SHE'S A "BUILD"-ER UPPER
Audra McDonald
(© Michael Wilson)
Audra McDonald
(© Michael Wilson)
On her new CD Build a Bridge, her first solo album in four years, four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald tackles the work of such contemporary composers as Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, and Jessica Molaskey. But two of the most intriguing cuts are by her good pal Adam Guettel: The CD's title cut and a drastically reworked version of "Dividing Day" from The Light in the Piazza by the jazz pianist Fred Hersch.

"Adam actually wrote 'Build a Bridge' many years ago, and I've been singing it for about four years," says McDonald. "It just seemed the right thing to do this time -- and to use as the CD title -- since it really expressed our aim in showing the similarity, at least to me, between theater songs and these kind of pop songs. As for 'Dividing Day,' the CD's executive producer really wanted it on the album; but I knew it made no sense to do it the same way as in the musical, because Vicki Clark's interpretation is not just definitive, it's one of the top 10 performances of the past 10 years. I knew that Fred could make it different and unique, so we dumped it in his lap and he came back with it as this slowed-down waltz. The first time I heard it, I didn't want to sing it; I thought we should just leave it as an instrumental cut on the album."

McDonald will be singing numerous cuts from the album, along with standards and other hits, in a series of concerts around the country in the coming weeks, October 11 and 12 stint at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Allen Room to kick off the Center's popular American Songbook series. (The latter performance will be broadcast on PBS' Live at Lincoln Center series.) But one song on the disc may be missing from these concerts. "It will take me a long time to sing 'Wonderful You,' because it was about my friend Lovette George [who passed away earlier this month]. I tried doing it in rehearsal the other day, and I just couldn't get through it. I have to say, it really is my favorite song on the album."

PBS isn't the only place you can see McDonald on the small screen. On Wednesday, she debuts in the new NBC series Kidnapped in the small role of Jackie, the wife of a bodyguard played by Mykelti Williamson: "It's produced by the same people who produced my show Mr. Sterling and they even gave the character the same name, so I had to do it. It's very interesting, and it's great working with Delroy Lindo and Mykelti. It's funny; the last time we worked together, he played my father." And, in November, McDonald begins shooting the ABC-TV film version of her Broadway triumph A Raisin in the Sun with her original co-stars Phylicia Rashad, Sean Combs, and Sanaa Lathan. "I keep having this dream that we've started filming and no one has told me and I can't remember my lines," she laughs.

If she wasn't busy enough, McDonald heads to Los Angeles to appear in John Doyle's production of the Bertolt Brecht-Kurt Weill opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny opposite her dear friend Patti LuPone. Then, in the spring, she'll return to Broadway in the Roundabout's long-awaited revival of 110 in the Shade. "When I was first approached by Lonny Price [the show's director], I thought 'eh'," she says. "But when I heard the music and realized what a fantastic character Lizzie is and the growth she goes through -- I call the show 'Lizzie's Big Day' -- I couldn't wait. We just did another workshop, and they've made some great little changes to the script. I think people will finally realize what a great score this is."


Jay Johnson and Bob in The Two and Only!
(© Carol Rosegg)
Jay Johnson and Bob in
The Two and Only!
(© Carol Rosegg)
MOUTHING OFF
Jay Johnson: The Two and Only! isn't your average Broadway show; it's also a learning experience, according to the popular entertainer. "Before I did the show at the Atlantic Theatre in 2004, my performing experience had been in supper clubs and corporate shows, and I just didn't want to take that same act into the theater," says Johnson, who's best known for his role of Chuck on the groundbreaking sitcom Soap. "What I really hope audiences learn from this show is that anything can be an art form -- especially ventriloquism. They'll discover a lot of history they haven't learned before."

Johnson will also reveal some of his trade's so-called secrets. "One of the great things about ventriloquism is that you can explain how it's done," he says. "The audience can see how you do it, but you can still fool them. It's different than a magic trick, which works on the idea that you don't know how it's done and, once you learn the trick, there's no mystery. Here, you can still participate in the fantasy. In fact, after one show, someone came up to me and said they liked my characters better than me. Then they caught themselves and realized how insane that was."

Of course, his most famous character is his Soap counterpart, Bob. "There have been several versions of Bob throughout the years, and his look has changed even if you don't realize it," says Johnson. "When I did Soap, there were two Bobs for the show and a separate one for the nightclub act. But what's most important to me is the character. The great Edgar Bergen once told me you can never create a puppet character from the outside; you have to build the character first and then build the puppet."



