Diva TalkA Winter–Spring 2019 Diva Season PreviewWhether you enjoy your divas on a Broadway stage, up close in an intimate cabaret, or at a theatre near you, performances by Tony winners Kelli O’Hara, Betty Buckley, Lillias White, and many more are on their way.
December 21, 2018
OK, yes, The Cher Show, which arrived on Broadway following an out-of-town engagement in Chicago, officially opened earlier this month, but how could we not include this new musical about the pop-culture icon in a Diva preview? An actor, singer, recording artist, fashion trendsetter, and activist as well as an Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy winner, Cher has been part of the cultural landscape of the country for over 50 years. And, now, her life comes alive eight times a week at the Neil Simon Theatre in this fantastically fun production. The new musical, featuring a book by Tony-winning Jersey Boys librettist Rick Elice, casts three actors as the Queen of Pop: Tony nominee Stephanie J. Block (Falsettos, Wicked), Teal Wicks (Wicked, Finding Neverland), and Micaela Diamond (NBC’s recent live Jesus Christ Superstar), who play, respectively, Star, Lady, and Babe. All three women delight, but it is Block who is giving the performance of her career: She has never been funnier or more emotionally present, and her singing remains as thrilling as ever. The cast also boasts a stunning array of costumes by Cher's longtime designer, Bob Mackie, and Side Show Tony nominee Emily Skinner who charms as Cher's mom. Jason Moore directs with choreography by Christopher Gattelli.
It may have taken a few years, but the creators of Be More Chill (and its loyal fans) will finally see their dreams realized when the musical makes its Broadway debut February 13 at the Lyceum Theatre. Following a world premiere at Two River Theater in New Jersey in 2015, the show steadily amassed a cult following online, leading to a commercial Off-Broadway debut this past summer at the Pershing Square Signature Center. The Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz musical, based on Ned Vizzini’s novel, tells the story of an average teenager (played Off-Broadway by Dear Evan Hansen's Will Roland), who takes a pill purported to make people more—you guessed it—chill. Though Roland’s character is at the center of the story, the women in the cast—Katlyn Carlson as Chloe, Stephanie Hsu as Christine, Tiffany Mann as Jenna, Lauren Marcus as Brooke—belt up a storm and give voice to the angst of female adolescence. The entire Off-Broadway cast, under the direction of Stephen Brackett, will head to Broadway, including Gerard Canonico as Rich, George Salazar as Michael, Britton Smith as Jake, Jason Tam as The Squip, and Jason SweetTooth Williams as Jeremy's Dad/Mr. Reyes.
Though Derrick Baskin, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, and Ephraim Sykes will star as the famed Motown singing group The Temptations when Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations begins previews at the Imperial Theatre February 28 (prior to an official opening March 21), there is also buzz about the performance of Rashidra Scott, who plays Josephine Williams, the wife of Temptations star Otis Williams. In fact, the Los Angeles Times said Scott's performance of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” is one of the vocal highlights of the new musical, which follows The Temptations’ journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. With a book by Kennedy Prize-winning playwright Dominique Morisseau, Ain't Too Proud is directed by two-time Tony winner Des McAnuff with choreography by Olivier Award winner Sergio Trujillo.
Kissed by Kate
For more than a decade, Kelli O'Hara has offered one knockout performance after another. From The Light the Piazza through her Tony-winning performance in the revival of The King and I, the gifted artist has impressed with her soaring soprano and her ability to play each and every scene with remarkable honesty. This season she returns in a Cole Porter classic: Kiss Me, Kate. The Roundabout Theatre Company production, which begins previews February 14 prior to an official opening March 14 at Studio 54, casts O'Hara in the roles of Kate/Lilli Vanessi, the parts played in the 2001 revival by the late Marin Mazzie, another musical theatre artist of unusual depth. The revival, directed by Scott Ellis, also features Tony nominee Will Chase as Fred Graham/Petruchio, Corbin Bleu (Holiday Inn, High School Musical) as Lucentio/Bill Calhoun, Terence Archie (Rocky the Musical) as Harrison Howell, Mel Johnson Jr. (Jekyll & Hyde) as Harry Trevor/Baptista, Stephanie Styles (Roman Holiday) as Lois Lane/Bianca, Adrienne Walker (The Lion King) as Hattie, and Lance Coadie Williams (Sweat) and John Pankow (Cymbeline) as Gangsters. Composer-lyricist Amanda Green, who was Tony-nominated for the score to Hands on a Hardbody, is contributing additional material to update the show's libretto for a modern audience.
