DIVA TALK: And All That Jazz | Playbill

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In the past decade Tony winner Betty Buckley has often taught acting classes at the T. Schreiber Studios, and next month, that acting school will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a gala benefit on Monday, Jan. 25, 1999. The evening is planned as a tribute to both Buckley and Broadway producer Roger Berlind, who has received nine Tony Awards for such shows as Amadeus, The Real Thing, City of Angels, Passion and other hits. Both Buckley and Berlind will receive "Life in the Theatre" Achievement Awards, and the black-tie optional event is open to the public.

In the past decade Tony winner Betty Buckley has often taught acting classes at the T. Schreiber Studios, and next month, that acting school will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a gala benefit on Monday, Jan. 25, 1999. The evening is planned as a tribute to both Buckley and Broadway producer Roger Berlind, who has received nine Tony Awards for such shows as Amadeus, The Real Thing, City of Angels, Passion and other hits. Both Buckley and Berlind will receive "Life in the Theatre" Achievement Awards, and the black-tie optional event is open to the public.

Buckley, who is currently in rehearsals for her Off-Broadway run in Nicky Silver's The Eros Trilogy (previews begin Jan. 21, 1999 at the Vineyard), will sing and Edward ("Primal Fear, American History X") Norton will also be a part of the evening's program. Tickets to the 30th anniversary benefit are tax-deductible and cost $250. The evening will begins with cocktails at 6 PM, followed by dinner and entertainment, and will be held at The Players Club (16 Gramercy Park South). Call (212) 741-0209 for tickets.

As reported in yesterday's "Diva Alert," there is some very exciting news on the Patti LuPone front. For those of you who have been waiting years to hear LuPone sing a Sondheim score -- after she tempted us with a thrilling "Being Alive" at the Sondheim Carnegie Hall celebration a few years back--your wish has been granted. La LuPone will 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, 1999 in the year 2,000! The performers will be backed by the New York Philharmonic, and the event will celebrate Sondheim's 70th birthday, which will occur on March 22, 2,000. It should be an exciting evening to hear LuPone wrap her golden voice around such Sondheim tunes as "The Worst Pies in London," "A Little Priest," "By the Sea" and more. An extra bonus: the event will be recorded by Teldec Records for future sale. Stay tuned for more details as they become available.

While Ute Lemper and Karen Ziemba continue to sizzle on stage at the Shubert Theatre in the New York production of Chicago, two new leading ladies have joined the London company of the Kander and Ebb musical. Nicola Hughes has stepped into the role of Velma Kelly, created in the London revival by Ms. Lemper, while Sondheim aficionado Maria Friedman is the latest to portray that other merry murderess, Roxie Hart, originated in London by Ruthie Henshall. I thought you would enjoy reading some of Hughes and Friedman's wonderful reviews:

David Benedict in The Independent:
". . .The smoldering Amazonian Nicola Hughes majors in irony. She is deliciously incongruous as she switches between sneering grandeur and comic disingenuousness. There is now much more going on than just raging jealousy at the arrival of Roxie, the latest notorious killer-on-the-make. Her voice pumps out John Kander's music and she also fleshes out Fred Ebb's tremendous, tart lyrics. There is little dialogue in the show's lean, mean structure but what is there has to work, and it now does, big time. Hughes blessedly plants gags with wonderful aplomb. This is not just a performance, it is a character, and much funnier.

When it was first announced that Maria Friedman was taking over as Roxie, the big question was: Could she dance it? No worries. Snapping the brim of her bowler and kicking up her heels, she is sensational. In her magnetic solo, she loses herself in a fantasy of ego, humming ecstatically to herself, and her arousal fills the theatre. Her voice shimmers breathily and her character's dream of stardom is thrillingly made fresh. Better still is the scene in which she meets her husband -- beautifully played by Peter Davison -- after she is released. In her moment of triumph she has been abandoned by the press. Her eyes widen in the darkness and her voice cracks as she whispers: "They didn't even want my picture." A tiny moment, but shockingly touching. You thought you knew Chicago? Look again."

