DIVA TALK: Ripley & Skinner Dream Their Dream

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Ripley & Skinner Dream Their Dream
Betty Buckley concludes her critically-acclaimed run in Gypsy this Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. She will then return to her favorite downtown haunt, The Bottom Line, for a weekend of Halloween performances beginning on Friday, October 30. BB has many special tricks-and-treats lined up for her fans: In addition to performing songs from the cult musical Carrie, Buckley will also welcome special guest star Varla Jean Merman, the drag personality who bills herself as the "illegitimate daughter of Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine." "Since I just finished playing Rose in Gypsy," Buckley explains, "the greatest role in her mother's distinguished career, I did think it was the least I could do to extend an invite to Varla to share the stage."

Betty Buckley concludes her critically-acclaimed run in Gypsy this Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. She will then return to her favorite downtown haunt, The Bottom Line, for a weekend of Halloween performances beginning on Friday, October 30. BB has many special tricks-and-treats lined up for her fans: In addition to performing songs from the cult musical Carrie, Buckley will also welcome special guest star Varla Jean Merman, the drag personality who bills herself as the "illegitimate daughter of Ethel Merman and Ernest Borgnine." "Since I just finished playing Rose in Gypsy," Buckley explains, "the greatest role in her mother's distinguished career, I did think it was the least I could do to extend an invite to Varla to share the stage."

Buckley's shows on Saturday, Oct. 31 -- Halloween -- will feature a costume contest (boasting celebrity judges), and audience members are invited to don their spookiest finery. Both shows on Sunday, Nov. 1 will be all-request programs, where Betty's fans can request songs from her wide-ranging repertoire of show tunes, standards, country favorites and pop classics.

The Bottom Line is located at 15 West 4th Street at the corner of West 4th and Mercer. Tickets, which are priced at $30, are available at the box office only between the hours of 10 AM and 11 PM. Show times are Friday, Oct. 30 at 7:30 and 10:30 p.m., Saturday Oct. 31 at 8:30 PM and 11:30 PM and Sunday, Nov. 1 at 4:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Be sure to catch Buckley in action at the Bottom Line -- it is never less than a thrilling experience.

Diva lovers on this side of the Atlantic were a bit disappointed this week when it was announced in Liz Smith's column that Elaine Paige has canceled her trip to the U.S. The star of Evita, Cats, Chess, Piaf, Anything Goes and Sunset Boulevard was scheduled to arrive in New York later this month to promote her upcoming starring role in the filmed version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats. Because Lloyd Webber is soon to face a plagiarism suit, Paige, writes Liz Smith, "feels that doing the chat shows and such might 'compromise her loyalty to him.' [Paige] feels 'it would be in bad taste.'" But, fear not Paige fans, you will still get a chance to see and hear Paige sing the hell out of "Memory," when Cats makes its world premiere broadcast on PBS on Nov. 2. The video will also be available in stores around the country on Oct. 27.

You may also want to check out the upcoming November/December double issue of "Mirabella, " which hits newsstands Oct. 26 and features an in-depth interview with EP. Paige will also be featured in next week's issue of "Entertainment Weekly. " Following is another quote from my recent interview with the award-winning actress, who spoke about returning to the Adelphi Theatre (where she had starred in Sunset Boulevard ) to film Cats: "It was weird to be in the same theatre in a completely different piece, altogether, and they ripped out all the seats. The other odd thing was that we were filming, but it was in a theatre, so you kept thinking you wanted to give a theatrical performance. But, then, of course, one had to remember that this was film, so you had to curtail all those instincts to 'Sing out Louise' to the audience who weren't there. But when you see a dark theatre space from the stage, your inclination as a theatrical actress is to be bold and big, bolder than one would be in film, quite an interesting juxtaposition to be in." ALICE RIPLEY and EMILY SKINNER
Oh, how I do love listening to those Side Show ladies sing. By far, Side Show was the cast recording that spent the most time in my CD player this year (it's also great to listen to while running on the treadmill). There is something so spirit-raising about listening to Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner (as the Hilton sisters) make their journey from naive freak-show performers to vaudeville fame while experiencing love, loss and ultimate self discovery and self-appreciation. Skinner and Ripley's voices -- both of which are uniquely beautiful and moving -- blend remarkably well together, so it was with great excitement that I awaited the release of their Broadway duets album, which is simply titled "Duets." Available in stores on Tuesday (Oct. 27), the recording includes 15 tracks drawn from the musical theatre from such shows as Chicago, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Sweet Charity, Shenandoah and even two cut tunes from Side Show.