The other eagerly awaited revival of the second half of the Broadway season is the Bard SummerScape production of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's landmark musical Oklahoma! After wowing audiences at St. Ann’s Warehouse, the reimagined production of the classic 1943 musical, which brings a tinge of darkness to the Broadway staple, will begin March 19 prior to an official opening April 7 at Circle in the Square Theatre. The Brooklyn mounting of the environmental staging, directed by Daniel Fish, boasted Rebecca Naomi Jones (American Idiot, Passing Strange, Significant Other), Damon Daunno, Patrick Vaill, Ali Stroker (Spring Awakening), and Mary Testa, who has been a theatrical dynamo for decades, effortlessly stepping into roles on and Off-Broadway. Here's hoping the entire company gets to reprise their acclaimed performances on Broadway.
Off-Broadway to London to Broadway
Hadestown, which premiered at Off-Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop in 2016 and runs through January 26 at London’s National Theatre, will arrive on Broadway March 22, 2019, at the Walter Kerr Theatre prior to an official opening April 17. Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812 Tony nominee Rachel Chavkin directs Anaïs Mitchell's folk opera, which offers a new interpretation of Orpheus’ mythical quest to overcome Hades and regain his true love, Eurydice. Although Broadway casting has yet to be announced, hopefully the U.K. cast—which includes Broadway actors Eva Noblezada (her thrilling performance in the revival of Miss Saigon earned Noblezada a Tony nomination) and Amber Gray (who impressed with her sultry tones in her Broadway debut in the aforementioned The Great Comet and the original Off-Broadway Hadestown), as well as André De Shields, Patrick Page, and Reeve Carney—will be seen in New York.
Making the Most of Ghosts At 17, Sophia Anne Caruso has amassed an extremely impressive résumé, earning a Lucille Lortel nomination for her Off-Broadway debut in The Nether and a second nomination for David Bowie's Off-Broadway musical Lazarus, where she played The Girl, a role that also brought her an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress. Beginning March 29 at the Winter Garden Theatre, the young actor will make her Broadway musical theatre debut in Beetlejuice, the new musical inspired by Tim Burton's hit 1988 dark comedy. Caruso, who stars opposite title player Alex Brightman, portrays Lydia Deetz, the goth teenager who conjures Beetlejuice in the hopes of scaring off her parents. Also in the out-of-town tryout at Washington, D.C.'s National Theatre were several Broadway favorites: Tony nominee Kerry Butler, who possesses a beautiful, crystal-clear alto, as Barbara Maitland with Tony nominee Rob McClure as Adam Maitland (the deceased former owners of the Deetzes' new house); Leslie Kritzer, who always impresses with her powerful belt and comedic chops, as Delia Deetz and Adam Dannheisser as Charles Deetz; Jill Abramovitz and Danny Rutigliano as Maxine and Maxi Dean; and Kelvin Moon Loh as Otho. Opening night is April 25 under the direction of Alex Timbers.
