DIVA TALK: Chatting with Emily Skinner Plus Maureen McGovern on CD and News of Buckley

News   DIVA TALK: Chatting with Emily Skinner Plus Maureen McGovern on CD and News of Buckley
News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Emily Skinner
Emily Skinner

Emily Skinner, the versatile singing actress best known for her Tony-nominated performance as Daisy Hilton opposite Alice Ripley's Violet in Side Show, will make her solo New York cabaret debut June 1 and 8 at Feinstein's at Loews Regency.

Skinner, who is blessed with a powerful Broadway belt as well as a lush soprano and wonderful comic timing, told me earlier this week that "over the years different people have asked me to do a cabaret evening, and I just really haven't had the time to do it. Feinstein's asked me a couple months ago, and I thought, 'Why not? I could probably do that in June.'"

"I've done a lot of concert work in the last two-and-a-half, three years, mostly outside New York," Skinner adds, "but that's not the same thing as cabaret. In cabaret you're in a little room with people right next to you, so this will be a totally different thing for me. . . . But I'm my mother's daughter. I like to talk, so I'll just blabber away, sing some songs and blabber some more!"

Skinner has titled her show Broadway, Her Way but says, "There's no fantastic theme. It's just me singing a bunch of Broadway music. It's all theatre material. It's not me singing Joan Baez," she laughs. The gifted performer — who will be backed at the posh nightspot by musical director Ross Patterson on piano — promises tunes by the Gershwins, Stephen Sondheim, Alan Menken and Bill Russell and Henry Krieger, among others. Audiences can expect a few songs from Skinner's acclaimed musical theatre outings as well as material new to her repertoire.

To prepare for her cabaret bow, Skinner recently caught the Feinstein's engagements of Lainie Kazan and Tovah Feldshuh. "I'm enchanted with the room," she admits. "It has a nice feel to it and a nice intimacy. I'm really looking forward to [performing there]." Within the past year's time, Skinner has also been part of two high-profile theatre projects: the New York City premiere of Jerry Springer — The Opera at Carnegie Hall and the American premiere of The Witches of Eastwick at the Signature Theatre Company in Arlington, VA.

Of the former Skinner says, "It was terrific — Jason Moore directing, Stephen Oremus [music-directing]. It was a wonderful group of people to be in rehearsal with for a month and great, fantastic music to sing. I had a fabulous time." When asked whether she thinks the controversial musical — about television personality Jerry Springer and his outrageous talk-show guests — will have further New York life, Skinner says, "I don't think so, [considering] the fact that it got so much negative press when it aired on the BBC. And, even here, we were [the subject of protests] by the Catholic League. There were picketers around Carnegie Hall for really no reason: 'Do you even know what you're protesting? You haven't even seen the show.' It was ridiculous. There's nothing [any more] offensive in that show that you haven't seen on 'South Park.' It's absurd, but I think any potential investor would look at that and think, 'No, I'm not going there.'"

Skinner in Witches
photo by Scott Suchman

Skinner was equally fond of her experience in the Signature's Witches of Eastwick, which cast her as the artist-sculptor Alex. "It was a sort of a radical deconstruction of that show," she says. "You wouldn't even have recognized it from the London production. It's such a different show now. In fact, they took our version of it — what we sort of came up with — and they're launching a new U.K. tour of it. Everybody who came and saw it said, 'Oh, this is how it's supposed to be.'" Skinner thinks a New York life for Witches is possible: "I don't know if it will happen anytime soon, but I think it certainly would do really, really well in New York. They made it a little darker, a little less campy, a little more faithful to the book than the movie. It works really nicely now." Skinner has also directed a few concerts for Scott Siegel's acclaimed Broadway By the Year series at Town Hall. "I've been doing these concert things for awhile now," she says, "so I feel like I have a good grasp on how to present a concert, how to keep a flow of a concert going well. I'm not going to bust out and be directing [Broadway] shows any time soon," she laughs, "but I certainly have fun directing concerts, and I feel like it's something I'm good at."

