Michael Ball in The Woman in White
(Photo © Manuel Harlan)
Michael Ball in The Woman in White
(Photo © Manuel Harlan)
A lot has been said about the lack of scenery for The Woman in White -- and we have a lot more to say about the subject below. But what about the show itself? Andrew Lloyd Webber's music is properly lush if largely undistinguished, but the real lift in the score comes from David Zippel's lyrics. He establishes characters and sets the plot in motion through a witty display of words in the show's tour-de-force opening number, "I Hope You'll Like It Here." Other Zippel highlights can be found in a couple of songs that are likely to live outside the show: "A Gift for Living Well" and "You Can Get Away with Anything," the latter given a show-stopping performance by Michael Ball and a trained rodent.

In addition to the terrific Ball, who gives a deliciously decadent performance throughout the show, the entire cast is enthralling. After having been disappointed by Maria Friedman's cabaret shows at the Café Carlyle, we now finally understand why she is so admired in London; she gives a strong, committed performance as the heroine, Marian Halcombe. Her beautiful half-sister Laura is played by Jill Paice, who needs no special effects to take your breath away; a very appealing Adam Brazier is Walter, the man with whom both sisters are in love; the title character is played by the high-belting Angela Christian; and the villain of the piece, Sir Percival Glyde, is put over with wicked glee by Ron Bohmer. But none of them can mask the fact that the show is a second-rate melodrama set to second-rate music, directed by Trevor Nunn as if it meant something.

Now, as you've probably heard, designer William Dudley has eschewed a traditional three-dimensional set for the show in favor of two-dimensional computer generated images. If you don't pre-medicate, which we recommend, there's a Duane Reade a few blocks away where you can get some Dramamine during intermission. Whether it makes you dizzy or not, we think the intrusion of this device into stagecraft is an abomination. We have nothing against projections as a means of enhancing set design, but to replace it completely? Come on! If you're going to put on a show in a legitimate theater, give us a set -- not a bunch of movie screens.

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Idina Menzel
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Idina Menzel
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Idina Menzel: Take Two

Outspoken and refreshingly honest, Idina Menzel had plenty to say when we talked with her last week for our feature piece about the film version of Rent, so we thought we would share some of her additional thoughts in this column:

Q: Who did you think would play your role in the film version of Rent?
A: I thought it would be Brittany Murphy.

Q: You met your husband, Taye Diggs, when you starred together in the original production of Rent. What was it like to play this material again with him 10 years later?
A: To be in the movie of the show where we met, in the same costumes that we flirted with each other -- that was kind of nostalgic.

Q: Can we expect you to star in a film version of Wicked anytime soon?
A: My producer from Wicked came to see this play that I'm in at the Public, See What I Wanna See. We met afterwards and talked about the possibility of a movie. I think Reese Witherspoon wants to play Glinda, but he's in no hurry because the show is doing so well. It will be a couple of years."

Q: You put out an album after your first burst of success in Rent. Do you have any others in the offing?
A: I just got signed by Warner Bros. The content of the CD will be something that celebrates being a vocalist.

Q: How would you characterize your career from Rent on stage to Rent the movie?
A: I didn't accept that I was a good actress back then. I thought of myself as a singer. Now I know I'm a good actress.

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Have a Belt with Michele Lee

Michele Lee
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Michele Lee
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Stars have an aura that sets them apart from mere mortals. You can readily see it in the way Michele Lee bestrides the stage at Feinstein's at the Regency, where she is performing her cabaret act Catch the Light through November 26. A working actress for the last 45 years, Lee not only looks great, she puts a song over as if her life depends upon it. Her brilliantly bitter, half-spoken, half-snarled version of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You" is downright Janis Joplinesque.

On the down side, Lee can no longer bring a delicate touch to a ballad. Fortunately, for the most part, she chooses material that's well matched to her outsized personality and her big, belting voice -- such as her Seesaw show-stopper "Nobody Does it Like Me." We also get to hear her sing "I Believe in You" from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (she played Rosemary Pilkington both on stage and in the film version of the musical) and her early pop hit "L. David Sloane." The program ends with a tribute to composer Cy Coleman, with whom Lee worked so successfully in Seesaw.

But the highlight of this show is the patter, as Lee tells stories about growing up in the business (her father was a famous Hollywood makeup artist) and meeting people like Richard Chamberlain and Clint Eastwood. One thing you can say about Michele Lee: She's determined to give you your money's worth. And she does.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]