"Diva Talk" will continue to run every Friday, while "The Leading Men" will be offered on a monthly basis. The column is being written by a friend and fellow writer, Wayman Wong, who was the very knowledgeable and witty cabaret reviewer for the New York Daily News for many years and who has written for the subscription edition of Playbill several times. I think the column will be a great addition to our site, and I hope you enjoy it. So, be sure to look for "The Leading Men" next week! . . And, now, here are the ladies . . .
Well, the wait is finally over! "Chicago" arrives in New York and several other top markets today, Dec. 27, before rolling out across the country in January. At the screening for the film a few weeks ago, journalists were given a press kit that contained interviews with the film's stars and creative team. What follows are a mix of quotes from those involved with the movie of the Kander and Ebb classic. Next week, I'll feature my interview with the film's Roxie Hart, Renée Zellweger.
Renée Zellweger as Roxie Hart:
Executive Producer Meryl Poster: "Renée [Zellweger] was the only choice [for Roxie Hart]. Period. I have a strong relationship with her and knew that she could sing and dance. I already knew she was a brilliant actress. I had to get her into the movie."
Director Rob Marshall: "This is a lady who loves a challenge, who works really hard, and loves to attain something that she hasn't yet before. That's just who she is. She's very brave in that way. She's an athlete. She has a great sense of her body, and she moves beautifully. The vocabulary of dance was a little new to her, but the style, the sensibility and coordination—she had all that."
Producer Marty Richards: "I thought there would never be another Roxie Hart. There's never been anyone that has ever matched Gwen Verdon until Renée, and now she gives it a whole different dimension as an actress as well. I'm thrilled to death. I really am."
Co-star Richard Gere: "Renée brings something incredibly moving to this piece. She's doing something with her part that's unexplainable. She'll break your heart."
Zellweger on Roxie Hart: "She's so earnest in a way, and so desperate and tragic in another. She's so desperate for fame because of what she thinks it will bring — self esteem, self-respect, self-worth, love. All the things she doesn't have a lot of. She feels that if she is lionized by the masses like Velma, she'll be more whole as a person. The sad reality is that it's a fallacy."
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly:
Co-star Renée Zellweger: "She's so in her element here. She's so powerful as a singer and dancer. When we'd be learning the dances, I'd step a few paces behind and watch her feet. I'd see what she was going to do next. She has this vivacity. She has this grand energy that elevates the energy in any room. She enters, and you just see it. It flashes all across the screen.
Producer Marty Richards: "Catherine worked her butt off training for this and making sure everything was perfect. She had bruises and scrapes along with everyone else."
Zeta-Jones on being the first one cast: "It was fantastic to be the first one cast in the movie. Robby [Marshall] would call up and say, 'Guess who we think we've got: Renée Zellweger!' 'Oh my God!' 'Guess who we think we've got: Richard Gere!' 'Oh my God!' Guess who we think we've got: Queen Latifah!' 'Oh my God!' It's a fabulous cast." Queen Latifah as Matron "Mama" Morton:
Director Rob Marshall: "We had rehearsed her number 'When You're Good to Mama.' And the day before we shot it, I came to her and said, 'You know what? I'm re-blocking the entire number. Instead of putting you on stage, I'm putting you in the house, so it can be bawdier, and so you can react with them. She looked at me cross-eyed and said, 'You're serious, right?' And I said, 'Uh-huh.' She was a trooper, and she nailed it."
Executive Producer Neil Meron: "Queen Latifah is an amazing actress. It's putting a spin on the role, and reinventing it, and not disrupting the period. She's incredibly believable, and she brings her own spirit, talent and brilliance to the role of Mama Morton."
Queen Latifah on musicals and Mama: "As a kid, I watched all those old musicals. I love 'The Sound of Music' and a million other movies like it. It was like going on a journey in filmmaking to another land. I think the last big movie musical that had any impact on me was 'The Wiz.' I played a lounge singer in 'Living Out Loud,' but I'd never been in a movie musical. When I heard they were making 'Chicago' into a film and when I heard who was starring in it, I really wanted to earn the part. Initially, they didn't have me in mind for Matron Mama, but I kept going for it . . . It's all about reciprocity with Mama. 'If you want my gravy, pepper my ragu.' She's tough, but she gets what she wants."
Christine Baranski as Mary Sunshine:
Director Rob Marshall: "[Marshall cast a woman in the part usually played by a man in drag] because Mary Sunshine has to credibly exist in the reality of the movie as well as in Roxie's surreality. It wouldn't work the same way it does on the stage. Plus, Christine Baranski is fabulous and perfect for the part. Christine and I had to invent our way through it. She, Bill [Condon] and I created this savvy news lady who was a sob sister. Be we worked at getting a sense that she was as corrupt as everybody else."
