HATS LIFE
Melissa Manchester
Melissa Manchester
Melissa Manchester is one of the world's best-selling pop singer-songwriters, but she has a long connection with the theater -- on both sides of the footlights. On April 20, she returns to the musical stage for the first time in many years as Maryann in the Chicago production of Hats!, about a woman just about to turn 50 and her encounter with the ladies of the famed Red Hat Society.

"I had written a couple of songs for the show, but when they offered me the part of Maryann I was really surprised," she says. "When the offer first came up, I remembered how grueling it was when I did the first national tour of Song & Dance. But then I realized I don't have to be on stage by myself for an hour. It's the kind of show where everyone gets a real tour-de-force moment."

Manchester was initially approached to write some songs for the show, which premiered last year in Denver, by her pal, orchestrator Doug Besterman. "I was mildly familiar with the Red Hat Society, since I always see those women with the red hats and the purple boas in restaurants," she says. "And I've been writing my own musical about another group of older women, The Sweet Potato Queens, with Rupert Holmes and Sharon Vaughn. This is the first time the nation has such a large aging population, and there's no good reason to dispose of anyone who has accrued wisdom and experience in life. I'm really touched to be part of such an affirmative and sunny evening. It's not just an evening for women; it's an evening about humanity."

Manchester's obligation to Hats! means she won't be able to attend the latest production of I Sent a Letter to My Love, the musical she co-wrote with Jeffrey Sweet, at the Act II Playhouse in Ambler, Pennsylvania next month. "I think we all relate to the truth behind that story; we all yearn for love and sometimes we make choices that take us to the brink," she says of the work's enduring appeal. "I did a radio version of it for NPR with Stephen Bogardus and Megan Mullally and that was great. But I'd really have to think hard about starring in a stage production."

However, she will take a few breaks from Hats to perform in concert, which remains one of her great pleasures. "The songs I've written over the years have all grown with me, and I know they touch people in unexpected ways. I get letters and emails from people that are beyond belief," she says. "If I had to pick a favorite, I would say 'Come In from the Rain,' because it's really a great acting piece."


Euan Morton
(© Joan Marcus)
Euan Morton
(© Joan Marcus)
MORE MORTON
For the last three months, Euan Morton has been doing just one thing professionally: Concentrating on his work in the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Patrick Marber's Howard Katz, in which he plays a variety of supporting roles including a sympathetic hustler and a spoiled star. "It's such an intense show and so different from everything else I've done in the United States," he says. "I really love doing these quick changes; it's been a long time since I've done these kinds of ensemble roles. And working with Alfred Molina [who plays the title role] is amazing; he's such a great man."

But with that show set to close on May 6, Morton is back to doing a different type of double duty: He's performing a new cabaret act on Sundays, April 15, 22, May 6 and 13 at The Metropolitan Room. "It's different from the other shows I've done in New York. It's just me and my friend Brian Reeder on piano; we met when I did Tommy at Bay Street," he notes. "This time, I'm doing mostly covers of songs people want to hear, like 'Leavin' on a Jet Plane' and 'I Will Always Love You.' But I am not doing any Carpenters material this time. I'm going to hold off until I get Richard Carpenter to help me do a concert like Rufus Wainwright did Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall."

Still, Morton admits these are not your average cabaret shows. "I've invited friends who don't usually do this to be guest singers every week, like my co-star Alvin Epstein. It's going to be more like glorified karaoke," he says. "And I've invited various artists I know to come on stage and paint while I sing. The idea came from my friend Rosie O'Donnell, who paints in her studio to the music of Joni Mitchell. I just hope it's not going to be lots of pictures of people dying."


ROBIN THE CRADLE

Andrea Marcovicci
Andrea Marcovicci
Since the 92nd Street Y's Lyrics and Lyricists series adopted a policy of hiring guest artistic directors a few years back, Andrea Marcovicci has been a consistent fixture uptown. In November 2005, she thrilled audiences with her innovative program, Kurt Weill in America; and now, a CD of that show -- which also features Anna Bergman, Barbara Brussell, Mark Coffin, Chuck Cooper, Jeff Harnar, and Maude Maggart -- will be released on her Andreasong label on April 23. "I'm just thrilled about it," she says. "I work for a year on these projects and usually, poof, they're gone in a flash and all your hard work disappears in the ether. Now, this experience is permanent."

In her latest Lyrics & Lyricists outing at the Y, May 5-7, she's turning her attention to Leo Robin in a show called Thanks for the Memories, with guest stars Klea Blackhurst, Jennifer Sheehan, and Bryan Byers. "I was going to do a solo show about him once, but it got back-burnered," she notes. "I think he's really under-appreciated. He's got a Western side to him, a Hawaiian side to him, a lot of goofy songs I just adore, the songs he wrote for people like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Ruth Etting, and of course, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. But we're not doing a revival of that show; we don't have a Marilyn Monroe in our cast."

Then on May 15, she returns to her New York home of 20 years, the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, for two weeks with a revised version of last year's popular offering just... love. "I felt it really worked well," she says, adding that she looked at the 1,200 requests she received last year to come up with a song list. "I'll do a base of songs, including "Long Ago and Far Away," "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" and "The Secret of Life," and then take requests and intersperse them into the show like last time. I can't wait."


CENTRAL BOOKING
Spring (if it ever really gets here) is the perfect time to spend a lazy day in the park, on your porch, or even on a beach -- catching up with a variety of recently released tomes. There's actor Richard Seff's memoir, Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage; Ethan Mordden's fascinating look at 40 years of Broadway dramas, All That Glittered; Tom Santopietro's unauthorized biography of one of Hollywood's greatest stars, Considering Doris Day; and Carolyn Brown's Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham, a must-read for dance lovers.

Due out next month is British journalist Emma Brockes' first-person account of her love affair with musicals, What Would Barbra Do? How Musicals Changed My Life, and the American Theater Wing's new collection Producing and the Theatre Business: Working in the Theatre, featuring words of wisdom from such producers as Bernard Gersten, Todd Haimes, Margo Lion, and Daryl Roth. Finally, if you're looking for a handsome addition to your coffee table, consider Michael Lassell's Tarzan: The Broadway Adventure, an attractively produced, photo-heavy, behind-the-scenes look at the Broadway musical.


SHINING STARS
The legendary Debbie Reynolds will perform for the Reagle Players in Waltham, Massachusetts, April 20-22; Sigourney Weaver and Josh Lucas will be among the judges at the 3rd Annual Battle of the Bards on April 21 at NYC' s Studio Menzor; Drew Sarich will headline the Broken Watch Theatre Company's A Broken Benefit on April 23 at the Michael Weller Theatre; Bruce Vilanch will join the cast of Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell, April 24-May 6; and singer Mary Cleere Haran will be the special guest performer at the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra Annual Gala, April 26 at the Metropolitan Club.