DIVA TALK: Divas With A Capital D

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Divas With A Capital D
This past Monday night, WETA presented a millennium celebration at the White House saluting the music of the American musical theatre and hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton. Titled "The Singer and the Song: Inspirations for American Musical Theatre," the stellar group on hand to perform for the by-invitation-only crowd featured some of Broadway's best: Patti LuPone, Jennifer Holliday, James Naughton and Brian Stokes Mitchell.
Cabaret singer Kendall Standish.
Cabaret singer Kendall Standish.

This past Monday night, WETA presented a millennium celebration at the White House saluting the music of the American musical theatre and hosted by President and Mrs. Clinton. Titled "The Singer and the Song: Inspirations for American Musical Theatre," the stellar group on hand to perform for the by-invitation-only crowd featured some of Broadway's best: Patti LuPone, Jennifer Holliday, James Naughton and Brian Stokes Mitchell.

Naughton, last on Broadway in Chicago, opened the evening with a comic tune, "The State of Arkansas." He returned later in the program with the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein gem, "The Folks Who Live on the Hill," and finished with "Soul and Inspiration," a duet with his son, 29-year-old actor/singer Greg Naughton. Jennifer Holliday, who has recently turned up a few times on the Fox hit "Ally McBeal," offered thrilling renditions of two Gershwin tunes- "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Someone To Watch Over Me" -- as well as "Come Sunday" and her signature, the roof-raising Dreamgirls anthem, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." Brian Stokes Mitchell delighted the audience with his smooth, rich renditions of "Something's Coming" and "For All We Know" before launching into his Ragtime solo, "Make Them Hear You." And, LuPone, of course, was riveting. Playbill Publisher Philip Birsh was in attendance and said that La LuPone was "in awesome form," belting "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "As Long as He Needs Me," "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" plus her "spectacular" version of Stephen Sondheim's "Being Alive."

The evening, which was taped for future broadcast, also included brief remarks by the President and the First Lady, who described her love for the music of the American musical theatre.

There were a host of divas on hand at the 10th Annual Gypsy of the Year competition this past Tuesday at the Marquis Theatre. The Gypsy competition remains one of the most enjoyable, humorous and moving events of the year, as chorus members from most of the Broadway musicals present original skits and/or musical numbers to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. "Good Sport" awards should go to Faith Prince and Dee Hoty, who both made brief appearances at the end of their respective show's routines: Prince, taking a jab at New York Times critic Ben Brantley, who criticized her performance in Little Me; and Hoty in a neck brace lamenting the physical demands of the non-stop dancing in Footloose.
Some of the vocal highlights included Ute Lemper's manic performance of "I Am a Vamp," which found her singing "All That Jazz" in English, German and French; Christiane Noll and Luba Mason's solos in a beautiful arrangement of Frank Wildhorn's "A New Life;" and Alice Ripley, who joined the company of Les Misérables for a spirit-raising version of David Friedman's beautiful song, "We Can Be Kind."

However, the stars of the show were the gypsies, and my favorite moment of the event was part of the skit presented by the cast of Miss Saigon. A spoof of A Chorus Line's "At the Ballet" sequence - retitled "At the Broadway," the theatre that houses Saigon -- found one chorus member explaining how her mother wanted her to be an operatic soprano, but she wanted to be a great belter in the tradition of "Ethel Merman and Patti LuPone," who both had played the Broadway Theatre (Merman in Gypsy and LuPone in Evita). After vocal lessons failed to bring out the opera singer within, she returned home to find a supportive father who asked her to belt for him: "And, I said, 'Daddy, I would love belt'. . .at the Broadway, at the Broadway, at the Broadway.'"

The afternoon was capped off with the appearance of the ever-youthful Cathy Rigby, flying over the delighted crowd at the Marquis Theatre. It was great fun to watch the faces of the Broadway performers onstage who were equally captivated by Rigby's soaring through the air. Thrilling, truly.

