One of the most enjoyable aspects of diva watching, I think, is hearing (or seeing) the same song performed by two or more of our favorite divas. It's always interesting to hear how a great performer can make a song her (or his) own.
In recent history, Sunset Boulevard has probably been the largest source of pleasure in this respect, with no less than 10 divas having recorded the two big songs from the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black/Christopher Hampton musical. With the closing of Sunset imminent in New York, London and Canada, I thought I'd discuss some of the many songs our ladies have in common.
The first diva to record the two big songs, "With One Look" and "As If We Never Said Goodbye," was Barbra Streisand, who included them on her Back To Broadway album. It's interesting to note that on that recording there was an introduction to "With One Look" that was discarded for the show. The lyric, which was sung to what is now the musical intro to the song, states: "They don't want me anymore. They all think I'm through, if they only knew. . . With one look. . ."
The first cast recording of the album was, of course, Patti LuPone's for the world premiere recording in London, and since then Norma's two "arias" have not changed lyrically, although many of the successive Normas have added some distinctive feature, usually to "As If We Never Said Goodbye," and the key change for the last section of "With One Look" was altered.
The other recordings of these songs include Glenn Close (American Premiere Recording), Elaine Paige (on her solo album, Encore, which also contains "The Perfect Year" from Sunset), Betty Buckley (on her highlights recording from Sunset, titled New Ways to Dream, which includes that song plus "Surrender"), Petula Clark (on her Sunset highlights recording that also features "The Perfect Year"), Helen Schneider (German recording), Diahann Carroll (Toronto cast recording), Laurie Beechman (on her Andrew Lloyd Webber album), Linda Balgord (a promotional CD that was never released for sale) and Shirley Bassey (on her all ALW recording).
Unfortunately, it looks like Debra Byrne and the Australian cast of Sunset Boulevard will not receive their own cast recording; however, there are a few other recordings of these songs that can be found on Andrew Lloyd Webber collections albums. Besides Sunset, and, of course, "Memory" from Cats, there are two other Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals that have provided our divas with some great songs to record: Evita, which has innumerable cast recordings, and Song and Dance, one of the best chances for a female singer, especially a belter, to show what she can do vocally.
Song and Dance started life as two separate works: Tell Me on a Sunday, a song cycle about an English woman's romantic adventures in New York, and Variations, a set of variations on a Paganini work that ALW wrote for his cello-playing brother Julian. Marti Webb was the original English woman who liked to tell her friends to "take that look off your face," and her first recording of the song cycle was a smash hit in the U.K. When the two works were eventually united as Song and Dance: A concert for the Theatre, another recording was made, this one a live recording of the show's opening night. The London stage version also starred Marti Webb, who eventually left the show, and was replaced by an eclectic list of performers that included Gemma Craven, Liz Robertson and Lulu.
The lyrics to the Song portion of the musical were vastly rewritten for its Broadway run, and the heroine of the first act was named Emma and played brilliantly on Broadway by Bernadette Peters, who recorded the song portion. When BP left the musical, Betty Buckley took over for a brief six week stint, and Melissa Manchester played Emma on the road.
There was also a German production of the musical starring Angelika Milster, which was recorded live, and a one-night-only production starring Sarah Brightman that was recorded for video and as an album.
The major songs in that show include "Tell Me on a Sunday"; "Last Man in My Life," which was replaced by "Unexpected Song" for the New York production; and "Take That Look Off Your Face." I actually first heard Patti LuPone sing "Tell Me on a Sunday" in her Atlantic City nightclub act before the show ever reached these shores. I remember La LuPone commenting that Bernadette Peters would be playing the show on Broadway, but "I'm the first girl on the block to sing the song!"
Betty Buckley has recorded two of the major songs from Song and Dance, "Tell Me on a Sunday" (on Children Will Listen and The London Concert) and "Unexpected Song" (on Children Will Listen). Stephanie Lawrence, star of Blood Brothers and Evita has recorded both "Tell Me on a Sunday" and "The Last Man In My Life" on an Andrew Lloyd Webber album with various singers.
Others who have recorded one or more songs from Song and Dance include Julia McKenzie, whose version of "Unexpected Song" can be found on her The Musicals Album; Laurie Beechman, who recorded "Tell Me on a Sunday" on her ALW CD; Shirley Bassey, who sang "Tell Me On a Sunday" and "Last Man In My Life" on Shirley Bassey Sings the Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber; Karen Akers, who delivers a slowed-down version of "Unexpected Song" on her In A Very Unusual Way disk; Judy Kaye, who sings a portion of "Unexpected Song" on her Diva By Diva recording and others.
There are a few other songs that seem to be favorites among the divas. Tops on that list is probably Stephen Schwartz' "Meadowlark," which Patti LuPone first recorded on The Baker's Wife cast recording. LuPone also included the song on her live recording on RCA Victor, and Betty Buckley has recorded the song three times, first on her self-named Rizzoli album and later on two of her Sterling Records releases (Children Will Listen and The London Concert.) Barbra Streisand's half-sister, Roslyn Kind, has also recorded the tune, as well as Linzi (Carrie ) Hateley on her first solo album, For the First Time, and Sarah Brightman on her The Songs That Got Away recording. Liz Callaway also delivers a powerful rendition on her The Story Goes On recording and on her recent live album (with her sister Ann Hampton Callaway) that was recorded at New York's Rainbow & Stars.
Alix Korey sang "Meadowlark" at a live concert last year that was recorded, although we are still waiting anxiously for the disc that includes tunes from Evita, Song and Dance and others. Another version of "Meadowlark" appears, of course, on the cast recording of the London revival of the show a few years back.
Other songs that have often been recorded are two of the emotional ballads from Les Miserables, Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" and Eponine's "On My Own." There are numerous cast recordings of Les Miz, and some of the women who have recorded the songs on the show albums are Patti LuPone, Randy Graff, Debra Byrne and Frances Ruffelle. Elaine Paige offers great renditions of both songs on her Encores CD, and Linzi Hateley, who performed the role of Eponine in the London production, recorded "On My Own" for her For The First Time album. Performers as disparate as Twiggy (London Pride) and Julia McKenzie (The Musicals Album) also have recorded "On My Own." Marti Webb sings "I Dreamed a Dream" on her Performance album, and another British performer, Rebecca Storm, sings the torch song on her Broadway By Storm recording.
There are a few Stephen Sondheim songs that have also been recorded by many of our women. Two of the top ones are "Not a Day Goes By" from Merrily We Roll Along and, more recently, "No One Is Alone" from Into the Woods. Bernadette Peters, who starred in Into the Woods on Broadway but did not sing "No One In Alone" in the show, has recorded the song twice, first on her I'll Be More Your Baby Tonight CD, which was nominated for a Grammy this year, and on her upcoming live Carnegie Hall CD. Laurie Beechman sings the Sondheim tune on her album of that title, No One Is Alone, and Betty Buckley recorded the song on her Children Will Listen disk. Buckley also sings "Not a Day Goes By" on that recording, and that song will be featured on Bernadette's Carnegie Hall CD (BP also sang that song in the tribute to Stephen Sondheim a few years back, which was recorded). "Being Alive" is another favorite Sondheim tune, and Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Barbra Streisand have all offered great renditions.
The Jerry Herman tune "Time Heals Everything" also seems to be a favorite among the theatre women of our time. Some of the illustrious ladies who have recorded this heartbreaker include Linzi Hateley (For the First Time), Julia McKenzie (The Musicals Album), Barbara Cook (Live at Carnegie Hall), Bernadette Peters (original B'way cast recording and Live at Carnegie Hall), Paige O'Hara (Paige O'Hara Sings Jerry Herman) and two recordings from London (the recent revival with Caroline O'Connor and the all-star concert recording a few years ago).
There are many other tunes that various theatre stars have recorded over the years-- "I Don't Know How To Love Him," "As Long As He Needs Me," "Surabaya Johnny,". . .--but I thought I'd just touch on a few of my favorites. Let me know some of yours!
Betty Buckley returns to the cabaret stage of Maxim's in New York City from March 19-22. During the second show on Thursday, March 20, BB will take requests from the audience from her eclectic repertoire. Call 212 751-5111 for reservations.
Patti LuPone: Be sure to check local listings for the Colm Wilkinson concert on PBS that includes La LuPone singing a bunch of her theatre hits: "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "As Long As He Needs Me," "I Dreamed a Dream" plus Irving Berlin's "Stepping Out."
Donna Murphy concludes her run in the Broadway revival of The King and I on March 16. Tony winner Faith Prince takes over as Anna on March 21.
Elaine Paige will conclude her critically hailed run in Sunset Boulevard on March 22.
Bernadette Peters latest recording, Sondheim Etc.: Bernadette Peters Live from Carnegie Hall, is due in record stores on March 11. BP will tape an episode of the "Rosie O'Donnell Show" on March 24 to be aired on March 25, and, yes, BP will sing on the show!
Of Special Interest: I recently received an e-mail about the whereabouts of stage and screen star Sally Ann Howes and was informed this week that Ms. Howes will host an upcoming event at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall on Thursday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m. The program, which is being presented by The Little Orchestra Society, is entitled Operetta: Musical Champagne, and will include songs from such operettas as Victor Herbert's Naughty Marietta, Sigmund Romberg's The New Moon and The Desert Song; Rudolf Friml's Firefly; John Philip Sousa's El Capitan; and George Gershwin's Strike Up the Band. Although Howes, who starred on the London stage in Paint Your Wagon and on Broadway in My Fair Lady, Brigadoon and What Makes Sammy Run , will not be performing, she should make a grand hostess. For more information or to purchase tickets ($15, $28), call The Little Orchestra Society at 212-704-2100 or CenterCharge at 212-721-6500.
Next week: An interview with Sunset Boulevard star John Barrowman and star of the upcoming musical The Fix. (Okay, so he's not a diva, but he has worked opposite two of the greatest ones!)
Coming soon: Elaine Paige's plans after Sunset Boulevard. That's all for now. Happy diva-watching!