Mary Testa, Xanadu's Evil Woman; Pavarotti; Jodi Stevens Goes Metro; Martha Graham at the Joyce; The Skinny on Kinsey; Broadway On Broadway; Hyde Pierce Honored; Playwrights Discussion; More
by Ellis Nassour

    "It's so funny," says Tony and Drama Desk-nominee Mary Testa, who plays the siren Melpomene in Xanadu, "No one thought the show would be successful. Even now, friends ask ëIs it going well?' Marty Moran, my friend [who plays Brother Maynard] in Spamalot, can't believe it is. He asked, ëAre you guys selling?' Yes, we are! It's amazing that people think the show is some aberration."

    The musical is, in fact, a runaway hit attracting a wide cross section of audiences. There are those of a certain age who saw the movie and remember what a bomb it was; and an amazing number of young people, some of whose parents may not have even been born when the movie was released. The Xanadu boutique, in spite of the show having no intermission, does land office business.

    You'd have to be very hard not to be ROTFWL at the goings on not only of Testa, but also the entire cast - headed by Kerry Butler, Cheyenne Jackson, Tony Roberts, Jackie Hoffman and the superb featured players Shannon Antalan, Curtis Holbrook, Anika Larsen, AndrÈ Ward and Ryan Watkinson. Butler's variety of double takes and expressions gives her character oomph!; and audiences lap up Jackson's duh! appeal.

    The show seems to work for everyone: the theater insiders, who pick up on some of the in-jokes and references to the movie; and the tourist who's hearing about it, comes and leaves after having a good, old time.

    "You can't beat the score by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar," Testa states. "Hands down, the best thing is that people go up the aisles feeling exhilarated. Isn't that why you go to theater?"

    Though she thought the show was good and tons of fun when she read the script and did the readings and workshop, even she has been surprised by the response and raves. "It's mainly because I can't step out and see it," she explains, "but friends who have come think it's cool. And these are very sophisticated theater professionals."

    The show has gone through many changes. "The first reading was very different," Testa says. "It was much bigger, something like thirty people. There were a lot of Eighties celebrities. It just kept getting better and funnier."

    Right now, it's her absolutely favorite show and role ever, but she points out, "I don't qualify anything. I'm just in the moment. I take it one show at a time. My favorite thing to do is a Michael John LaChiusa piece. His shows are such a marriage of musicality and acting. I'm so happy when I'm working on something like that." She co-starred at the Public in his See What I Wanna See and First Lady Suite [for which she was Drama Desk-nominated]. "I hope he keeps writing for me."

    In Xanadu, she's the evil woman you love to hate; but in theatrical circles Mary Testa is a much-loved actress/singer and the very definition of versatile. And, as is once again evidenced in the new Douglas Carter Bean/ELO musical, she's a veteran showstopper.

    Testa has the range and chops to go from musicals such as the the Public's 1980 revival of On the Town [Obie and a Tony nomination]; playing Domina in the 1996 A Funny Thing HappenedÖ, starring Nathan Lane [and later Whoppi Goldberg, with whom she became friends and on whose TV series she had a recurring role] and Maggie Jones in the 2001 42nd Street [another Tony nom] to drama, such as Michele Loewe's String of Pearls for Primary Stages [DD nom] to LaChiusa's Marie Christine. She made her Broadway debut in 1980's Barnum.

    In the showstopping department, probably nothing compares to her bring-down-the-house "Evil Woman" in Xanadu. By nature of the fact that the show's on Broadway, it's miked; but with her voice, she doesn't need any amplification. This is one gal who can belt. Testa asserts that goes double for Jackie Hoffman, "who's a riot, very special. I'm thrilled to be working with and sharing a dressing room with her."

    She doesn't think of herself as a star, but as a pro directors can depend upon to deliver the goods, whatever they are. "I'm successful," she admits. "I'm a working actor, so I'm successful. You think of it as a job. People know who I am. They'll say, ëShe's always good,' but I'm not one of those that gets a lot of press or has that star sort of thing around me, but I try to do what I do really well."

    That can be frustrating. "I do so many things, no one really knows what I do. Everybody's always surprised. ëOh, I didn't know you did that!' someone who's known me for ages will say. I've been doing this for thirty years so if you don't know what I do by now, well, what can I say?"

