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Loose Lips

Brian chit-chats with Judith Ivey, Vivian Reed, and Tom Gibbons, and finds himself at the theater with Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Jackman. logo
Judith Ivey
Last fall, when Yeardley Smith's agent suggested another of his clients to direct the actress's first solo show, Yeardley Smith: More (now playing at the Union Square Theatre), it was hardly a case of mere favoritism. The director in question is Judith Ivey, the two-time Tony-winning actress and star of the recent hit solo show Women on Fire.

So, what words of wisdom has Ivey imparted to Smith -- best known for voicing Lisa on TV's The Simpsons -- as they work together? "I've told her that audiences have different personalities, and you have to learn to live with them," says Ivey. "Just because they're quieter doesn't mean they don't like you; you have to trust yourself and not cave in to fear. I also remind her every day that if you do screw up, you get to come back tomorrow and do it all again!"

Ivey will get another chance to practice what she preaches this fall when she plays Martha Mitchell in John Jeter's one-person play Dirty Tricks at The Public Theater. "It's a pretty amazing piece; I've carried it around for several years, but then life takes over and distracts you," says the self-proclaimed "Watergate junkie". She credits her director, Margaret Whitton, with getting the play to The Public, but it turns out to be a perfect match. "George C. Wolfe is also obssessed with Martha," Ivey notes. "He even wanted to write an opera about her. So this satisfies both of our obsessions."

Anyone familiar with the extraordinary vocal talents of two-time Tony nominee Vivian Reed will be surprised to learn that she originally turned down the chance to be part of Three Mo' Divas, a new musical revue that mixes opera, pop, jazz, blues, gospel and show tunes. The show begins a five-week run at San Diego Rep on Friday (with two alternating casts).

Reed says that she felt "unprepared" to sing opera despite her early training. "I started learning classical music when I was 8," she tells me. "By 13, I was singing in three languages, and I entered Juilliard at 17 on a scholarship. I was expected to be the next Leontyne Price and I was ready for it. But, the summer of my third year, I decided to perform at a resort in North Carolina and one of my teachers tried to get me fired because he didn't think it was serious work. When that didn't happen, I got a letter from the school telling me not to come back. So I didn't -- and that's when I switched my focus to theater music."

After a quick lesson from her longtime vocal coach, Reed informed "Divas" creator Marion J. Caffey that she could handle the show's arias -- albeit in mezzo-soprano keys -- and she took the job. The pair are now also planning to work together on another ladies-only revue entitled Charisma, with Lillias White, Stephanie Pope, and Tsidii Le Loka.

Quit your complaining about there being no new musicals by young composers. You're just not looking -- or listening -- hard enough. On Monday, March 15, Peter Mills's splendid Illyria -- based on the Bard's Twelfth Night -- gets a benefit reading at the Lucille Lortel starring Gavin Creel, Daniel Jenkins, Megan McGinnis, and Barrett Foa. That same evening at Joe's Pub, singers Aimee Steele and Robert Mannis will perform the works of six up-and-coming composers including Lance Horne and Georgia Stitt (a.k.a. Mrs. Jason Robert Brown).

Dreams This Way, which runs at TADA March 18-April 3, is an octet of 10-minute musicals created by such diverse artists as Emmy-winning comedy writer David Javerbaum, composer Jenny Giering, actor Gavin Esham, and Nuclear Family co-creator Jimmy Bennett. On March 29, Wallenberg, a new musical by Benjamin Rosenbluth, Lawrence Holtzman, and Felicia Needleman about the Swedish World War II hero Raoul Wallenberg, will be presented by The New Voices Collective at Symphony Space. And CAP21's upcoming Monday Night Reading series will feature two musicals, including Paul Loesel's and Scott Burkell's much-anticipated Six of One on April 12.

Finally, the MAC/ASCAP Songwriters' Showcase, to be held March 24 at the Lighthouse, will offer a chance to hear this year's MAC-nominated songs. Hosted by Jamie deRoy, it will also feature an interview with David Zippel -- a past Oscar nominee and a Tony Award winner for City of Angels -- whose new musical Princesses is getting a private Manhattan reading next week.

Rare is the playwright who gets even one of his works produced in any given season. So imagine Tom Gibbons's delight in learning that his newest play, Permanent Collection -- based on the controversy surrounding the Barnes Collection, an unusual museum near Philadelphia -- would have a five-week run starting March 19 at Palm Beach's Florida Stage and that his 1999 work Bee-Luther-Hatchee would finally receive its New York premiere at the Blue Heron, March 12-April 4.

Drawing inspiration from a real-life incident in Australia, Bee-Luther-Hatchee tells of an African-American book editor (played by the marvelous Perri Gaffney) who discovers that the author of an award-winning memoir she published is not an elderly Southern black woman but, instead, is a middle-aged white guy. The story resonates with Gibbons, who is white but often writes about African-Americans. "It all goes to the question of authenticity, the question of whether you need to be part of one culture to write about that culture," he says. "Does anyone really have the right to own history, or do all human experiences belong to all of us?"

Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Jackman and wife Deborah-Lee Furness, and director Marcia Milgrim Dodge at last Friday's invited dress rehearsal for New York City Opera's Sweeney Todd...Blair Brown, Kathleen Chalfant, Stephen Bogardus, John Rothman, and costume designer Willa Kim applauding Christopher Plummer at Sunday's performance of King Lear...Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, Helen Gurley and David Brown, Liz and Ann Hampton Callaway, Harvey Evans, and NY Giants star Tiki Barber gracing Rita Moreno's sensational opening night at Feinstein's. (Missing the festivities was Rosie Perez, who jetted off at the last minute to film the final episode of Frasier. Could she be Maris?)

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