In February Lincoln Center will launch a new series to celebrate the American song. Entitled Lincoln Center's American Songbook, the series of concerts will boast a wide range of divas and will feature slide projections, theatrical lighting and full orchestras. The first concerts of the series (I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues) on February 5 and 6, 1999 will honor the genius of Harold Arlen, the man responsible for "Over the Rainbow," "Stormy Weather" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." Those scheduled to sing the works of the late composer include Barbara Cook, Audra McDonald, Maureen McGovern, Diana Krall, Richard Muenz, Ken Page and more.

Then, on March 5 and 6, 1999 you can hear Maria Friedman, Ann Hampton Callaway, Harolyn Blackwell, Mary Cleere Haran, Faith Prince, Wesla Whitfield, Michael Feinstein and others salute the work of Richard Rodgers in With a Song in My Heart. Tickets to the concerts are priced at $45 and $55 and may be ordered through CenterCharge at (212) 721-6500 or at the Alice Tully Hall box office.

Thought you would enjoy reading a few of Elaine Paige's quotes from her interview in the November/December issue of Mirabella Magazine: >

about playing the role of Grizabella:
"That part changed my life and career entirely. . .And it has haunted me - that role. . . [Cameron Mackintosh called me during the show's rehearsal and] said Judi Dench, who was supposed to play Grizabella, had injured her Achilles. Would I take over the role? Four days later, I did the first preview performance. Ten previews later, we opened -- the audiences went crazy."

about the night before she was offered the role of Grizabella:
"a black, bedraggled, thin, dreary creature of a cat I had never seen before rubbed around my legs and crossed my path. . .it stayed with me until it died many years later."

about her relationship with Andrew Lloyd Webber:
"Well, we've been through a lot together. He respects me, as I do him. But, really, I love to sing dramatic songs and those are the kind of songs he writes."

Next month, Lea Salonga will return to the role of Kim in the Broadway production of Miss Saigon, a role that earned her both an Olivier and a Tony Award when the musical originally opened. In a recent interview for the Philippine Star, Salonga spoke about returning to the Boubil/Schonberg musical and had this to say when asked if Miss Saigon 1999 was any different from Miss Saigon 1991: "Not really. The blocking and staging are basically the same, and the songs, too, except one new song in the finale of Act 2, which was introduced to the musical after I left it in 1993. I have to readjust my voice. There are some notes that I haven't been able to reach during our rehearsals, and they're driving me nuts." She also explained that the love scenes should be easier now than they were originally, since she is ten years older and very much in love: "In the past, I was doing the scenes vicariously because I wasn't in love yet. I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know how to angle my head and where to put my hands. Now I know the feeling of being in love, and those love scenes are far easier to do. I'm now more relaxed and more comfortable doing them."
Salonga also longs to play Maria in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Sound of Music. Perhaps after she concludes her stint in Saigon, Salonga can move a few blocks over to the Martin Beck Theatre and show those Von Trapp kids a thing or two!

IN OTHER NEWS That Annie Get Your Gun gal, Bernadette Peters, will grace the pages of the February 1999 issue of Vanity Fair . . . Originally scheduled to air this month on PBS, Yours for a Song: The Women of Tin Pan Alley -- featuring Betty Buckley singing four classic songs by women writers -- will now air this summer . . . Friday, December 4 at 11PM, a benefit for Hale House will be held at New York City's Don't Tell Mama on West 46th Street. Those scheduled to perform include Judy Kaye, Lee Roy Reams, Peter Howard, Jamie deRoy, Sidney Myer and more. Call (212) 757-0788 for reservations. There is a $15 music charge and a two-drink minimum . . .


Loni Ackerman currently stars in The Story Goes On, a new revue of the work of Richard Maltby and David Shire through Dec. 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
January 14, 1999 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre in Irvine, CA
January 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, 1999 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, Ill.

Dec. 8-9 at the FAU Auditorium in Boca Raton, FL

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, 1999. 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, 1999 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 December 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.

Dec. 10-13 with the Phoenix Symphony in Phoenix, Arizona

Karen Akers now through Dec. 5
Darlene Love begins Dec. 8

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

by Andrew Gans
e-mail me at andrew_gans@playbill.com

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

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