DIVA TALK: Betty on Sondheim; Bernadette on Life

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Betty on Sondheim; Bernadette on Life
Hello, diva lovers! As we head into this holiday weekend, here are a few diva items to enjoy. Have a great holiday!

Hello, diva lovers! As we head into this holiday weekend, here are a few diva items to enjoy. Have a great holiday!

Grateful: The Songs of John Bucchino
I first heard one of John Bucchino’s songs about six or seven years ago during a concert the late Nancy LaMott gave at Steve McGraw’s (now The Triad). LaMott performed Bucchino’s “It Feels Like Home,” a song she later recorded on her final solo disc, “Listen to My Heart.” Before singing the tune, LaMott joked that she had discovered the song a few years earlier, but when she asked for the sheet music at that time, the composer wouldn’t oblige. “I guess my stock must have gone up,” LaMott quipped in her no-nonsense fashion. Over the past few years, several singers have embraced Bucchino’s work, including such Broadway favorites as Barbara Cook and Patti LuPone. On his new disc from BMG, “Grateful: The Songs of John Bucchino,” a slew of Broadway and cabaret stars bring to life 16 of the talented composer’s songs. Highlights include Michael Feinstein’s “Grateful,” a touching tune that celebrates life: “In a city of strangers, I have a family of friends”; Judy Collins’ pure tones on “Sweet Dreams,” a haunting ballad that describes the friendship and journey of a young man and woman who try to escape their desperate lives; Adam Guettel’s “Unexpressed,” which explores the longing one can feel on the road to finding love; “Dancing,” a joyous tune that Patti LuPone brings to exciting life; David Campbell’s heartfelt rendition of “Better Than I,” which builds to an emotional, full-voiced climax; Kristin Chenoweth’s “This Moment,” a beautiful finale to the recording; as well as contributions from Andrea Marcovicci, Ann Hampton Callaway and others. The composer also appears on the disc, singing “Not a Cloud in the Sky,” a tune from the musical Urban Myths. The complete track listing for “Grateful: The Songs of John Bucchino” follows:
“Grateful” Michael Feinstein
“Sweet Dreams” Judy Collins
“That Smile” Liza Minnelli and Billy Stritch
“It Feels Like Home” Daisy Prince
“A Powerful Man” Jimmy Webb
“Unexpressed” Adam Guettel
“Temporary” Lois Sage
“Dancing” Patti LuPone
“If I Ever Say I’m Over You” Art Garfunkel
“Sepia Life” Andrea Marcovicci
“The Song with the Violins” Amanda McBroom
“In a Restaurant By the Sea” Ann Hampton Callaway
“Not a Cloud in the Sky” John Bucchino
“Taking the Wheel” Brian Lane Green
“Better Than I” David Campbell
“This Moment” Kristin Chenoweth

Last week, I came across a wonderful interview with Betty Buckley on the Stephen Sondheim website (www.sondheim.com). The Tony winning actress was interviewed by Bruce Janiga on March 12, and she spoke openly about her roles in two Sondheim productions, Gypsy and the workshop of Into the Woods, as well as her reverence for the composer/lyricist’s work. Following are a few quotes from this informative article:
about her two stints portraying Gypsy’s Rose:
“My first exposure to Gypsy was when I was fifteen. I played Dainty June at a regional theater in Fort Worth, Texas called Casa Manana. I remember watching our Mama Rose every night and thinking, ‘I'll play this part someday.’ I just set my cap towards it at that point. It was six years ago that I did it at the Southern Arizona Light Opera Company. We learned it in two weeks and I did about eight performances. It was really short and I didn't really feel I did it very well. And I also felt that I was too young for it at that point. I know age is really relative and I was old enough chronologically but I didn't feel that I was mature enough to do it properly. This time around I felt that I had the maturity to play the part. I had a different kind of take on it than when I did it six years ago. I knew better how to do it . . . I just had more knowledge in every way, more security. In six years I had grown that much and I knew better what I was doing and how to do it. There's no comparison. It is quite extraordinary that one can grow that much in six years. Also, I had done Sunset Boulevard in between, and that was a great growth experience for me.”