Toot, Toot Tootsie, Hello
This may be a bit of a stretch for this column, but the performance I remember clearly from the summer 2006 Off-Broadway revival of The Fantasticks was given by a young actor named Santino Fontana, who, cast as Matt, possessed such star quality that you knew major success was going to come his way. Since that time Fontana, whose signature is an appealingly mischievous charm, has amassed eight Broadway credits and a Tony nomination. This season the actor will star in the title role of the musical adaptation of Tootsie, featuring a score by The Band’sVisit Tony winner David Yazbek and a book by Robert Horn. Fontana is cast as Michael Dorsey, a struggling actor who lands a job under the female persona of Dorothy Michaels. It's the role that earned Dustin Hoffman an Oscar nomination, and Fontana will begin strutting his stuff at Broadway's Marquis Theatre March 29 prior to an April 23 opening. Directed by Scott Ellis and choreographed by Denis Jones, the sterling cast also includes the always impressive Lilli Cooper (SpongeBob SquarePants, Spring Awakening) as Julie Nichols, Hand to God Tony nominee Sarah Stiles as Sandy Lester, and comic genius Julie Halston (You Can't Take It With You, Gypsy, Anything Goes) as Rita Marshall, plus John Behlmann as Max Von Horn, Andy Grotelueschen as Jeff Slater, Tony winner Michael McGrath as Stan Fields, and Reg Rogers as Ron Carlisle.
On Tour Can't make it to New York? Then catch a national tour! In fact, there are dozens of dazzling productions currently touring the country and three that I hope to catch some time within the year. Heading the list is the tour of the Tony-winning revival of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly!, which casts Tony winner Betty Buckley in the role of everyone's favorite matchmaker, Dolly Gallagher Levi. The inimitable stage force that is Buckley has been earning raves for her performance, and she is joined by Tony nominee Lewis J. Stadlen as Horace Vandergelder, Nic Rouleau as Cornelius Hackl, Analisa Leaming as Irene Molloy, Jess LeProtto as Barnaby Tucker, Kristen Hahn as Minnie Fay, Garett Hawe as Ambrose Kemper, Morgan Kirner as Emerngarde, and Jessica Sheridan as Ernestina; click here for the Dolly! tour route.… The William Finn-James Lapine masterpiece Falsettos, a poignant and often-hilarious look at a modern family in the wake of the AIDS crisis, will kick off a limited tour in February in Arkansas, continuing through June in North Carolina, with dates in Texas, Minnesota, California, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. And, it's a wonderfully exciting cast that will take this gem throughout the country: Led by vocal powerhouses Eden Espinosa (Wicked, Rent) as Trina and Tony nominee Max von Essen (An American in Paris, Evita) as Marvin, the cast also features Nick Adams (La Cage aux Folles, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) as Whizzer, Nick Blaemire as Mendel, Audrey Cardwell as Cordelia, and Bryonha Marie Parham as Dr. Charlotte; click here for the Falsettos tour route.… And, there is also the tour of the Tony-winning Best Musical Dear Evan Hansen, which features a stellar company that include Jessica Phillips, who impressed in Leap of Faith, as Heidi Hansen; Tony nominee Christiane Noll, whose glorious tones have thrilled in Jekyll & Hyde, Ragtime, and Chaplin, as Cynthia Murphy; Aaron Lazar as Larry Murphy; and newcomer Ben Levi Ross in the title role; click here for the Dear Evan Hansen tour route.
In the Clubs It's almost an embarrassment of diva riches this winter at Feinstein’s/54 Below. In January the intimate nightspot welcomes Andrea McArdle and Tony winner Donna McKechnie, Tony winner Chita Rivera, and Tony winner Lindsay Mendez; February brings Tony winner Alice Ripley and Tovah Feldshuh, while March features Tony winner Joanna Gleason, Betsy Wolfe, and Dear Evan Hansen's Phoenix Best. The Green Room 42 will also welcome a host of fabulous talents: Natalie Joy Johnson (January 31), Tony winner Frances Ruffelle (February 2), Tony winner Lillias White (February 14), Rachel Ulanet (March 1), Laura Michelle Kelly (March 16 and 17), and Christina Bianco (March 29).… Over at Birdland, Ann Hampton Callaway will delve into the LindaRonstadtSongbook in January, and Cyrille Aimee will offer A Sondheim Adventure in February.… And, even though Andrea Marcovicci offered her final Manhattan solo concert earlier this year, the cabaret favorite is still entrancing audiences on the West Coast with a February 14 engagement scheduled at Los Angeles’ Gardenia celebrating the songs of Frank Loesser.