It seems only natural that Darlene Love — best known for her string of sixties hits and as the voice of the "Girl Group" sound — should join the cast of Hairspray, which is set in the sixties (1962 Baltimore to be exact) and whose rousing score was inspired by the sounds of that era. Love recently succeeded Mary Bond Davis in the role of Motormouth Maybelle and has been thrilling audiences nightly at the Neil Simon Theatre with her powerful and soulful renditions of "Big, Blonde & Beautiful" and the show's most moving anthem, "I Know Where I've Been." Love, whose previous Broadway credits include Leader of the Pack, the revival of Grease! and the cult classic Carrie, recently spoke to me about her latest Broadway role, her annual stint on "The David Letterman Show" and, of course, the ill-fated musical Carrie. That brief interview with the upbeat Love follows:
Question: How did the role of Motormouth Maybelle come about for you?
Darlene Love: Well, I tried to get in this play three years ago! [Laughs.] Because I know Marc Shaiman — I've known Marc and Scott [Wittman] for years. When I heard they were doing this project, I went, "Wow, this would be a great project for me!" I called and talked to Marc, and Marc [said], "Darlene, you're not fat enough!" [Laughs.] So, guess what the joke is? I wear a fat suit now! [Laughs.]
Q: How have performances been going so far?
Love: They have been great. The audiences have been recognizing me, and I get applause when I come out on the stage. I think that has a lot to do with the publicity I've been getting, too. And, it's so much fun playing this role because I tell everybody that this role is my life. This is stuff that I've been through over the last 40-plus years in this business. The interracial thing with my son in the play. I had an interracial relationship with Bill Medley, one of the Righteous Brothers. And, there was a television show that I did called "Shindig!" with the Blossoms back in the sixties that they didn't want black people on. So, here I am now playing my life actually onstage — everything that I've been through. Q: And, you also have those great two solo numbers in the show.
Love: I think they're the best songs in the show. I hate to say that, but . . . [Laughs.]
Q: What's it like performing those songs every night?
Love: Well, firstly, "I Know Where I've Been" — I have to control myself not to get too emotionally caught up in the song. I've changed it a little bit since Mary [Bond Davis has] gone. I really sing it from what I'm feeling over the years — what I've been through — and telling the children — not children, but I call them children — onstage, "I've been through this. Now, you guys, if you want to fight for something, you're gonna have to go through it." So, a lot of times, I think about all the things that I have gone through over the years of being in this business and what I've had to put up [with]. Sometimes the emotion gets really gone with me, but I keep it under control.
Q: And, you also get to do "Big, Blonde & Beautiful" in the first act.
Love: That number is so much fun because I get to do it with Edna [Bruce Vilanch]. And, it's so much fun working with her — working with him! It's just a joy being able to be onstage and do things that you really love and be in such a great play.
Q: Hairspray tackles so many issues. What do you think it's main message is or what is it's main message to you?
Love: I think the main message, not just to me but to everybody, is that there is no difference in us. Some are black, some are white, some are red, some are whatever, but still there's a man and there's a woman. There's only two types of human beings on the earth — man and a woman. We're all different colors, different cultures, but we can get along. Tracy is a heavyset girl in the play, [and] society looks on her [and says], "Oh, you're fat, you cannot do . . . " They look on me, "[You're] black, you cannot do. . ." So, in all total, the play says, "Yes, you can, and you can have fun doing it!"
Q: We have to talk a little bit about Carrie. Unfortunately I didn't get to see it, but the some of the music I've heard from it is really beautiful.
Love: The songs that I sang to Carrie as Miss Gardner, the gym teacher, [were] beautiful songs — trying to help a person get along in life even though she's different. And I loved Carrie. We did Carrie in England for six months, and they loved it. And then we came to America. [Laughs.] And the critics hated it.
Q: Had the show changed at all?
Love: I don't think it really changed that much when we came to Broadway. We brought it just about the same way it was. It's just the critics didn't like the idea probably of Carrie being on Broadway with the blood and dying onstage. It was a little hard to reproduce something like that, but we did it the best way we could without killing one another. [Laughs.]
Q: When you were in rehearsals in New York, did you have any idea that it might not be received well? What was the feeling among the cast?
Love: Well, I didn't know because it was received so well in London. I'd never been in a show before where it opened one day and closed the same day. I'd never heard of that before. I ended up being in that show Carrie that that happened to. I was just so surprised. I said, "They can't do that. We just opened!" [Laughs.]
Q: That's got to be very disheartening . . .
Love: Yeah, and it is, especially [after] so much work. I think we did two or three weeks of previews, and then we opened. And, then they put the notice up that day and said we would not be having a show tomorrow. I think a lot of times about all the work that the actors put in, all the money that is spent for the show, and then it closes. . . . It was something to do, and I'm really glad I was a part of it, just to be able to do something different.
Q: Every year you sing on the "David Letterman Show" at holiday time. How did that tradition begin?