Robert Gore-Langton, The Express:
". . . Now Maria Friedman breathes new life into the role of Roxie Hart -- the showgirl on trial for slaying her lover in the Windy City of the roaring twenties. We know she can sing like an angel from shows like Sondheim's Passion. Here she also dances her socks off. This is the musical with breathtaking choreography by the late Bob Fosse and more legs on show than a millipede. Ms. Friedman hoses down that slightly too English charm that Ruthie Henshall gave the role, adding a sly butter-would-melt sweetness to her perjury. She's a dream. Nicola Hughes' Velma is a meaty match in Kander and Ebb's cynical show about sleaze, the media and murder."

Michael Coveney, Daily Mail:
". . .For the show was gloriously reclaimed last night by Maria Friedman -- succeeding Ruthie Henshall -- as Roxie Hart, on trial for shooting a lover boy . . . Ute Lemper is replaced as Velma Kelly by 23-year-old Nicola Hughes, a stunning new talent with a voice that flows like molten lava and a physical athleticism that would not disgrace an Olympian sprinter. She is the big, beautiful Hardy to Ms. Friedman's chipper, comic and rather sad little Laurel . . . The bigness of Ms. Friedman's revelatory performance, though, is completely sensational. And Roxie's story pushes up through the score's cynical glamour and glitter like a defiant new flower in a bed of synthetic roses."

Nicholas de Jongh, Evening Standard:
". . .Ute Lemper's legs and Dietrich-like face, not to mention the sultry rest of her, are missed. But those of Nicola Hughes, who imbues the murdering Velma with far more of the right, raucous toughness, boast a fine athletic vigour. Miss Lemper oozed sophistication when singing the "Cell Block Tango." Miss Hughes is, like Diane Langton's brassy matron, more of the tough, vicious real thing. Maria Friedman's Roxie, who longs for murder to make her a star and thinks big in a brief black skirt, stacks up the sex appeal, and sings in that pure, heart-felt voice which generated such emotional havoc in Sondheim's Passion.

Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph:
". . .Nicola Hughes can't quite erase memories of Lemper's long legs, but she is a performer of infectious charm and skill, and brings a warmth and vulnerability to the role of the double-killer Velma Kelly that was missing before.
Better still, as her fellow murderer Roxie Hart, Maria Friedman seems finally to have found the role she has been waiting so long for, the one that is going to turn her into the major star she deserves to be. If this performance doesn't do the trick, nothing will. She may lack Henshall's dark beauty, and I suspect she would not describe herself as a natural dancer -- though she certainly goes for it with vim -- but she has an astonishing intelligence and mischievous vitality. She also sings superbly, laying bare every ounce of irony and wit in every number. Performances like this cannot happen in a vacuum, and Chicago, for so long an also-ran in Kander and Ebb's canon, now seems as classic and as classy a musical as their Cabaret.

Any new production of Evita is always a cause for celebration for diva lovers, as Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's score provides one of the greatest vocal challenges to its leading lady of any musical in recent history. The show made stars of its two original Evas, Elaine Paige in London and Patti LuPone on this side of the Atlantic, and even pop star Madonna had her stab at the role (although with much lowered keys) on screen. Now comes the latest professional tour of the musical, which, for the first time, is headed by an all Latin company: Natalie Toro as Eva, Raul Esparza as Che and Raymond Jaramillo McLeod as Peron. Evita is always worth a trip, so if the tour gets near you, be sure to see it. What follows are a few reviews from this current production:

Chris Jones in Variety:
". . .Square-jawed and determined, the earnest and honest Natalie Toro deftly and realistically captures the arriviste Eva Duarte's barely concealed proletariat identity, and the actress sings this difficult part with perfect pitch and often thrilling vibrancy. . .the evening's most emotionally intense scene comes from Angela Covington, a remarkable 16 year-old making her debut as Peron's mistress. Her jolting rendition of 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall' has the note of youthful rejuvenation. . ."