    Testa advises there are no prima donnas in Xanadu. There's no tiptoeing around or closed dressing room doors -"God, no! Part of the joy of going to work is our wonderful cast And it's goes beyond the stage and our fabulous orchestra all the way out front. We have the best and most caring front-of-house! Everyone gets along. We've all bonded. You sort of have to, it's such a small backstage. And to be working with Tony Roberts. I mean, he's worked with everybody who's anybody - and he tells great stories!"

    She's not one of those actors who need a lot of warming up. "I'm not big on that. I'm an early person, so I'm usually ready at fifteen. I just walk around and get there [into her character] when I walk onstage. This is the kind of character that I don't have to delve very deep to get into!"

    If she's in a serious piece, "I try to get my frame of mine into that of the show. As with any show, it takes you a few hours to wind down. There are always people at the barricades. You sign autographs, pose for photos. It's very flattering, and then you go out with friends or home. You have to have a certain energy in order to perform. Just to stand on the stage and command attention requires a certain amount of energy. You have to get that up - and then take time and care to get it back down."

    Lives of the Rich and Sometimes Famous

    Testa will be appearing in Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words, when the acclaimed, long-running L.A comedy revue comes to New York for a special one-night-only "Best Of" event to benefit The Actors' Fund on Monday at 7:30 at the Zipper [336 West 37th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues].

    You may have caught the TV special on Bravo in 2005, but here you'll get to experience it with some of Broadway's best. Impersonating various A, B, C and D-List celebrities along with Testa will be Xanadu's Cheyenne Jackson, Tony Roberts and Jackie Hoffman; and two-time Emmy Award winner Kristen Johnston; Richard Kind; maestro Seth Rudetsky, soon to be ?fully? seen in the Broadway revival of Tony and DD-winner Terrence McNally's The Ritz.

    The actors will perform pieces from such "authors" as Loni Anderson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Star Jones, Tommy Lee, Burt Reynolds, Suzanne Somers, Sylvester Stallone, Vanna White and Britney Spears. A good example of the spirit of the evening, created by Emmy nominated writer and performer Eugene Pack, will the memoirs of Eddie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor edited to create a Rashomon-esque playlet where a group of performers actually love triangle in history - in the participants' own words.

    Tickets are $35 - $100 [includes post-show cocktail reception] and available by calling Ovation Tix at 212-352-3101 or online at http://www.thezipperfactory.com/.

    The Entertainment World Mourns

    Luciano Pavarotti, probably the best known and most loved opera singer of modern times, died in Modena, Italy this morning. Pavarotti, known as The King of the High C's, hadn't sung in public in a year and a half since being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

    The burly Pavarotti, who grew up fixated on the movie arias of Mario Lanza, reached world fame in opera houses and captured the imagination of the world's everyday folk, especially with his showmanship and outsized personality on TV shows, to make opera almost as popular as easy listening music.

    With his stunning voice, he easily became the world's best-selling opera recording star. In later years, he made it almost as profitable - appearing in stadiums and Central Park - eventually and shamelessly overexposing himself and, said many, harming his voice. With great stardome comes great fortune and great scrutiny. Pavarotti ran into financial trouble over his use of tax havens. As his opera house career reached its zenith, his career not only rebound but also skyrocketed as he joined Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras and, dubbed as The Three Tenors, become an entertainment phenomenon.

    A Broadway Babe Goes Metro

    In a sort of cabaret-version of Broadway Bares, Jodi Stevens, the stunning beauty with the power pipes is telling all, musically, as she makes her cabaret debut with A Broad's Way the next four Monday nights at the Metropolitan Room at Gotham [34 West 22nd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues]. Directing is none other than Tony and Drama Desk nominee Sally Mayes. Musical supervisor is Jo Lynn Burks.

    Stevens, who received raves Off Broadway in Walter Marks' Bodyshop [directed by Sue Lawless, with choreography by Tony Stevens]. She went on to Broadway in Jekyll & Hyde, eventually playing Lucy, and Urban Cowboy. She's making her return to the show business after taking some time off to get hitched and have a bambino.