Love: That actually started for me [when I was] doing a show at the Bottom Line, Leader of the Pack, the first show I went to Broadway with. They took it from the Bottom Line and really changed it once they brought it to Broadway. They should have left it the way it was when it was at the Bottom Line. Paul Shaffer played Phil Spector at the Bottom Line, and he talked David Letterman into coming to see the show. And, David Letterman heard me sing "Christmas Baby Please Come Home," and he really loved that song. I guess a couple of weeks after he saw the show, he was talking to Paul during the TV show and said, "You know the girl that sings that Christmas song in that play, we have to get her on the show. It's a great song." And, from that day till this day I've been singing "Christmas Baby Please Come Home" on David's show. [Laughs.] Last year was 20 years. . .
Q: You've been in the music business a long time. How have you seen it change over the years?
Love: Well, it's amazing, I've seen it go from all white to black to mixed. Each change was a good change because it's not all black, and it's not all white, and it should be mixed because all of us have something to offer to our music business. And, we can't all do it all. All black can't do it, all white can't do it, so it has to be so everybody can get a piece of the pie. I've seen it change, but I've seen it change for the good.
Q: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?
Love: I think it's a little harder today than it was when I was coming up because they don't have the record companies — they're not as powerful anymore as they used to be. They don't have the A&R man to look and find out where the talent is — they don't seek out talent anymore. If you're talented, today you have to go in, make your records, spend your own money and take it to the disc jockeys or whoever and hope they like it and give you a recording contract. So it's much harder today. I say if you want to be in this business today, you better just keep yourself ready for disappointment. But our business is about disappointment, but you can't let it get you down if that's what you want to do.
Q: Do you have any other projects in the works?
Love: I do my Christmas show every year, and I'm going to do it at the Apollo again this year. It's the 17th of December. So, thinking about that and thinking about Hairspray, my hands are kind of full. [Laughs.]
Q: How long are you contracted with Hairspray?
Love: Well, the first contract is six months, and then they want me there, they say, for "the long run," so it could be a year, it could be two years. I've been looking for something that keeps me busy here at home. Broadway is hard, but it's not that hard — it's not as hard as traveling around the country touring. . . . I'm having a ball. It's so much fun.
Q: Final question. When people hear the name Darlene Love, what would you like them to think?
Love: Strong and determined. That has been my motto, I think, since I've been in this business. You have to be strong, and you have to be determined.
[Hairspray plays the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street. Call (212) 307-4100 for tickets.] DIVA TIDBITS
After two performances this month at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL Tony Award winner Betty Buckley will embark on a fall concert tour that brings the singing actress to California, North Carolina, Maryland, Florida, Arizona and Nevada. The award-winning performer will kick off her fall dates Sept. 8-11 at the Mainstage Theater at the Villa Resort in Palm Springs, CA. The complete list of concert dates follow:
Aug. 28 and 29 at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, IL
Sept. 8-11 at the Mainstage Theater at the Villa Resort in Palm Springs, CA
Sept. 16 at the Givens Performing Arts Center in Pembroke, NC
Oct. 15 at Strathmore Hall in Bethesda, MD
Oct. 22 at the Maltz Jupiter Theater in Jupiter, FL
Nov. 1-5 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
Nov. 30 at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT
Dec. 2 at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, AZ
Dec. 3 at the Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall in Las Vegas, NV
Tony Award winner Barbara Cook will make her Metropolitan Opera solo concert debut Jan. 20, 2006, at 8 PM. That evening will be recorded live by DRG Records and will be released on CD March 6, 2006. There is also the possibility that DRG may release the concert on DVD as well. Tickets for Cook's solo Met debut go on sale Aug. 21 at noon. For more information visit www.metoperafamily.org.
Tony Award winner Lea Salonga will make her solo Carnegie Hall concert debut this fall. Salonga — best known to Broadway audiences for her award-winning role as Kim in Miss Saigon — will perform at the famed venue Nov. 7 at 7 PM. The evening is a benefit for Diversity City Theater. Carnegie Hall is located in New York City at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue. Visit www.carnegiehall.org for more information.
Angela Gaylor, who played Anne in the recent revival of La Cage aux Folles, will star in the title role of the Paper Mill Playhouse's upcoming staging of Cinderella. Pacific Overtures' Paolo Montalban, who starred in the ABC-TV production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, will reprise his role as the Prince for the Paper Mill mounting. Cinderella will be presented at the New Jersey theatre Oct. 19-Dec. 4; Gabriel Barre will direct. Tickets are currently on sale by calling (973) 376-4343. Visit www.papermill.org for more information.
The annual free concert for theatre lovers — Broadway on Broadway — will be held next month in Times Square. On Sunday, Sept. 18 a host of stars from current and forthcoming Broadway musicals will perform at the yearly event, which kicks off the 2005-2006 Broadway season. Show time is 11:30 AM, and the concert stage is located in Times Square, between 43rd and 44th Streets. WNBC-TV Channel 4 in New York will air excerpts from Broadway on Broadway on Sept. 20 at 7 PM ET; check local listings. Broadway on Broadway is presented by the League of American Theaters and Producers. For more information visit www.broadwayonbroadway.com.
Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to [email protected]