Martin F. Kohn in Detroit Free Press:
". . .It's a pleasure to rediscover such songs as the plaintive 'Another Suitcase in Another Hall' and the fine, gooey sentimentality of 'On This Night of a Thousand Stars.' Evita never has been a night of a thousand stars, although Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone made their names in the original Broadway cast. This 'Evita' may be a star-making night for Toro, who brings fire and ice to the title role. (Ana Maria Andricain sings it at some performances.) Understudy Bill E. Dietrich brought his fine tenor to bear as Che, and Raymond Jaramillo McLeod is a lumbering and clueless Peron (this is a compliment). The entire ensemble sings gloriously."

Jackie Demaline in The Cincinnati Enquirer:
"There's only one way Evita is worth seeing: the way Harold Prince originally envisioned it 20 years ago. That's the way it's being re-created for its current national tour . . . Natalie Toro rocks in the title role. She's a firebrand as the kid who'll do anything to get to Buenos Aires. She is dangerously seductive as she sleeps her way to the top, finally weaving a web around Juan Peron, waiting in the political wings when they meet. Evita isn't a girl who waits. Ms. Toro caps her performance with a powerhouse death scene. . .Raul Esparza is revolutionary Che Guevara our conscience and guide through the World According to Eva. . .Mr. Esparza is first-rate. . ."

IN OTHER NEWS Two-time Tony winner Donna Murphy can be seen opposite Patrick Stewart in the new Star Trek movie, "Star Trek: Insurrection." Murphy plays a 300-year-old alien. . . PBS stations in the metropolitan area will rebroadcast Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, tonight, December 11. Elaine Paige stars as Grizabella, the Glamour Cat, and her performance of "Memory" is the highlight of the production.


Loni Ackerman currently stars in The Story Goes On, a new revue of the work of Richard Maltby and David Shire through this Sunday, December 13 at the Kaufman Theatre. Directed by Ray Roderick with Mr. Shire at the piano, tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200. The Kaufman Theatre is located on 42nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues.

BB concert line-up:
Dec. 28 at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples, FL
Dec. 29 at the Kravis Center for the Perf Arts in West Palm Beach, FL
Dec. 30 in Fort Lauderdale, FL
Dec. 31 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota, FL
Jan. 14, 1999 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, CA
Jan. 16 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, DE
Feb. 6 at the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, CA
April 17 at the Lehman Center for the Perf. Arts in Bronx, NY
April 23 at the College of New Jersey in Erwing, NJ
May 3 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, Ill.

LuPone will bring her acclaimed new concert act, "Matters of the Heart," to the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia on January 11 and 13. The new act, which premiered this past August in California, was conceived and directed by Scott Wittman, the same man responsible for her Broadway concert, Patti LuPone on Broadway. The new act is an evening of original and contemporary music and boasts an eclectic mix of songwriters, including works by Lennon and McCartney, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Cole Porter and Randy Newman. For ticket info and orders, go to www.tickettek.com.au/Sydney Festival Home Page or www.sydneyfestival.org.au. Trivia buffs will recall that Patti has performed in Australia on one other occasion when she received critical acclaim in the Australian production of Evita in the early eighties.

After her Sydney engagement, LuPone will bring the new act to the McCallum Theater in Palm Desert, California on Jan. 29 and 30, 1999. Call the McCallum's box office at (760) 340-2787 for tickets. And, on March 5, 6, and 7 she will appear with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore. Tickets go on sale Jan. 4, 1999 but they may be purchased during the Symphony's early sale from Dec. 1 to 23; call (410) 783-8000.

Mason will perform a series of Christmas concerts at the Laurie Beechman Theatre (at the West Bank Cafe) on Sundays, Dec. 6, 13 and 20 at 7:30 PM. There is a $30 music charge and a one-drink minimum, and reservations can be made by calling (212) 695-6909. The West Bank Cafe is located at 407 West 42nd Street, west of 9th Avenue.

through Dec. 13 with the Phoenix Symphony in Phoenix, Arizona

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

by Andrew Gans
e-mail me at [email protected]

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

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