As for future plans, Skinner will direct and appear in The Broadway Musicals of 1979 (June 16 at Town Hall in Manhattan), she will join Mark Jacoby for a concert version of The Music Man (June 28 at the Eisemann Performing Arts Center in Richardson, TX), and she will share the concert stage with Broadway actress Lauren Kennedy (June 5 at the Long Wharf Theatre Gala in New Haven, CT).

And, one final question: How does Skinner feel about news that Side Show is being revisited in a New York workshop by the Roundabout? "I've always felt that Side Show was a piece that never really got its due," she says, "so I think it's fantastic that it's getting another re-look. It absolutely deserves it!"

[Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. For reservations call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com or TicketWeb.com. For Emily Skinner's complete concert itinerary, visit www.skinnerripley.com.]

Cover art for McGovern's "Road"

FOR THE RECORD: Maureen McGovern's "A Long and Winding Road"
Maureen McGovern, the award-winning artist last on Broadway in the musical version of Little Women, boasts a voice that is perfectly suited to the recording studio. That singular voice is equally well-suited to the cabaret and concert arena as well as the Broadway stage. Simply put, Maureen McGovern possesses a beautiful voice: In fact, some of her rich tones are so beautiful that the sound alone can move a listener to tears.

In the past decade or two, McGovern has mostly steered clear of her pop roots — she was a 1973 Grammy nominee for Best New Artist for "The Morning After" — to focus on the songs of the Great American Songbook, and she has done so thrillingly. Whether interpreting the works of the Gershwins or Rodgers and Hart or Stephen Sondheim, McGovern has applied her skills as a superior vocalist and a dedicated actress to a mix of standards and rarely-heard gems from the composers whose roots lie in Tin Pan Alley and/or the Broadway stage.

McGovern now returns to more mainstream fare on her latest solo recording, the superb "A Long and Winding Road" — based on her acclaimed concert act of the same name — which is currently available on the PS Classics label. The singing actress lends her voice to a mix of tunes penned by the singer-songwriters of the sixties and seventies — Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro, the Beatles and more — whose words inspired a changing nation and world. And, once again McGovern proves a versatile artist, equally at home with these pop composers as she is with the likes of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. It should come as no surprise, since McGovern, who possesses exquisite vocal control, has always added highly enjoyable pop twists in her singing — a gentle riff here, a jazzy slide there (just listen to the vocal flair she brings to Lennon's "Let it Be" or the hauntingly pure sounds she creates on "The Coming of the Roads").

McGovern begins her recital with just a touch of Joni Mitchell's "All I Want" that blends seamlessly into Paul Simon's "America." She delivers a forceful "The Times They Are a-Changin'" that brims with urgency. And, her slowed-down, thoughtful rendition of Joni Mitchell's "The Circle Game" is flawless — she completely brings to vivid life this tale of a young girl's inevitable ascent to womanhood and what is gained and lost in the process.

Other highlights include a gorgeous, full-voiced reading of Carole King and Gerry Goffin's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"; a moving version of James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" that mines the song for all its emotional depth; a wonderful pairing of Taylor's "Shed a Little Light" and Gil Turner's "Carry It On"; three Jimmy Webb tunes — "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "MacArthur Park" and "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress" — that explore the pain of lost love; and an excitingly belty version of Laura Nyro's "And When I Die."

McGovern also has fun with Lennon and McCartney's story-song, "Rocky Raccoon," and she leaves the listener "Feelin' Groovy" after her rendition of Paul Simon's "The 59th Street Bridge Song." Musical director Jeff Harris penned the disc's terrific arrangements, and McGovern is accompanied by a host of musicians, including Harris on piano and Jay Leonhart on bass.

"A Long and Winding Road," which concludes with that John Lennon/Paul McCartney ballad, is one of the great vocal recordings of the year.

