THE FAMILY WAY
Three was definitely not a crowd for Hugh Jackman at Sunday's night Drama Desk Awards. The Boy From Oz hunk sat with his wife Deborra-Lee Furness and her mother in row J at the star-studded event. (I was almost directly in front of him.) The fact that he was seated in the middle of the row was a treat for the audience members who had Jackman sidle by them when he went to the stage to present an award and, minutes later, to accept his very own as Outstanding Actor in a Musical.
Jackman wasn't the only star keeping things all in the family at the DDs. Lovely Donna Murphy, named Best Actress in a Musical for Wonderful Town, was accompanied by her beautiful stepdaughter Justine Elliot. And presenter Shirley Jones, looking unbelievably youthful, had two handsome escorts to the Awards: her son (and current 42nd Street co-star) Patrick Cassidy and her stepson (and former Partridge Family co-star) David Cassidy.
Earlier last week, Audra McDonald -- who won a Drama Desk for her role in A Raisin in the Sun -- had brought her adorable three-year-old daughter Zoe Donovan to the annual Tony Award nominees press reception at the Millennium Hotel. And, for her opening performance on May 18 at Feinstein's at the Regency, the ageless Keely Smith had her husband Bobby Milano standing in the back, her son-in-law Dennis Michaels accompanying her at the piano, and her brother Norman cheering her on in the house!
Is there a better way to start a show than with the clarion voice of Judy Kaye? The 92nd Street Y doesn't think so, which is why the Tony Award winning star will be kicking off the Y's "130 Years on Stage" benefit on Monday night. This gala evening will also feature Tony winner Sutton Foster and her brother Hunter, who moves from playing Little Shop of Horrors's Seymour to The Producers' Leo next month, plus Susan Stroman, Mimi Hines, Tony Curtis, and Michael Feinstein. "I can't say too much about the opening number," Kaye tells me. "It's supposed to be a surprise. But it's something very clever that my old friend Gary Gardner has devised for me. We went to UCLA together but we haven't really seen each other since then. I do have this vivid memory of him working out the choreography for 'A Couple of Swells,' which we were going to do in our musical comedy class, on the front lawn of Schoenberg Hall. And, if I recall, we were damn good."
Kaye's relationship with the Y dates back more than a quarter of a century: "I lived across the street from there in 1977 when I was doing Grease and I used their facilities a lot. Over the years, Maurice Levine asked me to do many of his wonderful Lyrics and Lyrcists evenings. Some years ago, I also did a solo show there. It was in the middle of this horrible ice and snow storm and I thought no one would show up, but the place was brimming. I did everything from rock 'n' roll to La Bohème."
A veteran of such hit shows as The Phantom of the Opera and On the Twentieth Century, Kaye jokes, "God knows if there is life on Broadway for me after Mamma Mia!" -- referring to her two-year run as Rosie in the ABBA musical. Her plate is fairly full, regardless. For one thing, she and fellow Ragtime star Mark Jacoby tour the country with their popular symphony program "He Said, She Said," which uses Broadway songs to tell the story of a relationship. Their next gig is performances with the Detroit Symphony, beginning May 27.
Kaye is also preparing a new cabaret act of Harold Arlen material, titled Sing My Heart, to coincide with the composer's upcoming centennial. And she continues to read the works of best-selling mystery author Sue Grafton for audiobooks. "I just did R Is For Ricochet," she says. "I love being Kinsey Milhone. Sue Grafton's characters are so well drawn and so easy to slip into."
Playing John Wilkes Booth in Assassins has turned out to be quite a history lesson for Michael Cerveris, who has earned an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical.
"I'm from West Virginia, which became a state because of the Civil War, and I'm embarrassed by how little I knew about the war before doing this show," he says. "What really surprised me was how wildly unpopular Abraham Lincoln was even in the North. I think Booth ended up accomplishing the exact opposite of what he hoped by killing him; a lot of what I've read indicates that it made things a lot worse for the South."
Over and above the challenge of playing a presidential assassin, Cerveris has an even trickier task: playing an actor onstage. "It's a constant challenge to walk that fine line between fulfilling the size and scale of his personality and keeping him real and truthful," he tells me.
His other big challenge was jumping into the role immediately after leaving the Second Stage production of Wintertime, in which he played an over-ardent French lover. "I just put my head down and did it," he says. "I've worked with two of the most remarkable casts on these shows and a lot of my success has to do with those people."
Oscar nominee Alec Baldwin doesn't have to worry about having nothing to do once Twentieth Century closes at the Roundabout next month. From August 9-13, he will return to Long Island University's Southampton College to teach an intensive acting workshop focusing on dramatic scenes and monologue interpretation. Applications for the class are due no later than May 26 and auditions will follow in June; for information, send an e-mail to Michael.Disher@liu.edu.
Cirque du Soleil's spectacular Alegría, last seen on these shores a decade ago, is being presented on Randall's Island through June 20...The exceedingly clever The Musical of The Musicals: The Musical reopens on Monday at the Theatre at Saint Peter's for a two-month run...The fabulous Barbara Cook's Broadway comes back to Lincoln Center, this time at the intimate Mitzi Newhouse, beginning June 2...The cult hit musical bare concludes its run at the American Theatre of Actors on May 27 but will reopen at the still-under-construction Dodgers Spaces on West 50th Street on September 21...A.R. Gurney's sharp political comedy Mrs. Farnsworth will likely resume performances in July, though it may move from The Flea. It will have to do so without star John Lithgow: He's off to the Old Globe to star in the new musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which should hit Broadway sometime in the spring of 2005.
PRETTY WOMEN, FASCINATING
The British singing trio Fascinating Aida made quite a splash when they played the Firebird Café in 1998. Now these lovely ladies -- Dillie Keane, Adele Anderson, and new member Liza Pullman -- have returned to Gotham with their new show Absolutely Fascinating as part of the Brits Off-Broadway festival at the 59E59 Theaters. Says Keane, "We're very excited about doing our show in a theater, which is how we perform in England, rather than a cabaret space, because we like to do things in a stagy way."
Keane founded the group more than 20 years ago and also writes much of its material. She describes the new show as "our usual cocktail of assorted songs about life and love, but with some twists. There's a bit more about politics. We're living in political times, so you just can't duck the subject. When Elisabeth Kleinhans [who owns 59E59] saw us last summer at the Edinburgh Festival, she told us to keep the political stuff. The show is also a little more melancholy. We have a few plaintive numbers that I hope will twist the knife in the gut a little. I only hope that people don't laugh during those numbers. Some years ago, I wrote a song about a mother and daughter riding a carousel, and when I got to the line about 'no hands,' some people started laughing. I was mortified! I asked a friend later why that happened and she said, 'Well, they know your relationship with the macabre, so they obviously thought the song was about a girl who really had no hands.'"