This past Tuesday evening, a party was held at the FireBird Cafe on Restaurant Row to celebrate the new CD from Varèse Sarabande. Both women had the chance to separately address the party's attendees, and Emily Skinner spoke first. After explaining how excited she is about the recording, Skinner thanked a few of the people involved and then introduced her favorite track ("It's my favorite track because I had the easy part," she kidded) from the album, "Two's Company" from The Magic Show. Then it was Ripley's turn at the mike, and she discussed the album's genesis: After she and Skinner had performed to an enthusiastic benefit audience last year, she thought that the two should record a duets album. Ripley joked that she "was very ballsy and called my agent and asked him to call [Varèse Sarabande producer] Bruce Kimmel," who okayed the project within 24 hours. Ripley admitted she was intimidated to record "I Know Him So Well" because she had always been a huge fan of Elaine Paige, who first recorded the tune from Chess in the eighties. "I learned how to belt listening to Elaine Paige on the concept album of Chess," Ripley said, "and she is a goddess of the musical theatre." However, she finally consented to record the well-known tune and is very pleased with the arrangement of the song (Personally, I'm waiting for Ms. Ripley to record Chess's "Someone Else's Story." Her rendition of that song, which she deftly modulated to higher and higher keys at this year's Chess concert, was one of the most thrilling concert moments of the year).

I had the chance to chat with the charming Ripley before the evening was over, and she spoke lovingly about her run in Side Show. In fact, the affection she and Skinner share for each other is obvious, and each writes movingly about the other in the liner notes of the CD. Ripley also said that she has been invited to perform in the upcoming production of Bright Lights, Big City at the New York Theatre Workshop, which may be her next project after she concludes her run as Fantine in the Broadway company of Les Miz.. Ripley explained she enjoyed doing the workshop of Bright Lights and is seriously considering the offer. Before that, however, fans will have the chance to see both her and Ms. Skinner perform live at the HMV Records store on 72nd Street and Broadway on Nov. 2 at 6 PM. The talented duo will be on hand to autograph copies of their new recording, and they will also sing a few of the CD's tracks. You can get an evening-long dose of Ripley on November 15 when she performs at the China Club. Half that evening will be devoted to her original compositions, and she will be joined by Skinner for some "Duets" for the second portion. Call (212) 398-3800 for reservations.

And, now, a few thoughts about the Duets CD . . . That Skinner and Ripley's voices complement each other beautifully is no surprise to the legion of Side Show fans, but for those of you who have not heard either lady sing, I would suggest getting yourself a copy of this delicious recording. Ripley's steely belt soars in just the right places and is the perfect counterpart to Skinner's lush head tones (Ripley has a wondrous upper register as well, and Skinner, too, possesses a persuasive belt), and the two sail through a selection of disparate songs with striking skill and intensity. At times overmixing tends to lessen the thrilling effect of their voices, but that's just a quibble. From the CD's bouncy opener, the title song from Little Me, through the final track from Rags, the recording is a pure delight to the senses.

And, a rundown of the songs: The second track of the album presents two songs cut from Side Show, "Stuck With You" and "Ready to Play," and one assumes these two cute, lively tunes would have been one of the vaudeville scenes of the show. The duo do well with the aforementioned "I Know Him So Well" and then launch into a pairing of "One Boy" and "What Did I Ever Seen in Him?" from Bye, Bye, Birdie. A heartfelt version of "In His Eyes" from Jekyll & Hyde follows, and then the two have some fun with "If Momma Was Married" from Gypsy. A gorgeous version of Stephen Sondheim's "Every Day a Little Death" precedes one of my favorite tracks, the little-heard "We Make a Beautiful Pair" from Shenandoah. A sweet, lilting "Baby, Dream Your Dream" from Sweet Charity is followed by a medley of White Christmas' "Sisters" and Wonderful Town's "Ohio" from Wonderful Town. Both "Sisters" and "Ohio" also sound as though they could have easily been one of the performance scenes from Side Show. It was also good to hear "My Friend," one of the best tunes from Cy Coleman's The Life, and the two provide a touching version. Ripley then plows through the tongue twisting lyrics of "Two's Company" with great èlan.