Tony winner Betty Buckley

It's certainly a busy time for that inimitable talent, Betty Buckley. The Tony-winning actress will perform in concert May 10 at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego, CA, before flying off to Melbourne to film a role in the eagerly awaited HBO miniseries "The Pacific." Buckley will play the mother of a soldier returning from World War II in the miniseries, which is produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Following her Melbourne trip, Buckley will return to the concert stage May 23-25 at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, NY. The ever-busy artist also has concerts scheduled at the Ravinia Festival in IL June 22 and 23, and Chatterbox host Seth Rudetsky will join the former Sunset Boulevard star July 9-11 at the Lyric Stage in Dallas, TX, for Broadway—By Request. And, of course, Buckley will be seen on movie theatres across the nation in M. Night Shyamalan's "The Happening" beginning June 13. For additional information on all things Buckley, visit www.bettybuckley.com. Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna will co-host PBS' annual "National Memorial Day Concert," which is scheduled to air live on PBS stations around the country May 25 from 8-9:30 PM ET; check local listings. The Memorial Day Concert, which is held on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, will feature appearances and/or performances by Tony Award winner Idina Menzel, stage and concert star Sarah Brightman, Motown legend Gladys Knight, actor and comedian Denis Leary, stage veteran Charles Durning, country music star Rodney Atkins, actor and singer John Schneider, actress Gail O'Grady and film and television actress Caitlin Wachs. Erich Kunzel will conduct the National Symphony Orchestra. For more information visit www.pbs.org/memorialdayconcert.

Two-time Tony Award-winning singer-dancer-actress Bebe Neuwirth will make her nightclub debut May 20 at Feinstein's at Loews Regency. Neuwirth, who will play the intimate venue through May 31, has titled her show Stories with Piano. Cabaretgoers can expect to hear the singing actress' renditions of songs penned by Kurt Weill, Kander and Ebb, Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim and Tom Waits. Neuwirth will be backed by musical director Scott Cady on piano. Show times are Tuesday-Thursday at 8:30 PM and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 and 10 PM. There is a $40-$75 cover charge plus a $40 food-drink minimum for all shows. Feinstein's at Loews Regency is located in Manhattan at 540 Park Avenue at 61st Street. For reservations call (212) 339-4095 or visit feinsteinsatloewsregency.com or TicketWeb.com.

A host of actors, who are either currently gracing a Broadway stage or who have previously done so, will be seen on the morning talk show "The View" within the next few months. Those scheduled to sit down for chats with the gals of "The View" — Barbara Walters, Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg (who will host the 2008 Tony Awards), Sherri Shepherd and Elisabeth Hasselbeck — include Spamalot Tony winner Sara Ramirez (May 14), The Producers' Tony Danza (May 14), two-time Tony winner Bernadette Peters (May 16), The Music Man's Eric McCormack (May 22), Assassins' Mario Cantone (May 29), Tony and Olivier winner and Gypsy star Patti LuPone (June 5) and Once Upon a Mattress' Sarah Jessica Parker (June 6). Performances from the casts of Passing Strange and In the Heights will also be presented, respectively, May 12 and May 29. The View" airs in the metropolitan area on WABC-TV, Channel 7 at 11 AM ET; check local listings.

Karen Akers
photo by Nicholas Prior

And, finally, Karen Akers returns to light up the intimate stage of the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room May 13. Akers, who received a Tony nomination for her performance in the original production of Nine, has titled her latest Oak Room engagement — her ninth consecutive season in the famed venue — Move On. The singing actress, who possesses a dark, rich, buzzing contralto, will debut new songs penned by Amanda McBroom and Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. Cabaretgoers can also expect to hear Akers' renditions of "The Glamorous Life," "Ready to Begin Again," "Where Do You Start?," "Only With You," "Between Men," and "The Kindest Man," among others. Akers, who will play the Oak Room through June 14, will be accompanied on piano by musical director Don Rebic. Recent MAC Award winner Eric Michael Gillett directs. Show times are Tuesdays-Thursdays at 9 PM with two shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 9 and 11:30 PM. (DRG Records has also just released Akers' wonderful new recording, "Simply Styne.") There is a $65 music charge for all shows plus a $30 minimum. The Oak Room is located within the Algonquin Hotel at 59 West 44th Street. For reservations call (212) 419-9331. Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

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