WORDS OF WISDOM

Jane Fonda
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Jane Fonda
(© Joseph Marzullo/Retna)
Director Gordon Greenberg and writer Nell Benjamin will participate in the Goodspeed Conversations series on September 21 at the Rathbun Library in East Haddam, Connecticut to discuss the upcoming production of The Pirates of Penzance at the Goodspeed Opera House; short scenes from the works of such playwrights as Maria Irene Fornes, Sam Shepard, and Lanford Wilson will be presented as part of OFF Stage: The West Village Fragments, a nightly tour of historic New York City landmarks, September 21-October 7; frequent co-stars and good friends Marian Seldes and Brian Murray will participate in the Westport Arts Center's Artists in Conversation series on Monday, September 25; CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer and legendary White House correspondent Helen Thomas will moderate a panel discussion titled Presidential Politics on September 25 in conjunction with the Ford's Theatre production of State of the Union.

Jewtopia: The Chosen Book for the Chosen People, written by Jewtopia creators Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson, will be officially released on September 26; Will Eno, Carl Hancock Rux, and Cynthia Hopkins are among those scheduled to participate in Prelude '06: At the Forefront of Contemporary NYC Theatre at CUNY's Graduate Center, September 27-30; Tom Santopietro will be present for a book signing for The Importance of Being Barbra, his Streisand bio, on Monday, October 9 at the Borders Book Store at 2 Penn Plaza; and playwrights Jessica Blank, Quiara Alegira Hudes, Shirley Lauro Emily Mann, Dael Orlandersmith, and Diana Son will take part in Women at the Barricades: Playwrights' Political Visions on Monday, October 16 at Marymount Manhattan College.

On September 12, the stars were out all over town. Recent memoirist Jane Fonda, author Erica Jong, financial guru and author Suze Orman, and actress/playwights Lynn Redgrave and Lisa Kron were at the opening night of The Treatment at Culture Project, along with Rosario Dawson, Shirley Knight, Sarita Chodhury, and Phoebe Snow. Elsewhere that evening, songwriters Allee Willis and Alan and Marilyn Bergman were at Feinstein's for Ashford & Simpson's jam-packed opening performance, while The View's Rosie O'Donnell and Barbara Walters joined Nathan Lane, Harvey Fierstein, Donny Osmond, and Celeste Holm for the debut of Elaine Stritch: At Home at the Carlyle ...Again. And on September 18, Christine Ebersole's benefit concert for the Actors' Fund at New World Stages was attended by Brian Stokes Mitchell, Mary Louise Wilson. Brooks Ashmanskas, Billy Stritch, and Julia Murney.


Daniel Eric Gold in subUrbia
(© Joan Marcus)
Daniel Eric Gold in subUrbia
(© Joan Marcus)
A GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY
Playing the central role of Jeff in the new production of Eric Bogosian's subUrbia at Second Stage is a dream come true for actor Daniel Eric Gold. "When I was at Penn State, I did some scene work from the show, although I played Tim," says Gold. "At the time, I knew I was a natural for Jeff, but I didn't want to go for the easy part. But once I heard about this production, I was very eager to play Jeff. He has such a great arc; he starts out as a young, idealistic, albeit nihilistic person who is paralyzed by the enormity of life and has no idea how to make his mark in the world. About halfway through the play, he realizes that fear has driven all of his decisions; he wants to strip that away and move forward."

The show, which also stars such hot young actors as Kieran Culkin, Jessica Capshaw, and Peter Scanavino, has been an unusual experience for the Obie-winning Gold. For one thing, he got a new co-star shortly before previews began, when Kelli Garner had to withdraw from the production to fulfill a movie commitment and Gaby Hoffmann stepped in. "Gaby is such a pro," says Gold. "She came in on a Thursday and she was off-book by Saturday, so we really didn't have to take any steps back. Maybe we stood still for one day."

Another challenge is performing a play written by the man who is married to the show's director, Jo Bonney. "I think Jo approached the work like any other playwright's -- and she wasn't shy about asking for changes," Gold says with a laugh. "When Eric was in the room, he really listened to her. Jo is a very good director; not only does she have a great visual eye, but she trusted us and gave us a lot of freedom to express ourselves. If we go too far, though, she pushes us back. When I took the role, a lot of my actor friends said she would make me a better actor, and that's certainly come true."