Music supervisor Maureen Crowe:
"We recorded all the vocals for 15 songs in a week, which is not a lot of time. They all brought their own specific styles to the songs that came out of their individual characters and their experiences as actors. They were all just outstanding. To work with all these talented people was a music supervisor's dream."
Theatrical Lighting Designers Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer:
Eisenhauer: "Choosing colors is a bit intuitive for us. A lot of it flows out of the work we've done before, knowing when pink should be a little dirtier because that conveys a certain feeling. We did try not to use modern colors, choosing tones that would have been seen by the eye in that era."
Fisher: "There was also the influence of Reginald March. We tried to capture that kind of warm, under lit, theatrical glow that you'd see in a Degas painting. [Director of Photography] Dion [Beebe] used that to great effect all the time. He was able to take what we do and fit it to the film so that the movie captures the nuances and subtleties of theatrical lighting."
Screenwriter Bill Condon:
"I'm amazed by how enduring this little story has turned out to be. Maurine Dallas Watkins' original play ushered in a generation of cynical, wise-cracking newspaper comedies. It actually opened a few months before The Front Page. In 1975, Bob Fosse cast a darker light on the material. The corruption of the legal system became a metaphor for the hollowness of all American institutions. Like so much popular art of the time, it was informed by the twin traumas of Vietnam and Watergate. Then Chicago was revived in 1996, on the heels of the O.J. Simpson case, and the show business metaphor really came into focus. People connected to it in a completely new way. As for the movie, I suspect that the blurring of the line between notoriety and celebrity will make a lot of sense in our post-Monica age . . . It was appealing in every way, and the most fun I've ever had writing a script. Not only to write a movie musical, but also to work with Rob [Marshall], who has had an incredibly successful career in the theatre. He's worked with giants like Jerome Robbins and Harold Prince. You learn so much on every script, and this was a chance to learn from someone who had learned from the masters, and become a master himself."
ALICE RIPLEY in Tell Me On a Sunday:
It's a testament to her many talents that Alice Ripley manages to charm in a questionably designed and directed production of Tell Me On a Sunday, now playing the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theatre through Jan. 12, 2003. Though enjoyable, there are a few mysteries that surround the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Don Black-Richard Maltby, Jr. musical at the D.C. theatre: Why has the beautiful Ripley been asked to wear an unflattering black wig, especially when she looks so wonderful with her blonde locks in the promotional pictures for the musical? And, why has Ripley — perhaps the most exciting belter of her generation — been directed to sing the bulk of the score in her soprano?
Though her legit tones are quite lovely, the Andrew Lloyd Webber score is specifically written for a belter, and delivering the material in head voice diminishes the excitement of the piece. It's especially disheartening in the finale of the opening number — "Take That Look Off Your Face" — when Emma arrives in New York City, as well as in the climactic third verse of "Unexpected Song." I wouldn't expect anyone to belt the final F sharp of "Unexpected Song" — well, maybe I would — but the entire song builds to the belty finale of "Now no matter where I am, no matter what I do, I see your face appearing, like an unexpected song, an unexpected sooooooonnnnnng . . ." That said, however, Ripley does offer a laudable performance — sweet, often funny, and, at times, quite touching. The former Side Show star is particularly effective in "You Made Me Think You Were in Love," a lovely reading of "Tell Me On a Sunday" that builds to a — thankfully — belty climax, and the show's finale, in which the hat designer vows "to be Emma again, if it means being hurt, I'll be hurt, but I'll like myself then. Every word that I'm saying will happen, wait and see. If you think that it won't, you don't know meeeeeeeeee."
Ripley is also one of the most at-ease performers ever to grace a stage. Nothing seems to rile the singer-actress: During one of her onstage quick changes at the Saturday matinee that I attended, the bottom half of her outfit was not where it should have been. While she was singing the reprise of "Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad," Ripley ad-libbed to the song's melody, "Where's my skirt? I really need my skirt?" A hand from stage right appeared with skirt in its grasp, and Ripley — after applause from the audience — continued without pause . . . And, now, the countdown to Ripley in Little Shop of Horrors begins!