    A Broad's Way features songs by the Gershwins, Porter, Andrew Lippa and, among others, her friend Frank Wildhorn and exposes the compulsions, relationships and obsessions that colored her life - being a twin, a dyslexic stripper, thespian and now wife and mama.

    Stevens and Mayes met and bonded on Urban Cowboy. "I'd always been a fan," said Stevens, "and, since our musical had such a short run, I hoped we'd work together again. When producer Jeff Landsman wanted to put up a show with me, Sally was my first call. The only way to hang with her was to hire her to direct!"

    She and Burks met on a Rat Pack musical where Stevens was the only female. "When Jo Lynn showed up as associate musical director," she recalled, "I immediately took to her. We shared a dressing room. Her sense of humor is as great as her musical talents. It's such a joy to work with such a consummate pro. In fact, it's great to make music with your girlfriends! It's sort of ëLet's put on a show,' but in the intimate confines of the Metropolitan Room."

    "Jodi is aces with me," says Tony and Drama Desk nominee Mayes. "She's not only beautiful, but a terrific singer and a constantly questioning actor, which you have to be to do your work well. We almost have a shorthand with each other, probably because she's also a dear friend. We've had a ball working on this with the incredible Jo Lynn."

    Mayes, who also took time off to be a mama and become, as she put it, "the laziest gal in town," says her focus really shifted. "I've been directing cabaret, on and off, for a few years, Mayes. I worked with Tovah Feldshuh's concert act for a couple of years we took it to South Africa, the U.K. and Australia. I love collaborating with strong women, and it's taught me so much about this craft. I always wanted to direct and it just seemed the natural progression for me. Now, I want to direct a theatre piece."

    Stevens' debut solo CD Girl Talk [$13] is on Sons of Sound available at http://www.sonsofsound.com/ and http://www.amazon.com/.

    Showtimes for Jodi Stevens' A Broad's Way are 7 P.M. this Monday and again next - and 9:30 on September 24 and October 1. The cover charge is $20 plus two drink or dessert minimum.
    For reservations call (212) 206-0440 or visit http://www.metropolitanroom.com/.

    Hosts Announced for Graham Dance Series

    The Martha Graham Dance Company begins an 80th Anniversary season a two week engagement at the Joyce on Tuesday, performing three programs featuring many Graham classics. The opening night program at 7:30 P.M. will be hosted by James Lipton. On Saturday, the 15th at 2 P.M., From the Horses Mouth, the heart and history of Graham told in stories and dance by illustrious alumni, will be presented. Former leading dancer and now world-wide impresario Paul Szilard is the presenter.

    The Graham Dance gala is Tuesday, September 18, at 7 P.M. and will feature Blythe Danner.

    Each program features three Graham masterworks and will open with anecdotes about Graham from such special guests as Patricia Birch, Jacques D'Amboise, Carmen DeLavallade, Garth Fagan, former BAM director Harvey Lichtenstein, Lar Lubowitch, Donald McKayle, Douglas Sonntag, Tina Ramirez and Susan Stroman.

    The Martha Graham Dance Company, founded in 1926, is the oldest and most celebrated contemporary dance company in America. Janet Eilber is artistic director and LaRue Allen is executive director.

    Tickets for Martha Graham $25 - $44 and available at the box office, through JoyceCharge at (212) 242-0800 and the web site.

    Sex, Lies and Alfred Kinsey

    Alfred Kinsey: A Love Story, the highly theatrical, fictionalized comic and erotic play by Mike Folie that places Kinsey's own erotic voyage under examination, is creating quite the buzz - media and audience - Off Broadway at the Michael Weller Theatre [311 West 43rd Street, sixth floor, West of Eighth Avenue].

    Presented by the New York Theatre Collective, it stars Wayne Maugans, in the title role searches for the truth through his subjects' sex lives - a journey that ultimately leads him full circle to shattering discoveries about himself. Melinda Wade and, as multiple characters, Carter Roy co-star.

    Folie, whose The Adjustment was done Off-Broadway by Jewish Rep, regionally and in the U.K., was recently named as one of "50 to Watch" playwrights. by the Dramatist Guild. He's resident playwright at NJ Rep.

    Directing is Craig J. George, former director/producer of the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival, whose adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew recently played Off Broadway to critical acclaim.

