I haven’t written, but I’ve been keeping up with everybody else’s posts and comments and wondered how long I could lurk before my name disappeared from the Contributors drop-down on the masthead. Finally AKA William, responding to my repeated and broken promises of getting back to work, suggested that I approach this column as “a chatty list of what’s going on on Broadway.”
Well, Vanessa Williams was on “The View” to promote her upcoming Broadway opening in Sondheim on Sondheim, a new multimedia revue of the master’s songs, conceived and directed by longtime collaborator James Lapine (Into The Woods, Sunday In The Park With George).
I like an evening of Sondheim as much as the next sophomore musical theatre major, but this one purports to be something more, focusing on the life of the man himself and weaving musical sequences in and out of video interview footage of Sondheim discussing his work and personal life, apparently quite frankly. The other draw is Barbara Cook, considered by many to be the preeminent interpreter of Sondheim since her legendary performance as Sally in the 1985 New York Philharmonic concert version of Follies.
Barbara Cook began her career as Broadway’s preeminent ingénue starring in the original productions of such landmark 1950s musicals as Candide and The Music Man as well as a host of other shows, until she basically left the Theatre in the 1970s to become one of the most well-regarded cabaret and concert hall performers in the world.
The newly portly Cook continued to sing in a sweet-as-honey soprano, able to leap into the operatic stratosphere, however her style evolved into a more conversational tone, sometimes reminiscent of that other Barbara (Barbra without the middle a – or high C) and focused primarily on simple storytelling, finding the emotional truth and wisdom in a lyric.
For the subsequent three decades, Barbara Cook sang a vast repertoire of showtunes, standards and popular songs and released a litany of albums showcasing both the beauty of her voice and her impeccable craftsmanship in building a number to searing, devastating, thrilling and often joyous, jubilant, or even jazz finishes.
Although I’m a belter-lover through and through, I’ve always felt that Barbara Cook’s rich, creamy middle register, with vibrato so symmetrical it’s almost metallic, is as exciting as the top notes in most world class alto’s high belts. So, I’m looking forward to Sondheim on Sondheim.
Speaking of high belts (although, when am I not?), the definitive diva show, Evita, is finally being revived next year, with Argentine firecracker Elena Roger repeating the acclaimed performance which made a her a star in London in 2006.
Alongside her to roll the r’s in fatigues, will be newly-out Ricky Martin as Che. It’s nice to look around Times Square and see so many openly gay actors lighting up the marquees – Nathan Lane in The Addams Family, Sean Hayes in Promises Promises, Valerie Harper as Tallulah Banhkead in Looped. But seriously, folks, I include Looped because Miss Valerie is blowing the roof off the Lyceum Theatre every night, inhabiting every bawdy bit of boozy, barbiturate-y bisexual Bankhead to hilarious effect and it is not to be missed. Between Harper’s fabulous portrayal of a major gay icon and all those loud and proud stars above the title, I’m very happy to report that Broadway is as gay on the outside as it always has been on the inside.
I think at heart, all gay men can appreciate the importance of this, but I can understand how it could become something to resent if you’re an actor just trying to make it in show business where image is everything, and your goods to sell are comprised of how you are seen by audiences. This is why my out-on-Broadway heroes of the week, Ricky, Nathan and Sean, all spent years delivering dodgy answers to questions about their personal lives like “it’s my personal life” before they finally came out publicly as gay men.
Recently, there was a bit of flurry around “Ugly Betty”’s Michael Urie (currently starring in the Off-Broadway gay rights play, The Temperamentals) when he, although admitting to being in a relationship with a man, explained his eschewal of the label gay, adding that that the letter in LGBTQ he identifies with most is “Q” – queer. Now, I’m happy when celebrities come out and frustrated when they don’t, but Michael’s Q is good enough for me. The forces that unite us are stronger than the ones that divide us. Urie’s character, Mark, on “Ugly Betty” (identifying decidedly as “G”) offered strong role modeling for Justin, Betty’s younger brother (played by Mark Indelicato) in some really wonderful scenes in this final season of the series which from the beginning, has been putting out really positive messaging not just for gays, but for Latinos and the overweight, the underprivileged and those in need of a makeover. Add Vanessa Williams’ divalicious scenery-chewing as Wilhelmina Slater and you’ve got good New Old Gay television. I’ll let you know how she is on Broadway.