about the pressures she faced in Sunset Boulevard:
“I don't think I could ever feel more pressure than I did in ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ That was one of the most stressful experiences I've had: to come in in two situations, to replace somebody in London in such a controversial way, and then to replace somebody with the persona that Glenn Close has was really very tough. It was a tremendous exercise for me to stay really centered and focused and do my work and let the results go and hope that people would see it and appreciate it, and see its value. Fortunately for me they did. It could have so easily gone the other way, but fortunately the critics embraced my work and so did the audience and that was hugely gratifying. The acknowledgement of that, the affirmation of things that I had felt about my own commitment to my work for many years, the studying I had done and the practice, really paid off in that situation. So that kind of acknowledgement can't help but make you feel endorsed for all the hard work you've put in. So after that I felt ready to take on Gypsy, and I felt that I had something individual to say in the role. Having never seen Merman, I can only get an impression of her. And I'm quite a fan of Angela Lansbury. She's one of our great ladies of the Musical Theater. But I have my own feelings about ladies as legendary as Ethel Merman and Mary Martin. In those days I was a child. People compared me to them; I was ‘this little Ethel Merman’ because I had this big voice. I had very strong feelings about being a musician and wanting to be very musical. And I never felt that I was an Ethel Merman. I appreciated what she did but I never felt that that was what I was as a singer, nor as a performer. I had seen her in films and she was very unique, but I always felt that I was different than that. There are interpretations or roles that I feel, ‘Well, there's nothing else to say here.’ But there are parts that I look at and say, ‘That's really nice. That's interesting, that lady's interpretation, but I can also see it in this way.’ And when I think I have something specific to offer I want to try, and it's not that I'm in competition or should even be compared to other actresses. It's just a different interpretation.

about Sondheim and “Rose’s Turn”:
“I think ‘Rose's Turn’ is one of the greatest character songs ever written. The moment contains a kind of a nervous breakdown. It is remarkably structured. It's remarkable writing. I can't believe that Sondheim wrote that when he was so young. Sondheim is like . . . I'm such a complete devotee. I hold him in such high esteem. I think that what he writes is beautiful. What's startling is what he wrote at such a young age. It's remarkable what he knows about people and character. His capacity to write a character's dilemma, what I call a monologue song, when the character comes forward and proposes a dilemma before the audience and then consciously works through the alternatives and arrives at a new perspective by the end experientially so that it is an actual visceral experience that the storyteller or the character goes through; no one writes that better than he does. I remember when I was in ‘Into the Woods.’ I did the first workshop and the pre-Broadway workshop. Well, I sat there in that workshop lusting after those children's songs, the Cinderella song is one of those songs, and the song for Jack. The witch had these rap tunes and that one little perfect melody which Sondheim told me in rehearsals that he wrote for me, the ‘Stay With Me’ melody. I was just yearning. Because nobody writes such profound character with such multi-dimensional, psychological complexity and such beautiful melody with such complicated and beautiful dissonance that describes with musical sound the character's emotions and feelings. There are certain chords in the universe that can just open one's soul; they are so darkly, darkly beautiful. And that is one of the things I love more than anything; a sort of dark beauty in music that is the most perfect deep, velvet red, almost to the point of being purplely rose that just opens itself so wide. It's like this kind of beautiful wound. And he writes that and that's one of the things I love most in music. The other thing is the quest for character. I consider myself first and foremost a storyteller and then an actor-singer and that kind of material is very rare: that beautiful, that clear and that sophisticated all at the same time. I think ‘Rose's Turn’ is one of the most perfect pieces of musical theater, ever. So the opportunity to play that part with a more mature understanding and more psychological perspective was something that I really was very grateful to get to do.

about her favorite Sondheim songs:
“I love ‘Every Day a Little Death.’ I love ‘Move On.’ I've never sung, but I love ‘Joanna.’ I love a lot of the songs he wrote for men. To get back to Into the Woods, I sat there in that workshop thinking I can do this kind of material so well. Give me a chance to do this kind of storytelling. And it didn't exist for me in the context of the show at that point. So it was this sweet torture to sit there and listen to this beautiful music and hear all these wonderful stories and see that they were in the hands of the children. They were all very charming, perfect for the show. I just wanted material like that's so that I could really delve into the depth of the confusion or the deliberation and go on an active, spontaneous journey that one can risk if you have that kind of skill. That's what I love to do and there isn't that much material that lets me do it unless it's written by Stephen Sondheim.”

