The latest on Isabel Keating (a.k.a. Judy Garland), Brenda Braxton, Patti LuPone, and Manu Narayan.
When Isabel Keating learned to sing like Judy Garland for her starring role in a 1995 production of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, the actress figured it would be her first and last time utilizing that particular skill. Wrong! Not only does she play the late, great diva in The Boy From Oz, but Keating will also be "heard" as Garland on American Masters: Judy Garland: By Myself, which premieres on PBS on Wednesday, February 25. "I hope the television audience won't be able to tell when it's Judy and when it's me," says Keating, who took the dubbing gig -- she will be heard speaking as Garland but not singing -- only after ascertaining that the documentary would focus primarily on Garland's career and was authorized by the singer's family. Keating even learned something new about her Broadway alter-ego: "I hadn't fully realized what her relationship with [future husband] Vincente Minnelli was like while they were filming Meet Me In St. Louis. Judy didn't like the dailies at first but she really came around." Lucky for Liza, huh?
DREAMS COME TRUE
It's highly unusual for the founder of a theater company to be late to one of his own opening nights, but Manu Nurayan -- whose year-old Rasa Theater is presenting two one-acts, Eugene O'Neill's little-known Abortion and Sarovar Banka's comedy The End of the Apurnas, at the Studio Theater through February 22 -- had a very good excuse. Nurayan had just finished a promotional event for the upcoming Broadway musical Bombay Dreams, in which he has landed the lead role of Akaash, a slum dweller turned Bollywood movie star. So, does he think that producer Andrew Lloyd Webber has another megahit on his hands? "I know I am going to have a lot of fun," he replies, "but I don't know yet if the show will be wildly successful. I will say that the music by A.R. Rahmann is different than anything on Broadway right now; it's so wonderfully melodic. And the entire cast is top-notch." Nurayan also believes that Bombay Dreams can bridge a cultural gap: "I hope that both South Asians and non-Asians can enjoy it. I believe the story will speak to a wide range of people."
LONE STAR TURN
It's only fitting that, during Black History Month, two of the traditionally white leads in Chicago -- the roles of Velma Kelly and Billy Flynn -- are being played by two of our most talented African-American performers, Brenda Braxton and Norm Lewis. And fans of "color-blind" casting can rejoice in these stars' next projects: Lewis will take on the role of Nick (opposite old pal La Chanze) in the Paper Mill revival of Baby, beginning March 31; and the glamorous Braxton says that her next star turn will be in the long-awaited musical Lone Star Love, which should hit New York this fall. She'll play Mistress Quickly in this Texas-flavored adaptation of Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor. "It's so silly, so funny," Braxton enthuses. "It's really what we need right now; we did it in Cleveland right after 9/11 and people just weren't receptive to it. It's one of my best characters since I get to sing, dance, and do comedy. And I didn't even have to audition for it! They asked for me, which is an actor's dream."
HEY, GOOD LOOKIN'
If you thought that the "food + theater = entertainment" craze had finally abated, think again. On February 20, Cookin', a South Korean variation on Iron Chef, makes a belated transfer to the Minetta Lane. (It played at the New Victory in the fall.) And, beginning March 30, The Supper Club will play host to an evening-long extravaganza aptly named Chef's Theatre. For a whopping $125 per person, you get to watch a superstar chef (a different one each week) cook a three-course meal -- which you actually get to eat -- while Broadway vets Paige Price, Shannon Lewis, and Jim Walton spice things up by singing some nifty, food-related songs. But wait, there's more: A different guest performer will be on hand weekly to provide post-dessert entertainment. The run begins with one of the prettiest pairings imaginable: superhunk chef Todd English (Olives) and former Miss America Kate Shindle. Featured in ensuing weeks will be the ultra-hot chefs Tom Valenti, Marcus Samuelsson, and David Burke, along with such red-hot performers as Adam Pascal, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Billy Porter, and the aforementioned La Chanze. We suggest buying some elastic pants pronto!
Fans of the LuPone family will have to clone themselves if they want to make an appearance at the supertalented siblings' seperate openings tonight. Patti begins a four-night run in the City Center Encores! production of Can-Can, while brother Robert begins a three-week run in Theater for a New Audience's production of Pericles at BAM, alongside OBIE winers Tim Hopper, Christopher McCann (both of whom are playing the Greek monarch), Kristine Nielsen, and Brenda Wehle. As if that isn't enough to keep Bobby busy, he will once more play Alfieri, the lawyer, in Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge. This go-round is a one-act version of the 1950s classic starring Danny Aiello, to be presented on February 25 as part of the "Food For Thought" lunch series at the National Arts Club. Looking ahead, Ms. Patti will spend three weeks in April at Feinstein's at the Regency in her new cabaret show, The Lady With the Torch.