DIVA TALK: Bernadette's Reviews & Nothing Like A Dame

News   DIVA TALK: Bernadette's Reviews & Nothing Like A Dame
The long-awaited revival of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun opened last night at the Marquis Theatre, starring the one-and-only Bernadette Peters as Annie Oakley, a role made famous by the legendary Ethel Merman. The star-studded audience included such notables as Danny Aiello, Brooke Astor, Lauren Bacall, Catherine Bach, Sandy Duncan, Ben Gazzara, Barbara Cook, Joel Grey, Merv Griffin, Mary Cleere Haran, Marilu Henner, James Earl Jones, Sharon Lawrence, Cameron Mackintosh, John McDaniel, Mary Tyler Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, Gregory Peck, Brooke Shields, Bobby Short, Ann Reinking, William Finn and many others. The audience leapt to its feet for the star of the evening, and I thought you would enjoy reading some of BP's fabulous reviews:

The long-awaited revival of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun opened last night at the Marquis Theatre, starring the one-and-only Bernadette Peters as Annie Oakley, a role made famous by the legendary Ethel Merman. The star-studded audience included such notables as Danny Aiello, Brooke Astor, Lauren Bacall, Catherine Bach, Sandy Duncan, Ben Gazzara, Barbara Cook, Joel Grey, Merv Griffin, Mary Cleere Haran, Marilu Henner, James Earl Jones, Sharon Lawrence, Cameron Mackintosh, John McDaniel, Mary Tyler Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, Gregory Peck, Brooke Shields, Bobby Short, Ann Reinking, William Finn and many others. The audience leapt to its feet for the star of the evening, and I thought you would enjoy reading some of BP's fabulous reviews:

Linda Winter in Newsday:
"Call her the Anti-Merm. Bernadette Peters is daring to stand up to the blasting, belting echoes of Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun, which opened last night in Graciela Daniele's classy, romantic, thoroughly enchanting revival at the Marquis Theatre. And if those seem like awfully delicate words to describe Irving Berlin's raucous Wild West musical of 1946, the composer-lyricist's amazing score reminds us why, every so often, there is no business like show business, indeed. What an unexpectedly lovable idea this has turned out to be. . .The top of Peters' big buckskin-colored, cotton-candy hair comes about up to Wopat's shoulder, a contrast that makes this Annie's effortless marksmanship - markswomanship? -- that much more disarming. Peters, our most underutilized throwback to the era of virtuosic musical-comedy stardom, brings the same rigorous precision, wit and sense of discovery to this chestnut as she has brought to her cherished edgy women of Stephen Sondheim. At the start, her Annie is an untamed cartoon, a ragamuffin in oversized suedes (gloriously comic and glamorous costumes by William Ivey Long). She talks with an alarming accent that sounds as if her tongue is too big for her mouth. Peters, with her period face and modern timing, lets Annie grow up into a woman incapable of throwing away a nothing little line or wasting a gesture. She seems to enjoy the sensation of living in her skin and is generous about sharing her amusement. Then there is the voice, with its combination of simple sweetness and complex irony, not to mention the risky streak that picks an operatic high note out of the air in 'Anything You Can Do' (effectively moved from the first act to the second). When she quietly reprises 'You Can't Get a Man with a Gun' at the end of the first act, it seems unlikely that anyone who ever struggled between career and love could find the dilemma dated. . ."

David Patrick Stearns in USA Today:
". . .The Irving Berlin score is a knockout at nearly every turn. Bernadette Peters is never less than terrific on stage. The production concept -- even if you disagree with it -- is full of lush, sunset colorings of Midwestern America. Call me a pushover, but all of this leaves me extremely grateful. . . Director Graciela Daniele gives the show added emotional dimension. Butler and Oakley are so believable as a couple --with the virile-but mellifluous-voiced Tom Wopat as the former and Peters as the latter -- it's hard to see how Merman would've fit in here . . .[Peters] reveals the character's inner life even more than Betty Hutton in the 1950 MGM film version. Also, the Peters voice and presence are a powerful plus in all the great musical numbers; it's great to see her with such good material."