Bernadette Peters graces the cover of the current issue of Spa Finder Magazine. Peters, who continues her award-winning run in Annie Get Your Gun, spoke to writer Michael Lassell about her work and her home life, and the six-page spread also features several color photos by Timothy White. What follows are some of the two-time Tony winner’s choice quotes:

about her life in 2000:
“This is really a high point. Actually, it’s the most wonderful time in my life. It’s like a wonderful dream. I’m married to this wonderful guy. I’m doing a show that I love, a very positive show. You can balance a lot if you just give each thing the attention that it needs at that moment. I try to make time for everything in my life that’s important. . . I think life is about trying to figure out what makes you happy and then trying to do just that. And I think it’s also about caring for someone or something a lot -- whatever it is. I mean, it’s great if you have a person in your life, but it can be something else, too, as long as it’s something you can give to.”

about handling stress:
“. . .there is stress in my life, and stress is a terrible thing, stress and worry. It’s hard not to worry. But what does worry accomplish? What good does it do? You have to stop and say, ‘Wait a minute, what am I doing? Don’t do that.’ You really need to trust. To trust in life that it will all work out.”

about spas, vacations and enjoying life:
“Spas are great. You’re away from life and the phone and all that stuff, which is very relaxing. It’s something you do for yourself. I like a spa where you can go hiking and do things. I’m a little bit of a layaround, but I’m also active. I’m an active layaround.”

about the importance of meditation
“I think it’s important to make a space for positive energy in your life. It’s a much healthier way to approach life, and you can be more available to others when they need help. Meditation helps control your perception of life, and gives you the power to choose the way things affect you.”

about her pit bull, Stella
“My husband went with a friend to a shelter to get a dog and found this female pit bull whose throat was slit. It was either done on purpose or she’d had a collar on too long. We took her to a vet and we were going to find her a home, but of course I had to keep her. I couldn’t throw her out again. People don’t realize what an amazing dog a pit bull is. In World War I it was America’s most decorated and beloved dog. They’re very loyal and very affectionate. Stella is the gentlest dog; all she wants to do is cuddle.”

A host of celebrities will make an appearance at First You Dream: A Tribute to Courage, a one-night-only gala performance honoring Christopher Reeve and Bran Pace. Those names scheduled to appear at The New Amsterdam Theatre on Monday, June 12 (at 7:30 PM) include Glenn Close, Richard Gere, Liza Minnelli, Brian Stokes Mitchell, James Naughton, Bebe Neuwirth, Kelly Preston, Dana Reeve, Chita Rivera, Susan Sarandon, John Travolta, Robin Williams, Scott Wolf plus Bryan Batt, Julio Boca, Kristin Chenoweth, Margaret Colin, Blythe Danner, Rosemary Harris, Heather Headley, Cherry Jones, Nathan Lane, Sharon Lawrence, Tsidii Le Loka, Marin Mazzie, Idina Menzel, Sherie Rene Scott, Claudia Shear, Amy Spanger and cast members of Kiss Me, Kate; The Music Man; AIDA; Annie Get Your Gun; Riverdance; Fosse; Beauty and the Beast; Chicago; The Lion King; Contact; Footloose; Saturday Night Fever; and members of The Broadway Gospel Chorus. The evening will benefit The Actors’ Fund of America’s Catastrophic Care Program and the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. Tickets range from $50 to $2,500 and may be purchased by calling (212) 221-7300, ext. 121.

IN OTHER NEWS Karen Mason will join Rosemary Clooney and Tony Bennett on June 12 for a salute to lyricist Marilyn Bergman. The tribute to the author of such songs as “Ordinary Miracles,” “On My Way To You” and “The Way We Were” will be held at the Pierre Hotel. And, speaking of Mason, the former Sunset Boulevard star will portray the Rosemary Clooney role in the world premiere of White Christmas, a stage musical based on the famed Irving Berlin movie from July 18-23 at the St. Louis MUNY Opera. Featuring a revised book by Paul Blake, the musical also stars James Brennan, Lara Teter, Karen Morrow and Lauren Kennedy with direction by Charles Repole. And, in more Mason news, the talented chanteuse will return to Arci’s Place, New York’s newest cabaret, this fall from September 5 through October 14 . . . The inimitable Barbara Cook will perform at the Hollywood Bowl this summer on July 28 and 29. Guest conductor Marvin Hamlisch will lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a rousing evening of songs by Gershwin, Sondheim and other Broadway favorites. Wally Harper, Cook’s longtime accompanist, will serve as musical director. . . Before Cook’s concerts, however, two other grand ladies of the theatre, Patti LuPone and Audra McDonald, will take to the stage of the Hollywood Bowl in a special evening celebrating John Mauceri’s 200th concert with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. That evening of song will occur on July 8 at 8 PM, and tickets are available by calling (323) 850-2000. . . And more LuPone concert dates: The Olivier and Tony Award-winning star will perform at the Morton J. Myerson Symphony Center on January 5, 6 and 7, 2001. Tickets for the concerts, which will feature the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, are available by calling (214) 871-4000 . . . And, speaking of enchanted evenings, the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia will hold its annual fundraising gala on Monday, June 12. Entitled “An Enchanted Evening,” the concert will celebrate three generations of America’s “First Family of Musical Theatre”: the Rodgers (Richard Rodgers, Mary Rodgers and Adam Guettel). The celebration will feature performances from Barbara Cook, Judy Kuhn, Faith Prince, Martin Vidnovic and Scott Wise . . . Susan Egan’s final performance in the Broadway company of Cabaret will be Sunday, May 28. From May 30 to June 1 Linda Romoff will portray Sally Bowles, and then Joely Fisher joins the company for eight weeks beginning June 2 . . . And, finally, Sheridan Morley has this to say about Elaine Paige’s performance in the West End production of The King and I in the upcoming June subscription issue of Playbill: “What is happening at the Palladium now is back to basics: Elaine Paige, confirming her title as the first lady of the British musical stage, takes charge of a show that was always meant to be about Anna, and she gives unquestionably the performance of her career thus far. Seldom offstage in a three-and-a-half hour evening, she dominates a show, which makes up in sheer spectacle (I have never seen so many golden elephants) what it lacks in intelligent rediscovery.”