My three favorite tracks are actually the last three of the recording. Just listen to the sheer beauty of the women's voices in "Perfect Strangers" from The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The ladies are at their beltiest in two songs from Chicago, "My Own Best Friend" and "Nowadays," and they provide a stirring finale with a beautiful song from Rags entitled "If We Never Meet Again." One word of caution: Don't turn your CD player off too quickly. There's a great hidden bonus track that awaits you. "Duets" is sure to be high on the gift list of any diva lover this holiday season.


One of my favorite cabaret performers, Karen Akers -- who also starred on Broadway in Nine (Tony nomination) and Grand Hotel -- is thankfully back in town through the end of the year. Next month, she will return to Rainbow & Stars, the plush cabaret room high atop Rockefeller Plaza, for her annual New York cabaret engagement beginning Nov. 17 and continuing through Dec. 5 (call (212) 632-5000). Akers has added many new songs to her act, which is always an eclectic mix of songs in English, French and Italian. Before her Rainbow & Stars stint begins, the statuesque diva will join Tom Andersen, Seth Rudetsky and Lumiri Tubo to raise money for the Girls' Choir of Harlem. The fundraiser, which is titled "Critic's Choice," will be hosted by "Time Out New York's" Marisa Cohen and held at Danny's Skylight Room on Nov. 16 at 9:15 PM. There is a music charge of $15 (all of which will be donated to the Girls' Choir) and a $10 food and drink minimum. Danny's Skylight Room is located at 346 W. 46th Street, and reservations may be made by calling (212) 265-8133.

On Columbus Day I had planned to attend the first of three concerts Audra McDonald was scheduled to perform at Joe's Pub, the new cabaret space at the Public Theater. Unfortunately, the three-time Tony winner was forced to cancel due to illness, but she did perform this past Monday evening to a sold-out crowd. I will be attending her rescheduled concert the first week of November, but I thought you would enjoy reading some of the ecstatic reviews from the New York critics:

Stephen Holden in The New York Times:
"How often does a performer appear who has the vocal power and charisma to make you believe in a better musical future? Once in a generation? When Audra McDonald, the 28-year-old phenomenon who made her Broadway debut four years ago in a revival of Carousel, unfurls her operatic mezzo-soprano with its bright, quickening vibrato, then breaks into a triumphal cry before dipping into an ominous funk-tinged blues shout, a better musical future seems not only possible but upon us, right here, right now.

The world evoked by her voice is a place rich with fantastic art and extravagant feeling, a realm where genres become weak in the knees and helplessly collapse into one another. Whether singing opera (Master Class, Porgy and Bess), Broadway pop (Carousel and Ragtime), folk or rhythm-and-blues, Ms. McDonald is so fearlessly true to her own musical and dramatic instincts that you quickly stop wondering if what she's singing is opera or pop or gospel. You surrender to the spell of a voice that pounces on the inner life of a song and sets it on fire.

...And passion was what this show was about. If Ms. McDonald and her collaborators accomplish nothing else, they have arrived just in time to rescue a dying form, the concert art song, by infusing it with the open-heartedness of rock, gospel, folk and blues. It is an act of salvation.

Chip Deffaa in the New York Post:
"...This is the most significant cabaret debut I have witnessed in recent years. . .her song selections Monday were even more rewarding than those on that recommended CD ["Way Back to Paradise " on Nonesuch Records], displaying greater variety. The rhythmically strong 'See What I Wanna See' gave her a fascinating chance to display a gusty, lowdown side one might never imagine she had from her soaring, refined work in Ragtime.
I loved the easy, old-time lilt with which she infused Adam Guettel's smart ode for a clingy lover, 'How Can I Lose You?,' and the wondrously alive feeling of spontaneity she brought to a saga of a woman who married unwisely, 'Stars and the Moon,' by Jason Robert Brown.
"...My personal favorite moment -- one of those all-too-rare experiences when the right singer and the right song not only give you pleasure, but help open your heart, make you somehow feel more loving -- was her big-hearted rendition of a rescued-from-the-trunk song by Ragtime songwriters Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, 'Come Down From the Tree.'"