Fintan O'Toole in Daily News:
"With musicals, 'simple and innocent' usually means 'corny and awkward.' Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun is a rare exception. Like its heroine, it takes all the skepticism you can throw at it and gets on with the show. . .it is almost impossible not to have a good time. . .Berlin's songs, after all, are still an irresistible force. He had a particular genius for making carefully calculated effects seem completely spontaneous. . .the relationship between Peters' Annie Oakley and her love and rival Frank Butler is presented, not as the taming of a shrew, but as a fable of sexual equality. These changes allow both the audience and the performers to enter into the spirit of the story without doubts or reservations. Peters and Tom Wopat, who plays Butler, can go for pure, unapologetic entertainment. And they revel in it. . .[Peters] is so vibrant, so commanding and so funny. . .With a voice that combines sweetness with power and with her perfect comic timing, Peters makes you forget that the role was written for Ethel Merman and makes it her own. . . Most important, [Peters and Wopat] have a real rapport. Especially in 'An Old Fashioned Wedding,' their jousting seems delightfully unforced and playful."

Donald Lyons in New York Post:
". . .A good musical needs songs with lilt, power and personality. And it needs stars with lilt, power and personality to put them across. Bernadette Peters and Tom Wopat delivering Irving Berlin's score are the very definition of glorious Broadway entertainment. . .Torrential red curls spilling down like a honey waterfall, Bernadette Peters is at first a goofy ragamuffin in buckram and denim. After a few weeks in Buffalo Bill's show, she's in stitched satin and white leather and hanging by her knees from a swing. She blends hilarity and pathos in the sublime 'You Can't Get a Man with a Gun.' Here's a song you really do walk out singing; with lyrics like 'You can't shoot a male in the tail like a quail,' you can't stop. Peters has fun with her numbers, scatting and drawing out and retarding a laugh rhyme till we hurt. She drops the humorous edge for a sweeping ballad of rapture, 'Lost in His Arms.' A skilled interpreter of Sondheim, Peters clearly feels at home in the wash of this strangely sad song and gives it a thrilling lift . . .But nothing matters when Peters and Wopat, those two stellar presences -- the sun in the morning and the moon at night, as a song in this very show puts it -- are front and center and illuminating the magic of Irving Berlin."
Ben Brantley in The New York Times:
". . . Ms. Peters, as you probably know, is one of the few great performers under 70 who came of age in the American musical theatre, and she still treats a Broadway stage as if it were her first home. When she starts to sing in that oversize little-girl voice, it feels like an invitation to walk straight into her heart. Even the silliest seeming ditties can become affectingly sincere confessions when delivered by Ms. Peters. She is an enduring and essential reminder of the emotional vitality of a genre that in recent years has lost its way . . . it is Ms. Peters who provides the show with its only genuine pleasures, and they come when she sings. The orchestrations of Ms. Peters' romantic numbers are joltingly different from any of the other songs, more appropriate to a cabaret act or concert. They have the virtue, however, of nicely setting off the shimmering layers of feeling Ms. Peters brings to ballads like "Moonshine Lullaby" and "I Got Lost in His Arms." She seems to pull us all into a collective embrace with a mere catch in her voice or a hint of a tear, and there are moments when nothing seems to exist but the star, the song and the audience . . .."

There's a bit of irony in the fact that one of, if not the highlight of the 1999 Nothing Like a Dame benefit this past Monday night featured three of Broadway's favorite women dressed as men, delivering a thrillingly sung "Fugue for Tinhorns" from Guys and Dolls. Faith Prince, Melissa Errico and Donna Murphy were the three cross-dressers of the evening, belting out the Frank Loesser classic about "the horse right here." The Dame concert, which benefitted the Phyllis Newman Women's Heath Initiative of The Actors' Fund of America, began with Ms. Newman rising centerstage (on the Chicago set of the Shubert Theatre) and singing a verse from "It's Not Where You Start." Melissa Errico and Karen Ziemba followed in song, and Donna McKechnie then appeared to offer a brief, spirited dance. Soon, the stage was filled with members of the "Dame Chorus" and the "Dame Dancers," and "It's Not Where You Start" segued into the show's title number, "Nothing Like a Dame."

Kathleen Chalfant, the Tony-nominated actress from Angels in America who is currently receiving glowing notices for her work in Off-Broadway's Wit, then recited John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud." Chalfant also read excerpts from three letters from women who, while suffering from health problems, were greatly helped by The Actors' Fund. As Chalfant began two of the letters, the women who wrote them took to the stage and finished reading them movingly. Dee Hoty, Sally Mayes and Nancy Opel were up next, and the trio offered "Change in the Weather," a song made famous by the Boswell Sisters. Mary Testa, recently of the On the Town revival, made a humorous reference to the Clinton scandal before performing Rodgers and Hammerstein's "The Gentleman is a Dope." The grand dame Uta Hagen came next, and the consummate stage actress shared her experiences as a breast cancer survivor with humility and laughter.