(A note to Tell Me On a Sunday devotees: The D.C. staging employs the version of the musical rewritten for the Bernadette Peters Broadway mounting. "Nothing Like You've Ever Known," which was cut for Broadway, has been reinserted into the piece, coming just before the show's finale. There were only two lyric alterations that I spotted: In the "First Letter Home," Emma thanks her mother for a "package" rather than a "letter" — this allows Ripley to open the package's many contents as she's singing the song — and in the show's climactic scene, Emma says that she's sold her whole collection to Bergdorf-Goodman rather than Neiman-Marcus.) IN OTHER DIVA NEWS OF THE WEEK The upcoming Michael Douglas film, "A Few Good Years" — co-starring two-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters — has been retitled "It Runs in the Family." Originally scheduled for a Valentine's Day release, the MGM picture will now hit screens across the country in April 2003. The film will be released internationally by Buena Vista at a later date to be announced. Peters stars as Douglas' wife, a psychologist and mother of their two sons. The star of the upcoming revival of Gypsy worked opposite three generations of Douglases in the film, which also boasts Michael's dad, Kirk Douglas, and Michael's son, Cameron. One of Peters' patients is played by another multi Tony Award winner, Audra McDonald . . . Louise Pitre, who stars as Donna Sheridan in the New York company of Mamma Mia!, will lead the first-ever Times Square New Year's Eve Sing-Along on Dec. 31. At 11:25 PM ET, the Tony nominated Mamma star will lead New Year's Eve revelers in a sing along of ABBA's "Mamma Mia!," the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" and Hoyt Axton's "Joy to the World." Lyrics will appear — with the requisite bouncing ball — on the giant Panasonic Astrovision screens located in Times Square . . . Hairspray leading lady Marissa Jaret Winokur has joined the cast of the upcoming New York concert performance of Mack & Mabel on March 31, 2003. Winokur joins the previously announced Brian Stokes Mitchell, Leslie Uggams, Nathan Lane, Donna McKechnie, Michael Feinstein, Debbie Gravitte and Douglas Sills for the one-night-only concert of the Jerry Herman musical to benefit GMHC. Also taking part in the evening will be the Radio City Musical Hall Rockettes and Uptown Express from the New York City Gay Men's Chorus. Herman, who composed the show's score, will personally supervise the presentation . . . Husband and-wife musical theatre stars Jason Danieley and Marin Mazzie will team up for a series of duets concerts at New York's Joe's Pub in January and February 2003. Danieley and Mazzie will offer concerts on Jan. 5 (9:30 PM), Jan. 19 (7 PM) and Feb. 2 (7 PM) at the intimate New York cabaret. The couple recently performed together in Lincoln Center's acclaimed American Songbook series, and, as previously announced, the duo will also take part in two concerts with the San Francisco Symphony on December 29 and 31. Joe's Pub is located within the Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street, between East 4th Street and Astor Place. Tickets are available at the Public Theater's box office, on-line at www.telecharge.com or by phone at (212) 239-6200.
Betty Buckley in Concert:
May 31, 2003 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA
Liz Callaway in Concert:
Jan. 4-6, 2003 The Songs of Frank Loesser at the 92nd Street Y in New York, NY
Feb. 14-15 Stephen Schwartz and Friends at the Edison Theatre at Washington University in St. Louis, MO
Feb. 3 at the Wintergarden in the NYC World Financial Center in New York, NY
May 16 Broadway Showstoppers in Philadelphia, PA
Barbara Cook in Concert:
Jan. 31, 2003 at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts in Long Island, NY
Feb. 14-16 at the Byham Theater in Pittsburgh, PA
Linda Eder in Concert:
Jan. 3 and 4, 2003 with the Baltimore Symphony in Baltimore, MD
Jan. 25 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT
Jan. 30 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks, CA
Feb. 1 at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek, CO
Feb. 14 at the Proctor's Theatre in Albany, NY
Patti LuPone in Concert
Jan. 8-12, 2003 at the Mohegan Sun Cabaret in Uncasville, CT March 27 at the East County Performing Arts Center in Cajon, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 28-29 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, CA ("Matters of the Heart")
March 30 at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NV ("Matters of the Heart")
April 5 at the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ ("Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda")
Maureen McGovern in Concert
Jan. 30-Feb. 2 at Orchestra Hall with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in Detroit , MI
Feb. 7-9 at the San Diego Museum of Art in San Diego, CA
Feb. 14-16 at the Marcus Center with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee, WI
March 4-15 at Feinstein's at the Regency in New York City
April 12-13 at Center Stage—Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael, CA
April 14-19 at Founder's Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
May 30 - 31 at the Palmer Events Center with the Austin Symphony Orchestra in Austin, TX
June 7 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, MN
Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching!