DIVA TALK: Peters sings R&H, Cook sings Sondheim, Lacey sings Gospel

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Peters sings R&H, Cook sings Sondheim, Lacey sings Gospel
Bernadette Peters loves Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Bernadette Peters
Bernadette Peters

Actually, “Bernadette Peters Loves Rodgers & Hammerstein” is the title of Peters’ eagerly awaited new recording, which will be released on March 12 on the Angel Records label. Produced by Peters’ close friend and director, Richard Jay-Alexander, the 13-track disc boasts arrangements by Jonathan Tunick. Tunick is also the disc’s co-producer and conductor, and he recently commented, “I have always wanted to do a project with Bernadette, and am delighted to have worked with her on this extraordinary recording. Her vocal and acting abilities are the perfect complement to the brilliant work of these two legendary songwriters.” Jay-Alexander, who directed Peters’ now-historic solo Carnegie Hall debut, adds, “Bernadette Peters and Rodgers and Hammerstein together make perfect sense. She is a singer’s singer and an actor’s actor. The way she analyzes a song -- its melody, its lyrics, is an experience one would find difficult to describe. I swear that when she sings, I can actually hear her heart flutter, fly, race or break. I describe it as ‘honest’ and ‘bliss.’” And, what does the Tony-winning actress have to say about the genius of R&H? “We’ve taken these songs for granted all our lives,” Peters explains, “but if you examine them closely, there’s much to discover.”

I’m expecting a copy of the CD tonight (I’ll review it for my next column), but I thought Peters’ legion of fans would want to know exactly what R&H tunes the two-time Tony winner has recorded. So, here they are: “It’s a Grand Night for Singing,” “If I Loved You,” “The Gentleman Is a Dope,” “It Might As Well Be Spring,” “Out of My Dreams,” “So Far,” “Something Wonderful,” “I Haven’t Got a Worry in the World,” “Mister Snow,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There Is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Something Good.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to hear the recording. . . In other BP news, the former Annie Get Your Gun star will perform a song from her new recording on ABC-TV’s “Live with Regis & Kelly” on March 12, and she will croon two of the disc’s tunes at the Feb. 4 Juilliard event saluting Richard Rodgers. Peters also graces the pages of the February issue of Good Housekeeping in the “My Favorite Things” column.

It’s always a pleasure to speak with Flo Lacey, one of my other very favorite gals who happens to be one of the sweetest divas around. I chatted with the former Evita star while she was in rehearsals in Arlington, VA, for the workshop production of The Gospel According to Fishman, which recently opened at the Signature Theatre. In this original musical by Michael Lazar and Richard Oberacker, Lacey plays the mother of a Jewish boy who, in 1963, is intent on writing gospel music. Lacey has two duets in the new musical, which features direction by Eric Schaeffer, who was at the helm of The Rhythm Club, last season’s Broadway-bound musical in which Lacey also starred. Lacey spoke about the disappointment the company felt when Club canceled its Broadway engagement, but she hopes the show will make it to The Great White Way at some point, adding, “The musical had a phenomenal score.” After Fishman, Lacey will perform opposite Mark Jacoby in a concert version of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music in Portland. Let’s hope this dynamic performer with one of the most exciting belts gets back to Broadway soon!

There are many magical moments in Barbara Cook’s salute to Stephen Sondheim, but none more moving than her encore, which the talented chanteuse performs without a microphone. Standing centerstage, with only her gifted accompanist, Wally Harper, playing behind her, Cook delivers a simple, heartfelt version of the title song from Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle. It’s a rare opportunity to hear Cook’s pure sound, and as she sings, “What’s hard is easy, what’s natural comes hard,” it’s a perfect theatrical moment. The other standout of the 90-minute evening is Cook’s delivery of Sondheim’s best-known song, “Send in the Clowns.” With the lights dimmed and Cook leaning on the grand piano, her version of this classic brings tears to both her eyes and ours.

It’s been 30 years since Cook performed on the stage of the Beaumont, and she relates this fact by way of reciting part of John Simon’s review of her performance in Gorky’s Enemies, which intimated that because Cook could “no longer sing,” she has decided to act. Well, Cook is certainly having the last laugh, drawing rave reviews and sold-out crowds to her evening, which is simply titled Barbara Cook in Mostly Sondheim. It’s dubbed Mostly Sondheim because a good portion of the evening features songs that the American composer wished he had written, including a handful of Harold Arlen tunes as well as works by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine (“The Trolley Song”), Irving Berlin (“I Got Lost in His Arms”) and others. Some of the highlights of the evening include a beautiful rendition of Sondheim’s melodic “So Many People,” which begins with an all-too-short snippet of “Another Hundred People”; a gem from Passion, “Happiness”; a wonderful solo take on the tongue-twisting “You Could Drive a Person Crazy”; Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s “Ice Cream,” which features a thrilling B natural at the end of the song; and a haunting “Losing My Mind” that begins with the first verse of Merrily We Roll Along’s “Not a Day Goes By.”

Cook’s patter is brief, but it gives us a glimpse of this no-nonsense gal, who obviously treasures the songs of the American musical theatre. Some of her amusing comments: she refers to a recent, unflattering New York Times photo of herself as “soprano road kill”; she calls Reba McEntire’s performance in Annie Get Your Gun one of the “four or five best musical comedy performances I’ve ever seen”; and admits she has to work a bit harder to hit the high note in “Ice Cream,” often summoning the voice of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

The only misstep of this wonderful evening was the decision to include Irving Berlin’s “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” a work that really needs to be belted for full effect. I felt Cook fared much better on another comic ditty, Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh’s witty “When in Rome.” All in all, it’s a magical evening that diva lovers should not miss.

The complete song list for Barbara Cook in Mostly Sondheim follows:
“Everybody Says Don’t”
“Buds Won’t Bud”
“I Wonder What Became of Me”
“The Eagle and Me”
“I Had Myself a True Love”
“Another Hundred People”/ “So Many People”
“In Buddy’s Eyes”
“I Got Lost in His Arms”
“You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun”
“Hard-Hearted Hannah” / “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee”/ “San Francisco”
“When in Rome”
“Loving You”
“You Could Drive a Person Crazy”
“Send in the Clowns”
“Ice Cream”
“Not a Day Goes By”/ “Losing My Mind”
“The Trolley Song”
“Anyone Can Whistle”

IN OTHER NEWS: The one-and-only Betty Buckley has added two nights at New York’s Bottom Line to her ever-growing concert list. Buckley will perform a Valentine’s program on Feb. 14 and 16 at her favorite downtown haunt. The intimate evenings of song at the East Village club are not-to-be-missed events. . . . The title track from Linda Eder’s upcoming CD, “Gold,” will be featured in the opening ceremony of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. This event will take place on February 8 at the Rice Eccles Olympic Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah, and will be televised by NBC Networks. Be sure to set those VCRs! . . . . I’ve been waiting for this next concert for a long time: Judy Kuhn possesses one of the finest voices on or off Broadway, and the former star of Rags, Les Miserables and Chess is finally performing in concert this March. Kuhn is part of Lincoln Center’s acclaimed American Songbook series, and she is scheduled to perform “a repertoire of her favorite songs” on March 22 at 8PM and 10 PM. The concerts will take place in the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse Rose Building, 165 W. 65th Street, 10th floor; call (212) 721-6500 for tickets. . . . Congratulations, Louise! The current star of Broadway’s Mamma Mia!, Louise Pitre, will be honored with a Sardi’s caricature on Friday, Feb. 1.


Betty Buckley in Concert:
Feb. 14 an 16 at the Bottom Line in New York, NY
March 15 & 16, 2002 with the North Carolina Symphony in Raleigh, NC
March 30 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA

Maureen McGovern in Concert:
Jan. 25, 26 and 27 at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts with Peter Nero and the Philly Popsin Philadelphia, PA
Jan. 30 at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts in Owings Mills, MD
Feb. 1, 2 and 3 at the San Diego Museum of Art in San Diego, CA
Feb. 16 and 17 at the Hilbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis, IN
March 6-11 and 13-18 at the Cinegrill Grand reopening in Hollywood, CA
March 24 as part of the Guest Artist Series with the U.S. Air Force Band at Constitutional Hall in Washington, D.C

Bernadette Peters in Concert:
Feb. 19 at the Grand Floridian in Lake Buena Vista, FL
April 5-6 at the Orange County Perf. Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
April 13 at the Providence Perf. Arts Center in Providence, RI
April 20 at Chase Park Plaza in St. Louis, MO
May 18 at the Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre, PA
Aug. 30-Sept. 1 at the Morton H. Meyerson Hall in Dallas, TX
Aug. 26 at the Hilbert Circle in Indianapolis, IN

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

— By Andrew Gans (agans@playbill.com)

Betty Buckley in 1967
Betty Buckley in 1967
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