One of the comic highlights featured Forbidden Broadway's Christine Pedi singing the disco classic "I Will Survive" in the voices of Bette Davis, Carol Channing, Ethel Merman and Eartha Kitt. As she finished the song, the legendary Kitt rose from the back of the stage and glared ferociously at Pedi as she left the stage. Kitt, the always-sultry songstress, launched into a passionate version of Stephen Sondheim's "I'm Still Here." Interestingly, Kitt changed one of the verses of the Sondheim anthem. As written, the lyric states, "I've been through Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover. Gee that was fun and a half. When you've been through Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover, anything else is a laugh." Kitt changed the lyric to: "I've been through Johnson and Richard M. Nixon, gee that was fun and a half..." Doris Eaton Travis, a 95-year-old ex-Follies performer brought the house down with a song and a dance that boasted good sports Donna McKechnie and Priscilla Lopez as back-up dancers.

Zoe Caldwell's inspired reading of Emily Dickinson's "There Will Never Be a Morning" was immediately followed by Lauren Flanigan's beautiful, unamplified singing of the same poem, set to music by Ricki Ian Gordon (Mr. Gordon accompanied Ms. Flanigan on the piano). Loni Ackerman and David Shire had some fun with Mr. Shire and Richard Maltby's "One Step," and a teen-age violin prodigy, Saeka Matsuyama, mesmerized the audience with her exceptional musicianship. Sharon Lawrence, the "NYPD Blue" actress, read a letter from Hilary Rodham Clinton, and the first half of the evening concluded with a host of Broadway moms and their kids performing "The Other Things I Do." Faith Prince's curly-locked son stole the number as he mischievously sauntered away from his mother every time she approached him.

Marisa Tomei started the second half of the evening by introducing The Lion King's Tsidii Le Loka, who delivered a powerful version of "Mobane (Yesterday)," a song she had written to "acknowledge the beauty, poise, dignity and grace of a woman." Le Loka was backed by the spirited Girls Choir of Harlem, led by Lorna Myers. Lea DeLaria then scatted with the jazz classic "How High the Moon" and Phyllis Newman and Adolph Green's daughter, Amanda Green, followed with the comical, self-penned "Every Time a Friend Succeeds." Donna Murphy, a two-time Tony winner, spoke about a song she often sang at auditions when she first arrived in New York. She explained that the song was filled with great hope, and she always looked forward to singing the tune, which was composed by Andre and Dory Previn. Murphy then launched into a full-voiced version of "You're Gonna Hear from Me." Joy Behar, one of the co-hosts of Barbara Walter's "The View," had the audience in stitches for a five-minute set that centered around the recent Monica Lewinsky/Bill Clinton scandal.

Phyllis Newman and Rue McClanahan led a skit that poked fun at David Mamet's writing, and Melissa Errico, Donna Murphy and Faith Prince followed with the aforementioned "Fugue for Tinhorns." Ms. Newman then introduced the final guest of the evening, an "Honorary Dame," composer Cy Coleman. Coleman treated the audience to two songs with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, "The Best Is Yet to Come" and "Real Live Girl." While he was singing his second number, the stage filled with all the participants of the evening, a stellar array of women who had already proven that, indeed, "There is Nothing Like a Dame."


BB will begin her first major stand at the Cafe Carlyle, the cabaret room in the Carlyle Hotel, Mar. 16. The two-week engagement concludes on Saturday, Mar. 27; call (212) 570-7189 for reservations.
BB concert line-up:
Apr. 17 at the Lehman Center for the Perf. Arts in Bronx, NY
Apr. 23 at the College of New Jersey in Erwing, NJ
May 3 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, Ill.

Linda Eder's eagerly-awaited debut TV concert will begin airing on PBS this month. To help promote the program, which is simply titled Linda Eder in Concert, the statuesque diva with the superior vocals will host the program live at PBS stations throughout the country (see listing below). Check local PBS listings for time.
Houston: March 4
Detroit: March 5
Hartford: March 7
San Francisco: March 10
Boston: March 14
Philadelphia: March 15
Maryland: March 16
North Carolina: March 17
New York: March 18
Los Angeles: March 19
Miami: March 20

This weekend, Patti LuPone brings her new concert act-- Matters of the Heart -- to Baltimore, where she will appear with the Baltimore Symphony; call (410) 783-8000 for tickets. (Also, 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 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.)

Now through Mar. 10, Mason will perform on the Theatre Guild Cruise up the Amazon River, and on Mar. 11, the former Sunset Boulevard standby will make an appearance on the Jamie deRoy & Friends program at the Laurie Beechman Theatre (at the West Bank Cafe, located at 407 West 42nd Street; call (212) 695-6900). Mar. 12 brings a concert performance at Tilles Hall at Long Island University; for reservations to that evening call 516-299-3100. From Mar. 20 until Mar. 23 the songstress will perform on a Broadway cruise to the Caribbean, and Mar. 24 brings Mason back to Davenports Cabaret in Chicago, where she will reside through Apr. 11; call Davenports at (773) 278-1830. One final date: Mason will perform at the Bradstan Inn in White Lake New York on June 20.

Peters, who is currently starring on Broadway in the revival of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun, will appear on "Live with Regis and Kathie Lee" on Tuesday, Mar. 23 on ABC. She will join the ladies of "The View" (ABC) sometime in April. Stay tuned for that air date.

A host of Broadway and cabaret's finest will be on hand on Saturday, Mar. 20 to salute the work of the late composer Frank Loesser. Loesser, who created such Broadway hits as Guys and Dolls, How To Succeed in Business without Really Trying, The Most Happy Fella, Where's Charley? and Greenwillow, also contributed songs to such films as Hans Christian Anderson, Destry Rides Again, Thank Your Lucky Stars and Neptune's Daughter. Highlights of the event promise to be the cast of Broadway's Titanic singing "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" plus performances from Loesser's wife and daughter, Jo Sullivan Loesser and Emily Loesser.

Others scheduled to perform at the event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. at Symphony Space (2537 Broadway at 95th Street), include Liz Callaway, Betty Comden, Debbie Gravitte, Josie de Guzman, Mary Cleere Haran, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Melba Joyce, Linda Lavin, Rebecca Luker, Michele Lee, Rita Moreno, Sarah Jessica Parker, Marilyn Sokol, KT Sullivan and Margaret Whiting, as well as Matthew Broderick, Adolph Green, Joe Grifasi, Jonathan Hadary, Richard Muenz, James Naughton, Lee Roy Reams, Steve Ross, John Rubinstein, Don Stephenson, Billy Stritch and more. Admission is free to the event, and Loesser fans are invited to stay as long as they wish or for the entire 12-hour extravaganza. For those of you unable to make it to the hall, the concert will be broadcast live on WNYC-AM 820 from 6 PM to 11 PM. For more information, call (212) 864 1414 ext. 403 or visit the Symphony Space website at www.symphonyspace.org.

The 13th annual MAC Awards, the Oscars of the New York cabaret scene, will honor Barbara Cook and her musical director, Wally Harper, with a Lifetime Achievement Award on Monday, Apr. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall. Betty Buckley, another MAC Award winner, will perform as well. And, Liza Minnelli, who will receive the MAC Board of Directors Award, is expected to perform with Billy Stritch. Tickets range from $20-$100 and are available at the Town Hall box office and through TicketMaster. For more information about MAC, call (212) 465-2662.

Theater Resources Unlimited (TRU), a supportive network of theatre producers -- for both not-for-profit and commercial theatre -- who do support, networking and educational services for the theatre community, is having its first cabaret benefit. Titled "True Love," the benefit will be hosted by Judy Garland impersonator Tommy Femia, and proceeds will help to underwrite future co-operative producing ventures, including a New Musicals Concert Series scheduled for fall 1999. Other scheduled to perform include Heather MacRae, Jeanne Lehman, Jennifer Piech, Annie Hughes, Barbara Lea, Vickie Phillips, Suzanna Bowling, Dottie Burman, Mary Barto, Lisa Gold plus Bryan Batt, James Bohanek, Edward Hibbert, Dan Jenkins and David Sabella.

The TRU benefit will take place on Monday, Mar. 8 (buffet and wine at 7pm, show at 8pm, with a raffle and a silent auction) at the Jan Hus Theater, 351 East 74th Street. Tickets are priced at $40 (purchased before 3/3) or $50 at door. Send check or money order to: Theater Resources Unlimited, 309 West 104th Street 1D, NY, NY 10025 or call (212) 714-7628.

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 Shephard, 1976- 1998.

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