Ms. McDonald will make an appearance on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" this Wednesday, Oct. 28, and she will perform a song from her new album. IN OTHER NEWS
Our Evita gal, Patti LuPone, will bring her new concert act, "Matters of the Heart," to Australia this January. La LuPone is scheduled to perform at the Sidney Opera House on Jan. 12 and 13, 1999. Go to www.ticketek.com.au for ticketing information . . . Barbara Cook and Mary Cleere Haran are just two of the performers who will be a part of "Manhattan Nights in Miami," a new four-part cabaret series at Miami Beach's Colony Theater. Barbra Streisand impersonator Steven Brinberg will open the series Oct. 30 and 31 in "Simply Barbra: The Wedding Tour;" Cook follows Dec. 4 and 5, Haran on Feb. 12 and 13, 1999, and Australian sensation David Campbell will finish the series on April 9 and 10, 1999. Call the Colony Theatre at (305) 674-1026 for reservations . . . Natalie Toro and Ana Maria Andricain will share the title role in the Broadway-bound Evita tour that begins in Detroit on November 3. The all-Latin cast also includes Raul Esparza as Che and Raymond Jaramillo McLeod as Peron.


The list continues to grow: More names are being added on a daily basis to the list of performers who will salute the late Laurie (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats, Les Misérables ) Beechman Nov. 30 at a concert held at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Titled "Let the Memory Live Again: A Musical Celebration for Laurie Beechman," the evening will benefit Gilda's Club, where Beechman found support during her struggles with ovarian cancer. The most recent performer who has signed on is Phantom of the Opera star Davis Gaines, who will join two other masked Phantoms, Kevin Gray and Brad Little, onstage to perform "The Music of the Night." Others scheduled to perform include Betty Buckley, Sam Harris, Christiane Noll, Douglas Sills, Andrea McArdle, Melissa Hart, Robert Evan, Raymond Jarimillo McLeod, Kevin Gray, Dodie Pettit, Grant Prickett, Karen Mason, Ken Page, Dan Schiff, Brad Little, Lisa Kain Marcelli, Christine Andreas, Terrence Mann, Linda Eder, Mary Testa, Amy Jo Arrington and more (Patti LaBelle was forced to withdraw due to booking commitments). Call (202) 226-1780 for more information or visit Congressman Fox's web site (http://www.house.gov/fox).

As mentioned above, Betty Buckley and Deborah Gibson currently star in Gypsy at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey through Oct. 25. Tickets range from $25-$55 and $10 student tickets may be available 15 minutes prior to curtain. For tickets and more information, call (973) 376-4343. . .

BB concert line-up:
October 30-November 1, 1998 at the Bottom Line, in New York, NY
Nov. 6 in at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona, PA
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
Jan. 14, 1999 in Irvine, CA
Feb. 6, 1999 at the Bob Hope Cultural Center in Palm Desert, CA
April 17, 1999 at the Lehman Center for the Perf. Arts in Bronx, NY
April 23, 1999 at the College of New Jersey in Erwing, NJ
May 3, 1999 at the Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center in Chicago, Ill.

Oct. 27 at the Smothers Theatre in Malibu, CA
Oct. 29-31 at the Orange Country Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, CA
Nov. 13 at the Shubert Performing Arts Center in New Haven, CT
Nov. 14 at the Colden Center at Queens College in New York
Nov. 20 at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in York, PA
Nov. 21 at the Southern Theatre in Columbus, OH
Dec. 8-9 at the FAU Auditorium in Boca Raton, FL

From Nov. 11-21, Mason will open Davenports, a new cabaret space in her home town of Chicago.

Below are a few concert bookings for the star of stage and screen:
Nov. 11-22 in a production of "Of Thee I Sing" at the UCLA Freud Theatre, in Los Angeles, CA
Dec. 10-13 with the Phoenix Symphony in Phoenix, Arizona

Peters will return to The Great White Way in the revival of Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun. Previews begin at the Marriott Marquis Theatre Feb. 2, 1999. Call (212) 307-4100 for tickets.

David Campbell Oct. 13-31.
Ann Hampton Callaway Nov. 3 - 14
Karen Akers Nov. 17-Dec. 5

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

Diva Talk is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard, 1977-1998.

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

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