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Posts Tagged ‘“Guys and Dolls”’

Chita Rivera is a living legend and I’m thrilled and honored to have her as part of “Adaumbelle’s Quest.” I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to see Chita on Broadway in “Nine” and “Chita Rivera: A Dancer’s Life.”  Both experiences were special for different reasons. “Nine” was my very first time getting to see Chita live on stage and “Chita Rivera: A Dancer’s Life” allowed me to really learn about her life, which I found thrilling. I feel very fortunate to now have the opportunity to interview the one and only Chita Rivera!

An accomplished and versatile actress/singer/dancer, Chita Rivera has won two Tony Awards as Best Leading Actress in a Musical and received seven additional Tony nominations. She recently starred in the Broadway and touring productions of The Dancer’s Life, a dazzling new musical celebrating her spectacular career, written by Terence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele. Chita was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on August 12, 2009. She received the coveted Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, DC in December, 2002, and is the first Hispanic ever chosen to receive this award.

On October 13, 2009, Chita released a new solo studio CD entitled AND NOW I SWING (Yellow Sound label), which pays homage to her stage legacy while also displaying her passion for jazz. From classic theater songs to jazz standards, all tracks featured on this new album have received new arrangements recorded by New York’s finest musicians, reimagining some of Chita’s favorite tunes.

This past Spring, Chita recreated her starring role in The Visit, the new Kander/Ebb/McNally musical at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, which originally premiered at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago in 2001. Her more recent stage appearances include starring roles in the revival of the musical Nine with Antonio Banderas on Broadway; The House of Bernarda Alba at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles; Venecia, a new Argentinean play directed by Arthur Laurents at the George Street Playhouse; Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes at Paper Mill Playhouse. She also starred in the London, Las Vegas and Toronto productions of Chicago-The Musical.

For her starring role in Kiss of the Spider Woman on Broadway, Chita received the 1993 Tony Award as Best Leading Actress in a Musical, as well as the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Achievement as an Actress in a Musical, the Outer Critics Circle Award as Outstanding Actress in a Musical, the Drama League Award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre and The Astaire Award honoring outstanding achievement in Broadway Dance. Chita first played the role of the Spider Woman in the Toronto production of the show in 1992, receiving unanimous acclaim.  She then repeated her triumph in the fall of 1992 in the London production of Spider Woman, which won The Evening Standard Award as Best Musical of the Year. This was followed by the Broadway and touring productions.

Chita’s performing aspirations began with ballet training at the age of 11 in her native Washington, DC. Five years later, Chita moved to New York, where she auditioned for legendary choreographer George Balanchine. Balanchine of course recognized Chita’s talent and gave her a scholarship to the American School of Ballet, where she began taking classes at the same time as the dancers Edward Villella, Melissa Hayden, Allegra Kent and Maria Tallchief.

As an aspiring 17 year-old ballerina, Chita decided to accompany a friend to an audition for the chorus of Call Me Madam. Although she had no serious intention of pursuing a part in the show, Chita was cast as a principal dancer, and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. The ballet world’s loss was Broadway’s gain — a future legend’s theater career was born.

After completing a cross-country tour of Call Me Madam, Chita returned to New York to replace Onna White as a principal dancer in Guys and Dolls. Following Guys and Dolls, Chita joined the cast of the original Broadway company of Can-Can, in which her future co-star, Gwen Verdon, first achieved stardom.

Chita then went Off-Broadway to prove that she could do more than dance, doing so to great acclaim with her amazing performance in Ben Bagley’s Shoestring Revue, in which she did the very first Marilyn Monroe impersonation. Her co-stars in The Shoestring Revue included Beatrice Arthur and Arte Johnson.

Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

Chita then returned to Broadway as a featured performer in Seventh Heaven, choreographed by Peter Gennaro; and Mr. Wonderful, starring Sammy Davis, Jr.

But it was not until September 26, 1957 that Chita made the transition from accomplished Broadway performer to a toast of the town Broadway star with her electric performance as Anita in the Broadway premiere of West Side Story. Chita then took some time off for the birth of her daughter, Lisa. Chita had met and married Lisa’s father, dancer Tony Mordente, during the run of West Side Story.

Chita then went on to star in the London production of West Side Story, which had been postponed until Chita was ready to perform after Lisa’s birth. Chita’s New York success was repeated in London, and she stayed with the show there for a year. She then returned to Broadway to star as Rosie with Dick Van Dyke in the new musical, Bye Bye Birdie, in which she led the show-stopping number “Shriner’s Ballet.” Her rousing performance earned a Tony nomination as Best Actress. Chita then reprised her role in the London production of Bye Bye Birdie at Her Majesty’s Theatre, where she first achieved London stardom in West Side Story.

Back in the US, her triumphant performance as Jenny in the national tour of The Threepenny Opera, was soon followed by the title role in the national tour of Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity. Chita was also cast in the film version of Sweet Charity, in which she played Nicky opposite Shirley MacLaine. During the filming of Sweet Charity, Chita fell in love with Los Angeles and decided to make it her home for the next seven years.

But touring theatre successes often took her from home. She played Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday and Serafina in The Rose Tattoo; she toured opposite John Raitt in Zorba; and she extended her range in such productions as Kiss Me Kate, opposite Hal Linden,  Jacques Brel.…, and Oliver Hailey’s Father’s Day. All of these productions and other projects had kept Chita away from Broadway for eight years, far too long according to her friends and colleagues Fred Ebb, John Kander, and Bob Fosse. So they lured Chita back to New York to star as Velma Kelly, opposite Gwen Verdon, in their new musical, Chicago.

Photo by Walter McBride

But as soon as she arrived in New York, Chita discovered that Chicago‘s rehearsals had been postponed because director/choreographer Fosse was ill. It was then that Fred Ebb, who had written a highly-successful nightclub act for  Chita in the 60’s, went to work on another for her until Fosse recovered. She opened to rave reviews and capacity crowds.

Chicago opened to glorious reviews and Chita and Gwen Verdon were the toast of Broadway (1975). Both received Tony nominations as Best Actress. During the run of Chicago, Chita co-starred with Liza Minnelli for the first time, when Ms. Minnelli subbed for five weeks for an ailing Gwen Verdon.

Chita’s fourth and fifth Tony nominations as Best Actress came in the early 80’s with her performances opposite Donald O’Connor in Bring Back Birdie and then as the Evil Queen in Merlin, opposite Doug Henning. But it was not until 1984, when she re-united with Liza Minnelli in John Kander and Fred Ebb’s new musical, The Rink, that Chita finally won her Tony as Best Actress, along with the Drama Desk Award. Chita returned to Broadway again shortly after The Rink in Jerry’s Girls, co-starring with Leslie Uggams and Dorothy Loudon. In 1988, Chita toured the country (and Japan) in Can-Can, co-starring the Radio City Musical Hall Rockettes. In 2003 she received her sixth Tony nomination for Nine.

Chita’s critically-acclaimed concert dates continued to play to ovations from packed houses around the world in such cities as New York, London, Monte Carlo, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Toronto, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Cannes, Chicago and San Juan among many others.

Chita has been seen regularly on television, beginning with early appearances on every major show emanating from New York including Dinah Shore, Garry Moore, Judy Garland, Carol Burnett and Ed Sullivan. Other television credits include Will & Grace, Pippin (Showtime), Kennedy Center Tonight, Broadway Plays Washington, her own Chita Plus Three (HBO), The New Dick Van Dyke Show and Live From Wolftrap. Chita is also particularly proud of her participation in the National Theater of the Deaf’s presentation of The Road to Cordoba.

Photo by Laura Marie Duncan

Chita, who now lives in Westchester County, New York, names her daughter, singer/dancer/choreographer, Lisa Mordente, as her most treasured production.

On Thursday, February 17, you can catch Chita live on stage in a special edition of “Jim Caruso’s Cast Party” at Town Hall in New York City (123 West 43rd Street) as a special benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS along with Christopher Sieber, Sally Mayes, Marilyn Maye, YouTube sensation “Miranda Sings,” jazz singer Hilary Kole, R&B tenor William Blake, jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein, Natalie Douglas, Klea Blackhurst, acrobat and comedian Rudi Macaggi, and the Dueling Fiddlers. For tickets, click here!

1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? My mother Katherine.

2. Who is the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? Carlos Santana.

3. What do you get from performing in a concert that you don’t get from performing in a Broadway show? A more personal intimate relationship with the audience.

4. What’s your proudest moment? Receiving the Presidential Medal Of Freedom from President Barrack Obama, it was thrilling just to meet them.

5. Was there ever a time you thought about quitting? If so, what career would you have chosen? No, but if so, working with children around the world.

6. Favorite place to rehearse/practice for a show/concert on your own? Ripley Greer, 35th and 8th Ave.

7. Favorite way to stay in shape? Take class, and exercise with a fellow dancer.

8. Favorite skin care product? Leaf and Rusher skin care.

9. Favorite website? Don’t use a computer.

10.What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? ” Stay in your own lane, focus and enjoy your work, given by my dearest friend Fred Ebb.

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On Saturday, November 27, 2010, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing cellist Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf, direct from the pit of “A Little Night Music.” What makes this interview so special to me is that I’ve known Mairi since I was 15, when we met at Buck’s Rock Camp in New Milford, CT, at which time her kindness and friendship meant a lot to a boy trying to find his way. It was quite exciting for me when we reconnected in 2002 as I saw her exit the stage door at “The Boy From Oz.” And now to be able add this kind of dynamic to our friendship is a real treat for me. Mairi has been a fixture in Broadway orchestra pits since her debut in “The Boy From Oz.” She has played in the orchestra pits of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “LoveMusik,” “Sunday In The Park With George,” “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Bye Bye Birdie,” and currently “A Little Night Music” which is running through January 9 at the Walter Kerr Theatre (219 West 48th Street, between Broadway & 8th Ave).

On Sunday, December 19 at 8:30pm at Cornelia Street Cafe (29 Corneila Street, Greenwich Village, NYC) you can catch Mairi playing cello in “Joni and Johannes” (the music of Joni Mitchell and Johannes Brahms) along with Simon Mulligan on piano, and Randy Landau on bass with special guest vocalists Jessica Molaskey (“A Man of No Importance,” “Parade,” “Tommy,” “Crazy For You,” “Les Miserables,” “Cats,” “Sunday In The Park With George,” etc) and Mary Beth Peil (“The Good Wife,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Nine,” “Sunday In The Park With George,” “Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”). For just $15 + one drink minimum, you will get a real opportunity to see accomplished musicians and performers live up close and personal! For reservations call 212-989-9319.

1. Who or what inspired you to become a cellist? It was my cello teacher in high school, Nancy Green, who I also went on to study with in college. I went to a music boarding high school, so I was away from home and lonely, and her style of teaching was so expressive. She taught us about the connection to every note, the vibrato, the tone, what you were trying to say, what the emotion was, what part of your body the note came from – were you trying to sound like an alto voice or a tenor? With all the different types of tones and voices, I often came up with a storyline to go with what I was playing. Discovering what I could do by holding one note on the cello was exciting, and cathartic. I often think about that time in my life when I play “Miller’s Son” here at “A Little Night Music” because that first “B” that you hold for a long time is like yeah, this is what I dug about cello when I was fifteen. I moved to the US for graduate school and had another phenomenal teacher, Judith Glyde, who gave me the confidence to go out and actually work. Then I started playing shows and it all made sense…that emotional story telling feel.

There’s a masterclass of Sondheim teaching “Later” that was filmed at my undergraduate school (some time in the 80s, I think). It’s odd to know that so many years after being there, I’d be trying to express the quality he’s talking to the singer about in “Later” and I’d be trying to bring that to “A Little Night Music.”

1a. What was your first Broadway show that you played here in NYC? “The Boy From Oz” although I moved here to play “The Last Five Years,” which I had played first in Chicago. Me: I had no idea that you played that show, I saw it quite a few times, but it was “Boy From Oz” that I saw you at the stage door and we reconnected. Mairi: Yeah, it’s an amazing community that we are in because we see each other again and again, even though it’s nerve-racking when the shows keep closing… but the energy keeps going!

2. Who’s the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? Joni Mitchell, although even saying her name makes me a little breathless so I couldn’t imagine working with her! But that would be incredible. Me: You never know…whenever I ask this question I always put the person’s name in the tag so you never know who from Joni’s team might see this. Mairi: During that time in undergrad it was the music of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Sting that I listened to when I wasn’t practicing. It was such an aggressively competitive classical environment, that I spent my downtime listening to their music. I actually worked with Sting recently and got to tell him that without “Soul Cages” I don’t know that I would be a musician.

3. If you couldn’t be doing what you are doing now, what career would you choose? That’s hard because I really like this. I guess I’ve thought about law every now and then. I was in graduate school for a really, really, really long time and at some point in that process I realized I could have gotten a law degree…hahaha.

4. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? So much…There was a line in “Cast Away,” which I thought was in the movie, “You never know what the tide is going to wash up tomorrow,” although I’m not sure he ever actually said that! The idea is that you’ve just got to have faith that something good is going to wash up tomorrow. This gig, “A Little Night Music” is a spectacular job and it’s hard not to get depressed that we have only 6 more weeks – to believe that there will be something just as great. You see where we are and how much space we have. It’s such an incredible environment, not to mention playing for Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch every day. I have a little TV screen on my stand so that I can follow Hunter (Ryan Herdlicka) when he’s playing the cello on stage. Plus it’s run for over a year and I’ve never had a show run that long. You just gotta hope that there will be something else!

5. What’s your proudest moment? Anytime I get to play with my husband. He’s a saxophone doubler. Me: Have you ever played a job together? Mairi: Yeah, he’s played here at “Night Music”. We haven’t had a show together, but we’ve played shows together when one of us has been subbing. Outside of shows, we’ve done various gigs together. It’s fun, ’cause he works in the ‘other side’ of the orchestra (reeds/brass), so I’ve gotten to know a lot of those guys through him.

6. Favorite place to rehearse on your own? Somewhere that is cushiony with carpeting and tons of pillows. Anything that soaks up the sounds so I can hear everything, so when I go and play, I won’t be surprised by any little sound. To be honest I don’t like to practice. It’s a necessary evil. There are some people who want to practice every day, but I never felt that way.

7. Favorite way to spend your day off? At home, sleeping, watching TV, knitting, eating, and hanging with my husband.

8. Favorite skin care product? Cetaphil and Shea Butter (in the winter). I sadly don’t use any of those fancy skin care items.

9. Favorite website? Facebook. I’m hooked on it. At this point I have friends all over the world and it’s pretty cool to be able to keep in touch with them so easily and see what they are up to.

10. Superman or Wonder Woman? Wonder Woman of course!

BONUS QUESTIONS:

11. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that nobody knows about? I can be an archer (you know with a bow and arrow). Me: Like Geena Davis. Mairi: Sure, but I don’t know that I have her strength. Those bows are heavy and super tension-filled, and my elbow sticks out a bit so it’s tricky when the string comes back after you release the arrow…

12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Dreaming at all would be great. Last night I watched the PBS Sondheim Gala before I went to sleep and oh my gosh, they had those six incredible women come on stage in those stunning bright red gowns: Elaine Stritch, Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, etc. One after another they stood up and sang and after watching that special I was wide awake until 5:30am. I’m looking at 2 shows today on 4 hours of sleep…haha

13. When one of the cast members are out during a show, how does that affect you as a musician in the show? It depends. Sometimes if there’s a different key, we’ll pull out a different part depending on their range, but as to the timing, it’s all up to the conductor because they are the ones leading and making those choices. The great thing about this show, particularly with Elaine Stritch, is that you get a different theatrical performance each time and I love that.

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If you’re looking for an album to lose yourself in, then I’d suggest picking up Jane Krakowski’s “The Laziest Gal In Town,” recorded at her 2009 Feinstein’s at the Regency cabaret debut. This live recording feels as if you’ve been whisked out of your seat and transported to Feinstein’s at the Regency, one of the most intimate and personable nightclubs in New York City.

With a beautiful voice and controlled belt, Jane knows how to deliver a tune and interact with the audience using her humor, sensuality, and sultriness at just the right moments. “The Laziest Gal In Town,” “I’m Old Fashioned/Old Fashioned Girl,” and “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” allow Jane’s pristine voice to sparkle. Bringing out her more humorous/fun side are the tunes “A Little Brains, A Little Talent,” “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” “When I Get Low I Get High/Wacky Dust,” “Rubber Duckie,” and “Tweet,” a song written specifically for Jane by Scott Whitman and fellow “Adaumbelle’s Quest” participant Marc Shaiman to the tune of “Zip” from “Pal Joey.” Jane sings about the infusion of twitter into everyday life along with announcing the latest celebrity headlines that were taking place during the time of recording. “An Englishman Needs Time,”  “My Handy Man,” and “Thirteen Men” brings out Jane sultriness & sensuality.

Far from being “The Laziest Gal In Town,” Jane has entertained audiences on such hit television shows as “Ally McBeal” and “30 Rock” as well as on stage “Guys and Dolls,” the 2003 Broadway revival of “Nine” (for which she won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Muscial) and at Encores! “Damn Yankees” (which starred Cheyenne Jackson). Now would be the perfect time to expand your love for Jane Krakowski and purchase “The Laziest Gal In Town.” Both relaxing and upbeat, this feel good album is one for your collection.

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When two-time Tony Award Nominee, Mary Testa takes the stage, the audience takes notice, whether it’s her impeccable comedic timing or beautiful singing voice including a belt that knocks the roof off. It’s no wonder she was nominated for her roles in the Broadway revivals of “42nd Street” and “On The Town.” Her other Broadway credits include “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,” “Barnum,” “The Rink,” “Marilyn,” “Chicago,” “Marie Christine,” “Xanadu,” and the 2009 revival of “Guys and Dolls.” Mary has also delighted audiences Off-Broadway in such shows as “See What I Wanna See,” “First Lady Suite,” “String of Pearls,” “The Vagina Monologues,” “From Above,” “A New Brain”, and “In Trousers.” She was also a series regular on NBC’s “Whoopi” and guest starred on HBO’s “Sex and the City.” Mary can currently be seen in the Off-Broadway revival of “Measure for Measure” (also starring fellow “Adaumbelle’s Quest” participant Jefferson Mays) playing at The Duke on 42nd Street in New York City (229 West 42nd Street between 7th & 8th Ave).

1. Who inspired you to become a performer? Marcel Marceau.

2. What is the highest and lowest note you sing? high c (with my arms over my head) and low a.

3. Who is the one person you haven’t worked with that you would like to? Luis Bunuel (unfortunately, he is dead).

4. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? Probably God.

5. Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts? What do you order? Actually, I order decaf coffee from both.

6. Favorite play/musical? Play: A tie between “The Ruling Class” & “Comedians.”  Musical: Anything by Michael John Lachiusa &  Floyd Collins.

7. Favorite store to shop in? Berdorf’s during the shoe sale, and Lord and Taylor.

8. Favorite way to spend your day off? Shopping.

9. Favorite website? dilsted.com and awfulplasticsurgery.com.

10. “Mary” or “Rhoda”? Rhoda.

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