Two-time Tony Award nominee Carolee Carmello admits she had to think a bit before accepting producer Jamie McGonnigal's offer to play the lead role of Rebecca in the World AIDS Day concert staging of the Joseph Stein-Charles Strouse-Stephen Schwartz musical Rags, which will take place on Monday, December 11 at the Nokia Theatre. "I had to decide whether I could handle it while still doing eight shows a week in Mamma Mia!," says Carmello, who's in the middle of her second stint as Donna Sheridan in the popular musical. "They asked both me and my husband, Gregg Edelman, to do Rags at the same time, and he definitely wanted to play Nathan. I think it's fun for him to play a bad guy, and we don't get to work together much anymore. So I said yes."
Another factor for Carmello in taking the role is her longtime fondness for the show. "I actually saw it during its Boston tryout, while I was up there doing Little Shop of Horrors," she recalls. "I was at the performance where Teresa Stratas played Rebecca for only the first act; when the curtain rose on the second act, it was Christine Andreas. The show had a big impact on me. The story is in all of our fibers; I had relatives who came to this country through Ellis Island." Still, Carmello had largely forgotten about the show over the years, and she has sung only one of its numbers on a previous occasion: "When I was doing Falsettos, someone asked if I wanted to be a part of a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. I'm not someone who cares about politics, so it didn't matter. But then they told me they wanted me to sing 'Blame It on the Summer Night' with Charles [Strouse] at the piano, and I said 'sign me up.'"
Carmello, who can also be seen in animated form in an oft-airing Charles Schwab commercial, is contracted to stay with Mamma Mia! through next September -- and that's fine with her. "I still have a lot of fun playing Donna and I can't complain about being in such a crowd-pleasing show. Plus, I get to be funny and sad, and I have a great 11 o'clock number. I'm the opposite of most actors; I hate rehearsing, but I like the stability of eight shows a week." Given that real-life marrieds Michele Pawk and John Dossett played Donna and her love interest Sam earlier this year, has Carmello considered recruiting Edelman for the role of Sam? "Not yet. But if I decide to stay longer than a year, I may try to talk him into it," she says with a laugh.
Keir Dullea has been interested in science since his childhood, and he starred in one of the the greatest science fiction movies of all time, 2001: A Space Odyssey. So he was in many ways a natural casting choice for Carole Buggé's Strings, which will begin performances on December 13 at the 78th Street Theatre Lab. "The play is what I call scientific fiction," says Dullea. "It's based on the lives of three real physicists, but it's about this totally imagined trip they take to London to see the play Copenhagen. Carole has set up a wonderful dramatic situation, and I was really attracted by her dialogue. It's very actable -- not just some dry scientific treatise."
The show also offers Dullea the chance to work with his wife, former Tony nominee Mia Dillon, who plays his onstage spouse. "I recommended her for the part," he says proudly. "We first met during a summer production of Private Lives that was being directed by my now-late-wife Susie Fuller. We all hit it off and kept in touch for a while. Then, about two months after Susie died in 1998, I ran into Mia on the Upper West Side and our friendship eventually turned into something more romantic."
The couple not only enjoys working together; they know what to leave on stage. "We actually went into rehearsal for a production of Deathtrap a week after we got married -- and, in that play, I got to kill her off every night," Dullea says with a laugh. "But I think it's an advantage to be in the same show. You get great ideas all day, not just on the stage, and this way you can bounce them off each other at any time."
OUT AND ABOUT
New York's theaters and cabarets have been full of celebrities over the past two weeks: The beautiful Elizabeth Berkley-Lauren and Carla Gugino at The Vertical Hour; Brooke Adams, Michael Greif, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and David Pittu at The Voysey Inhertitance; Christian Campbell at the opening of The Big Voice: God or Merman?; Oscar winner Goldie Hawn at Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me; Oprah's best pal Gayle King (looking cozy alongside Newark mayor Corey Booker), longtime couple Mario Cantone and Jerry Dixon, and Tony-winning director George C. Wolfe at a VIP screening of the movie musical Dreamgirls at Loews 42nd Street. (King later showed up to see the film again at its star-studded official premiere on December 4.)
Meanwhile, Joe Mantello, Jessica Stone, and Horatio Sanz were among the revelers at the opening night of Gutenberg! The Musical! (co-starring Stone's super-talented hubby Christopher Fitzgerald); cabaret favorites Julie Wilson, Julie Gold, Jeff Harnar, Maude Maggart, Anna Bergman, and Barbara Brussell came out to salute the peerless Andrea Marcovicci at a special bash to celebrate her 20th anniversary of performing at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room; and Neil Sedaka dropped into Feinstein's at the Regency for the opening night of club owner Michael Feinstein's delightful show, Home for the Holidays.
GRANT ME THIS
Seeing stars at the legendary eateries Sardi's is hardly uncommon, but the crowd was unusually stellar on December 7, when the American Theatre Wing honored 53 not-for-profit NYC theaters -- with checks, no less -- at its 50th Annual Grants Luncheon. In addition to slew of worthy artistic directors and theater executives, the who's-who guest list included Lucie Arnaz, Ed Bullins, David Cale, Kathleen Chalfant, Kirsten Childs, Michael Cumpsty, André DeShields, Olympia Dukakis, Eve Ensler, Johnny Galecki, Dana Ivey, Byron Jennings, Laurence Luckinbill, Bob Martin, Joe Morton, Cynthia Nixon, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Marian Seldes, and Fritz Weaver. Perhaps the happiest celebrity on hand was Company star Barbara Walsh, who personally handed the ATW grant to her husband, Transport Group artistic director Jack Cummings III.
WHO, WHAT, AND WHERE Author Gary D. Cole will do a reading and signing of his book Artless: The Odyssey of a Republican Cultural Creative on Monday, December 11 at New York's Drama Book Shop; that same night, Duncan Sheik and the cast of Spring Awakening, Gerry McIntrye, and James Lescene will participate in the benefit concert Coming Together at NYC's Greenwich House; Eleasha Gamble, Will Gartshore, Donna Miglaccio, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Stephen Gregory Smith, and Harry Winter will be featured in Signature Theatre's The Last Garage Hurrah concert, December 13-16; former Sweeney Todd stars Donna Lynne Champlin and Manoel Felciano will headline the Broadway at the St. Lawerence Holiday Concert, December 14-17 in Portland, Maine; and Brian Charles Rooney and Luis Villabon will co-star in the new musical Twist, co-written by Scissors Sisters songwriter Paul Leschen, starting December 14 at the Kraine.
Moving along, jazz great John Pizzarelli will sing selections from his new CD Dear Mr. Sinatra at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, December 15-16; Lauren Bacall and director Sidney Lumet will participate in a talkback following a benefit screening of Lumet's Oscar-winning film Murder on the Orient Express at Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theater on December 16; and Liz Larsen, Chip Zien, and John Henry Cox will star in a free reading of the new musical By the Numbers at the Players Theatre on December 18.
As the month winds down, Julian Fleisher, Alyson Palmer, Alice Playten, and Steven Rattazzi are among the artists set to perform in the Hourglass Group's presentation of 365 Days/365 Plays, Week 6 at the D-Lounge Cabaret on December 20; that dynamic, dysfunctional duo Kiki and Herb will offer a special holiday show at the Bowery Ballroom on December 20; and Broadway favorite Nancy Anderson will be the guest vocalist at A Blairstown Holiday Spectacular: Bach to Broadway on Saturday, December 30 in Blairstown, New Jersey.