As the Summer Play Festival hits the home stretch -- it closes on August 1 -- one of the most anticipated offerings is songwriter John Bucchino's musical revue It's Only Life. The show begins performances on Tuesday at the Samuel Beckett under the direction of Daisy Prince; it features three of Prince's Songs for a New World stars, Andrea Burns, Jessica Molaskey, and Billy Porter, plus John Bolton (Titanic, Contact) and bare star Michael Arden. "It is so incredible for me to be working with these performers who have been such an inspiration to me," says the 21-year-old Arden. "I remember sitting at home in West Texas listening to my Songs for a New World CD over and over."
Arden, a talented singer/songwriter himself, has really bonded with Bucchino -- the composer of such hit songs as "Grateful" and "Sweet Dreams" -- since the pair first met after Arden's concert at MAKOR last January. "We've gotten together and shared our music; he gives me great advice and I tell him how beautiful his songs are," Arden says. "His music is truly some of the hardest there is to sing. It's so tricky and intricate -- I just hope I get it right! And as a lyricist, his sense of hope and pain is incredible; I marvel at the ways he writes about love and loss. Above all, he's truly been a great friend. This spring was very difficult with the murder of my friend and Juilliard classmate Sarah Fox, and he's made the experience a lot less painful."
Summer is proving to be a very busy time for Arden. "I'm doing a night of my music at Opia on August 15," he tells me. "Brooke Sunny Moriber is going to sing with me; we've done a recording, a wedding, and a funeral together, but this is the first time we're doing something where someone has to buy a ticket. Then I'll be at Jacob's Pillow from August 26 to 29: the Sean Curran Dance Company is doing a large piece set to the music of Ricky Ian Gordon, who asked me to be one of four live singers."
Practically the second he arrives home from the Berkshires, Arden will go into rehearsal for the Off-Broadway transfer of bare, which begins performances in the new Dodger Stages on September 22. He says that he doesn't think the show will be "drastically different" from its Off-Off-Broadway incarnation at the American Theatre of Actors, "but I know the authors are honing in on some things, stripping away others, and bringing more form to the relationship between Peter -- my character -- and Jason. I am really excited to see the new stuff."
SPF IS BURNING HOT
Speaking of the Summer Play Festival, does producer Arielle Tepper think her million dollars -- yep, that's what it cost her to produce these 18 shows --- has been well spent? You betcha! "I wake up every day and feel like I am living in a dream world," says Tepper, who gives ample credit to all who've worked on the SPF for its success. "It turned out even better than I imagined it would be. Not only have we had cancellation lines every night, but I've been able to introduce actors to producers and writers to directors, which has been exactly my fantasy of how to help the theater world. Our lounge upstairs has become one giant living room."
Next season, Tepper will be represented on the Great White Way by such high-profile shows as Michael Frayn's Democracy, Martin McDonough's The Pillowman, and the musical Spamalot -- but her heart is now firmly entrenched Off-Broadway. "It's going to be such a downer when August comes and I don't come to this place every day," she says. "There will definitely be another Festival next year, although I do have to figure out how to do it without spending a million dollars in one month."
STARS ON THE EDGE
The Fringe isn't so Fringe-y anymore! Some Broadway names will be appearing in shows in this year's New York International Fringe Festival. Tony nominee Marla Schaffel (Jane Eyre) and Urban Cowboy hunk Matt Cavenaugh will headline Jonestown: The Musical...Mary Testa (42nd Street) will play opposite Daytime Emmy Award winner Kevin Mambo in The Last Detail...Annie Golden (The Full Monty) is expected to head the cast of Mimi Le Duck...and Brooke Sunny Moriber (The Wild Party) will have the lead in the new musical Lulu.
IMITATION OF LIVES
Imitation may or may not be the sincerest form of flattery, but it's clearly a very popular pursuit for actors. Canadian actress Lenore Zann takes on the blondest bombshell of them all in the musical The Marilyn Tapes, which begins a six-week run at The Pearl Theater on August 4. Cirque Jacqueline, in which Andrea Reese portrays former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, has had its current run at the Triad extended through August 7. And actress Jen Ryan will embody the notorious Nazi filmmaker in The Imaginary, All True Leni Riefenstahl Show from August 19-29 as part of the New York International Fringe Festival.
On the male side, Robert Joy dons a silver wig to play Andy Warhol in Patricia Wettig's My Andy (with Kathleen Chalfant as his mom) this weekend at New York Stage and Film at Vassar College. Peter Louriero's 2003 Fringe Festival hit Citizen Walken is returning this weekend as part of the new "East to Edinburgh" Festival at 59E59 Theaters. On the left coast, actor Michael Airington's popular A Night With Paul Lynde is making them laugh at Los Angeles's Ultra Suede through August 27.
Some artists are even crossing genders. Cabaret and club favorite Richard Skipper is bringing his portrayal of the legendary Carol Channing to the Midtown International Theatre Festival for performance on July 25 and 29. And on August 2, John Cameron Mitchell will step into the pumps of First Lady Laura Bush for a reading of Tony Kushner's Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall Be Unhappy at the American Airlines Theatre. The performance, which will benefit MoveOnPAC, will be hosted by Kristen Johnston and will feature 2004 Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson as an angel.
Run, don't walk, down to the Duplex, where MAC Award winner Lisa Asher is making a long-overdue appearance on the cabaret scene every Thursday through August 26. As usual, this big-voiced singer is traversing the musical landscape from standards (Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hammerstein) to pop (Janis Ian, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan) to contemporary (Michael Smith, Craig Carnelia). After this run, your next chance to see Asher may be in a legitimate theater: Producer Kurt Peterson is helping her develop her smash hit 1995 cabaret piece I Am a Town, based on her experiences growing up in Kentucky, into an Off-Broadway show. "I'm doing a lot of rewrites right now to expand it," says Asher. "I've been presented with a lovely opportunity and I am going to do everything I can to make it happen. Right now, my goal is to try to have a reading in the fall."
HERE'S TO THE LADIES
Anne Bancroft is taking her husband Mel Brooks's show The Producers to heart. She's presenting Ann Randolph's solo show Squeeze Box, which starts a three-month limited run tonight at the Acorn Theater...Tony nominee Daphne Rubin-Vega, whom I hear is with child, will join her Anna in the Tropics co-star Jimmy Smits in a reading of Like Water For Chocolate at Borders on July 26...Blair Ross, who played demanding diva Dorothy Brock in the national tour of 42nd Street, will take over the role in the Broadway production (from departing star Shirley Jones) on August 10...The fabulous Linda Emond will headline the Williamstown Theater Festival's production of The Cherry Orchard, beginning August 11.