June 30 & July 1 John Drew Theatre (Guild Hall) in East Hampton, NY
July 24 Martin Theatre (Ravinia Festival) in Highland Park, IL
August 21-September 3 Donmar Warehouse in London, UK
September 16 Stranahan Theatre in Toledo, OH
October 6-7 Scottsdale Center for the Arts Theatre in Scottsdale, AZ
October 28 Univ. of Texas Cowan Fine & Perf. Arts Center in Tyler, TX

I recently received a few new concert dates for theatre/cabaret legend Barbara Cook, which follow:
June 13 at the Playhouse Theatre, Hotel Dupont in Wilmington, Del. (302) 656-4401
September 14 at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in Poway, CA (619) 748-0505
September 21 & 22 at the Sydney Opera House (in concert with David Campbell) in Sydney, Australia 011-61-2-9250-7777
September 28-October 1 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA (714) 556-2787

Eder in concert:
July 8 with Michael Feinstein & The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at the Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta, GA; (404) 733-4801
July 14 with Feinstein at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA; (206) 628-0888
July 15 with Feinstein at Schnitzer Hall in Portland, OR; (503) 274 6564
July 16 with Feinstein at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, CA; (415) 551-2000
August 5 at the Wildflower Music Festival in White Mills, PA
August 6 with Feinstein at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ; (732) 335-0400
August 8 with Feinstein at the Mann Performing Arts Center in Philadelphia, PA (215) 336-2000
August 9 with Feinstein at the Wolf Trap Filene Center in Vienna, VA; (703) 218-6500 or 1-800-955-5566
August 19 at the John Drew Theater of Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY (631) 324-4050
August 26 Boys & Girls Club Fundraiser at The River Center w/ Michael Feinstein in Minneapolis, MN
September 26 at the Jones Hall w/Houston Symphony in Houston, TX; call (713) 224-7575
November 4 at the Westbury Music Fair in Long Island, NY; call (516) 334-0800
November 17 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ; call (732) 246-SHOW
November 18 at the State Theatre in Easton, PA; call (610) 252-3132

Several concert dates have been added to Patti LuPone’s ever-growing schedule. What follows are La LuPone’s confirmed concert appearances as of this week:
June 8-11 at Theatrefest/Memorial Auditorium at Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, NJ; (973) 655-5112

May 26-27 Mason opens the Cabaret series at the Berkshire Theatre Festival
June 1-3 Theatre concert at the new Metropolis Theatre in Arlington Heights, IL; call (847) 577-2121
June 5 Opening night of the San Francisco Cabaret Convention
June 7 The Plush Room in San Francisco; call 415-885-2800
Sept. 5 - Oct. 14 Arci’s Place, 450 Park Avenue, New York, NY; call (212) 532-4370.
June 12 Marilyn Bergman salute at the Pierre Hotel July 18-23 World Premiere of White Christmas at the St. Louis MUNY Opera June 25 The Bradstan Country Hotel in White Lake, NY (914) 583 4114
September 5-14 at Arci’s Place in New York, NY (212) 532-4370


Scheduled concert dates for McDonald follow:
June 12 at Town Hall, NYC (Benefit for GMHC; call 212-367-1514)

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

By Andrew Gans

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