    Barring an extension or move, the end date is September 23. Alfred Kinsey: A Love Story tickets are $18 and available by calling (212) 352-3101 or through http://www.theatermania.com/.

    Hyde Pierce Takes His Tony to the Friars

    TV's Emmy-winning sensation and Tony-winning co-star of Curtains, David Hyde Pierce will be feted by his fellow Friars on Monday. Putting him on the hot seat will be theater historian/critic Peter Filichia. Randie Levine-Miller, Rick Newman and Stewie Stone chair the Friar's entertainment committee. Levine-Miller, also Drama Desk director of special events, is producing the invitation-only event. The legendary Freddie Roman is Dean of the Friars Club.

    How I Learned to Write

    Playwrights Horizons and the multi-faceted Jewish cultural group Makor present The New Face of Drama: Eight Rising Theater Stars on Monday at 8 P.M. at the 92nd Street Y. The panel discussion, moderated by Pulitzer Prize-winning Paula Vogel [How I Learned to Drive, The Baltimore Waltz], will include Pulitzer finalist Sarah Ruhl [The Clean House, Eurydice],whose Dead Man's Cell Phone will have its PH premiere next February; Obie winner Adam Bock [Swimming in the Shallows], whose The Drunken City prems at PH next March; Kate Fodor, who kicked off PH's season with 100 Saints You Should Know; and two-time Olivier Award nominee John Dempsey [The Witches of Eastwick] and Obie Award winners Michael Friedman and Rinne Groff, all of whom-wrote the musical Saved, which has its world prem in May at, where else, PH.

    Tickets are $10 and available at the Y box office, online at http://www.92y.org/ or by calling (212) 415-5500. Visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/ for more information.
    Maye in September

    Powerhouse singer Grammy nominee Marilyn Maye, who, in March, ended a 16-year-absence from New York with her acclaimed act in March at the Metropolitan Room, returns to the scene with Maye Sings RayÖ and More!, a quasi tribute to Ray Charles and others. Billy Stritch accompanies on piano.

    Performances are September 12 - 15 at 7:30 P.M.; September 16 at 7 and 9:30; the 17th at 9:30; September 19 - 22 at 7:30; and the 23rd at 7 and 9:30. Reservations, as above. The cover charge is $30 plus two drink or dessert minimum.

    Remembering Jerry Hadley

    A Mass of Remembrance will be celebrated in memory of Jerry Hadley at St. Malachy's Church [239 West 49th Street, East of Eighth Avenue] in the Actors Chapel on September 15 at 1 P.M.
    Among the soloists for the Mass will be soprano Talise Trevigne and tenor David Ossenfort. St. Malachy's director of music is Daniel Brondel. The Mass celebrant will be the Reverend Richard Baker. The liturgal readings will be by Brian Cheney and Guy Novo. Reflections will be given by David Hartman and Midge Woolsey. Among those expected to attend are Jamie Bernstein, the soprano Amy Burton, Metropolitan Opera star James Morris and composer John Musto.

    This is a liturgical service. Memorial observances are being organized. The first will be a Jerry Hadley memorial in his home town with musical performances at the Bureau Valley High School in Manlius, Illinois on September 22 at 7 P.M. Memorial gifts in memory of Jerry Hadley may be made to the Hadley Fund for Music Excellence at his alma mater: Bradley University Department of Music, Development Office, 1501 West Bradley Avenue, Peoria, IL 61625. Funds will be used to assist talented voice students in financial need.

    Free Broadway!

    The League of American Theatres and Producers and the Times Square Alliance presents the 16th Annual Broadway on Broadway free concert on Broadway in the heart of Times Square on September 16 at 11:30 A.M. It will be light, but the stars will be shining from shows A to X.

    Hosting will be Lance Bass, Hairspray's Corny Collins and former member of million-selling boyband NSYNC, which sold over 25 million albums worldwide.

    "Broadway on Broadway is a celebratory kick off to the Broadway season," said League executive director Charlotte St. Martin, "and this year's concert will be bigger and better than ever."

    BOB features a grand finale with a rain of confetti. Advisory: it's not New Year's Eve but with over 50,000 expected arrive early and dress appropriately. Bring water!

