiastically admits, "I would love to come back to Broadway, but I have to find something where I can feel safe. It would have to be where my children's [needs] would be considered, too."

But, for now, her mission is to have this new 11-track recording reach as many people as possible. It's truly a mission of love, of giving back to a group who has offered happiness to many. "I am not looking to get famous from this," Carter insists. "I am not looking to make one penny. Not one penny goes to me and not one penny goes to management either. I made that clear to them. Nothing goes to the front office. Every cent goes to the guys. I wish that people could understand that people need to laugh. They need to sing. They need to create their own joie de vivre." And, who better to create a sense of joie de vivre than the ebullient, multi talented stage performer Nell Carter?
"Misbehavin' with Nell Carter and The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus" is available by calling (415) 863-4472 or by visiting www.sfgmc.org.

What better way to celebrate the holiday season than a concert starring the vocal magic of Betty Buckley, a holiday playlet by Terrence McNally -- earnestly acted by Julie Harris, Cherry Jones and Victor Garber -- all surrounded by Christmas standards sung by the St. Bartholomew Choir and Choristers? Certainly none that I can name. Entitled "A Joyous Christmas Concert," the evening to benefit both St. Bartholomew's Church and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS began with several Christmas tunes splendidly sung by the choirs, "Once in Royal David's City," "Shepherd's Pipe Carol," "Il est ne le divin enfant" and "Child in a Manger." The audience was then invited to join the chorus for several sections of the well-known holiday anthem, "The 12 Days of Christmas."

The first of three letter reading sections -- all written by award-winning playwright Terrence McNally -- was then offered. Simply titled "Some Christmas Letters," the often touching and humorous piece concerned a celebrated actress and mother (Harris), her married daughter (Cherry Jones) and her gay son, a classical music composer (Victor Garber). The first set of letters was set on December 24, 1979, the second a decade later on December 22, 1989 and the third set in the present, on December 23, 1999. Through the decades we see the mother's growing acceptance of her son's sexuality and her mourning for his first lover, who died of AIDS. It was a real treat to see and hear Harris, one of the theatre's most acclaimed actresses, read the words of Terrence McNally. Jones and Garber, too, offered fine, honest and emotional work.

Two more Christmas tunes followed, "Fantasia on Christmas Carols" and "Jessye's Carol." Then, Tony winner Betty Buckley took to the stage to woo the crowd with song, offering spell-binding versions of "God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen," "We Three Kings" and "For the Beauty of the Earth." Buckley's voice, which always impresses with both its power and its beautiful shades of color, was even more overwhelming in this space, her strong tones echoing throughout the cavernous church. The first half of the evening concluded with the 18th-century carol "O Come, all ye Faithful."

The second portion of the concert began with Mendelssohn's "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!" and was followed by the second segment of McNally's "Some Christmas Letters." "Ave Rex -- A Carol Sequence" displayed the talents of the choirs beautifully, and the final portion of the Christmas letter reading was next. Buckley returned to the stage for two more carols, "What Child Is This?" and "Silent Night," both arranged by her long time musical conductor and pianist Kenny Werner. Buckley wrapped her magnificent tones around both songs, particularly brilliant in her version of "Silent Night," which built to a thrilling climax of vocal prowess. The "Joyous Christmas Concert" concluded with a rousing, inspirational version of "The First Nowell" for which the audience was again invited to lend their voices. A joyous concert, indeed.

IN OTHER NEWS Marie Christine star Audra McDonald sings "Joe Worker" on the RCA Victor soundtrack for the current film, The Cradle Will Rock . . . Elaine Stritch will share her memories of working with Ethel Merman, Agnes De Mille, Stephen Sondheim and others on the Dec. 23 airing of "Theater Talk," the PBS series devoted to the theatre world. The program airs at midnight on WNET/Thirteen in Manhattan . . . A new holiday CD, "The Xmas Survival Guide," features the vocal talents of Sally Mayes, Marin Mazzie, Christiane Noll, Mary Testa and those Side Show, The Dead stars, Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner. The disc includes such light-hearted fare as "Reindeer Boogie," "Surabaya Santa," "The Twelve Steps of Christmas," "I'd Like to Hitch a Ride with Santa Claus" and more . . . Ragtime's Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens have written a new composition for chorus, speakers and orchestra, "With Voices Raised," which pays tribute to those who have raised their voices to help the causes of equal rights and freedom. Commissioned by the Boston Pops, this work was premiered on May 5, 1999, and can be heard on the new RCA Victor/BMG Classics release "A Splash of Pops." This ten minute track features the voices of Jason Danieley, Donna Bullock, La Chanze, Judy Kaye, Blair Brown, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Tommy Hollis, Alton White and Chuck Cooper . . . Linda Eder fans can listen to the former Jekyll & Hyde star's vocal wonders this weekend: Eder performs in concert at the Ordway Theatre in St. Paul, Minn. on Saturday, Dec. 18 (call 651-224-4222) and will make an appearance at the Borders Books & Music store in Richfield, Minn. on Dec. 19 at 2 PM.


A host of new concert dates have recently been announced for the multi talented actress and singer.
December 17 City Center in Coral Springs, FL
December 18 Atlantic University Aud. in Boca Raton, FL
December 31 Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT
February 5, 2000 Stillwell Theatre in Kennesaw, GA
February 6 Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Marin, CA
February 8-9 Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall in Las Vegas, NV
February 11 Center for the Arts at George Mason Univ. in Fairfax, VA
February 12 Palace Theatre in Louisville, KY
February 14 Keith Albec Theatre in Huntington, WV
February 15-17 The Iridium Room is New York, NY (guest of Kenny Werner)
March 18 Folly Theatre in Kansas City, MO
March 19 Macomb Center for the Perf. Arts in Detroit, MI
April 24 Nancy Lee & Perry R. Bass Performance in Fort Worth, TX
April 26 Coronation 2000 in San Antonio, TX
May 4 Poway Center in Poway, CA
May 5-6 Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Cerritos, CA
May 7 Haugh Performing Arts Center in Glendora, CA
May 8 Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA

August 29 Ravinia Festival in Chicago, IL

Here is Cook's upcoming concert schedule:
December 31 at The Academy of Music in Philadelphia, PA; call (215) 893 1956 or (215) 893-1999
January 27-30 at Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, PA (with Marvin Hamlisch and the Pittsburgh Symphony); call (412) 392-4900 PATTI LuPONE
From February 1 through February 14, our Evita gal will perform on the stage of the Prince Music Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; February 18 will bring her to the Phil. Center for the Arts in Naples, Florida, and on February 19, LuPone will take to the stage of the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Florida . . .Tickets are also now on sale for the upcoming New York Philharmonic production of Sweeney Todd to be held at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall from May 4 to May 6 in the year 2000. Starring LuPone and opera singer Bryn Terfel, the event, which will be recorded, will celebrate Sondheim's 70th birthday. Tickets range from $75 to $250 and may be purchased by calling (212) 721-6500 . . .

Marcovicci continues her Algonquin run through Friday, Dec. 24. Performances of "Our Songs. . .1965-1985" are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 9 PM, with dinner arrival at 7 PM (dinner is required at the 9 PM show). There is a $15 minimum and $45 cover charge. For her late show -- 11 PM Friday and Saturday evenings -- Marcovicci will perform songs of the 40's, a return to the world of music that this artist loves, including such nostalgic tunes as "We'll Meet Again," "Moonlight Serenade" and "As Time Goes By." For reservations, call the Algonquin (59 West 44th Street) at (212) 840-6800.

Mason will perform her Christmas show at Arci's Place on Dec. 19 at 7 PM. There is a $25 cover and a $15 minimum; call (212) 532-4370.

Already announced McGovern concert dates:

December 17 - 18 "Holiday Pops" at the Dayton Convention Center in Dayton, OH
December 30 - 31 "New Year's Eve Millennium Gala" with the Detroit Symphony at the Orchestra Hall in Detroit, MI

Jan. 22 "Sondheim & Jazz: Side by Side" at the UCLA Royce Hall in Los Angeles, CA
Jan. 23 at the Mentor Performing Arts Center in Mentor, OH
Feb. 11 & 12 "Valentine Pops" with the Baton Rouge Symphony at the Centroplex Theatre for Performing Arts in Baton Rouge, LA
Feb 18 & 19 at the La Mirada Theatre for Performing Arts in La Mirada, CA
March 5 & 6, 19 & 20 with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops in Philadelphia, PA
March 17 "An Evening with Maureen McGovern featuring pianist Lee Musiker" at Purchase College-SUNY in Purchase, NY
March 24 & 25 "An Evening with Maureen McGovern" with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic at the Rose Hall Stage in Oklahoma City, OK

What follows are some upcoming worldwide Paige concert dates:
January 21 and 22, 2000 with the Utah Symphony Orchestra at the Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah

The two-time Tony winner currently stars as the gun-toting Annie Oakley in the acclaimed revival of Annie Get Your Gun at the Marquis Theatre.

Christmas from Broadway, a holiday revue benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS will be held on Dec. 17, 18, 22 and 23 at 8:30 and 11 P.M. Created by Ken Lundie and Michael Davids, the program will be hosted by Dale Badway and will feature holiday tunes from Broadway shows -- Mame's "We Need a Little Christmas," Annie's "A New Deal for Christmas," etc. -- as well as holiday music from some of today's new theatre composers. Headlining the revue are Angela Covington (the rising star who shone in the recent Evita tour), Anthony Galde, Doreen Montalvo, William Reinking, Sam Riegel, Bryan Gallagher, Christian Stuck and Dawn Ward. There will also be nightly surprise celebrity guests including Rick Crom, Bob Evan, Michael Kubala, Eric Michael Gillett, Douglas Ladnier, Faith Prince, Ken Prymus, Ernie Sabella, Steven Sein-Granger and others. Christmas from Broadway will be held at Sam's, New York's oldest theatre bar and restaurant, at 263 West 45th Street (between Broadway & 8th Avenue), and reservations may be made by calling (212) 719-5416.

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

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

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