    Are you Broadway's Biggest Fan? If so, enter the competition and prove it with a 60- second video showing why you are, well, Broadway's biggest fan. Winning videos will be broadcast on a jumbo screen to thousands. Making its debut this year will be the Broadway Fan Zone, a VIP area near the stage for up-close and personal viewing. It's free - yes, FREE! - but only available to the first 100 fans that arrive dressed as their favorite Broadway character. Visit http://www.broadwaysbiggestfan.com/ and http://www.broadwayonbroadway.com/ for details.

    IMG Media, the world's largest packager and producer of sports and live event television, is producing Broadway on Broadway, which is co-presented by Continental Airlines, The New York Times, Theatre Development Fund [TDF] and Madame Tussauds.

    Joe's Pub Is Movin' On Up

    The Public Theater's Joe's Pub in the Park, a two-week series of free and paid triple-bill concerts through September 30, is being presented at Central Park's Delacorte Theater.

    Million-selling recording NY-born/Jersey-bred icon Leslie Gore will surely treat fans to "It's My Party," when she makes a rare live appearance on September 19. Among her many hits was "Out Here on My Own," written for the film Fame with brother Michael Gore [Carrie], for which they were nominated for an Academy Award. Sharing the bill with Gore will be pop-satirist Jill Sobule and punk minimalist trio New Standards.

    Highlights of the concerts, all at 7 P.M. are Grammy-winning alt-country star Patty Griffin, whose work was recently presented in 10 Million Miles at the Atlantic Theater Company, and New Orleans pianist-laureate Allen Toussaint [September 20]; and Balkan Beat Box; indie-folk band Beirut and the NY Gypsy All-Stars [September 26].

    On September 29, join Justin Bond's [Tony and Drama Desk-nominated Kiki and Herb] Close to You, an appreciation of the Carpenters; David Driver singing the Scott Walker songbook; and an all-star commemoration of T. Rex leader Marc Bolan.

    Paid concert reserved seats are $25 - $50 for the general public and $20-$45 for Public Theater members and available at the Public Theater box office, on-line at http://www.joespub.com/.

    20at20 Returns

    Where can you see five shows in a day for less than the price of one Broadway ticket? Why, right here in New York, but conditions apply. Through September 16th, 20at20 offers the avid theatergoer on a budget tickets to a long roster of Off-Broadway plays, musicals and revues for only $20. Tickets must be purchased twenty minutes before show time on a cash basis at the show box offices. 20at20 is a project of the Off-Broadway Brainstormers. Go to www.offbroadway.com for the list of participating shows.

    Going Dutch at the Met

    Beginning September 18 through January 6, the Met presents a landmark exhibition, The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, putting on display the museum's 20 Rembrandts and its entire Dutch Paintings Collection on view. In all, there will be 228 Dutch works on display, as opposed to the 100 on regular view. The Metropolitan is closed on Mondays.

    Last Chance

    Don't miss the opportunity to revisit or discover the wonderful career of Molly Picon, in the fabulous exhibition in the Vincent Astor Gallery of the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts, through September 22.

    [Photos: 1) PAUL KOLNIK; 4) SARAH LAMBERT]


    Thursday, September 06, 2007 at 12:01 AM | Item Link

    Ellis Nassour is an international media journalist, and author of Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline, which he has adapted into a musical for the stage. Visit www.patsyclinehta.com.

    He can be reached at [email protected]

    The last five columns written by Ellis Nassour:

    07/02/2010: Summer in the City: Fireworks on the Hudson Launch a Season with Plenty to Do and See

    06/13/2010: The 64th Annual Tony Awards Celebrating Broadway Achievement

    06/10/2010: Tony Honoree Marian Seldes: Grand Duse of the American Theater

    06/08/2010: Starry, Starry Nights [Hopefully] with the Bard; Broadway by the Year Celebrates 10th Anniversary; Old Flames Reignite [Onstage]; Summer in and Out of the City; Stars Rally for Dancers; Cast CDs and Re-releases; New to DVD

    05/21/2010: Patti LuPone Hosts Sunday's Drama Desk Awards; A Starry, Starry Season; Tovah Feldshuh, Sherman Brothers Honored; Broadway By the Year Season Finale

    For a listing of all features written by Ellis, click here.