"LIFE UPON the wicked stage ain't ever what a girl supposes. Stage door Johnny's outraging over you with gems and roses/When you let a fella take your hand, which means an extra beer or sandwich. ... Wild old men who give you jewels and sables only live in Aesop's fables/Life upon the wicked stage is nothin' for a girl."
So goes the old Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein ditty from "Showboat."
STILL, some girls prefer beer and sandwiches, because there are other compensations. For example, gorgeous Vanessa Williams, who steps into the acclaimed revue "After Midnight" on April 1. (Toni Braxton and Babyface Edmonds have just joined in "special guest" spots.) Vanessa is taking over from the great k.d. lang, who filled that role for about a month, and brilliantly, I hear.
I never had the chance to see k.d., which I regret. She is one of the most brilliant, distinctive singers of her time -- of all time! Her output is below the radar, mostly. She works for a small label and doesn't allow herself, or her work, to be over-publicized. But she's not above the grand gesture.
Toward the end of her run in "After Midnight" a fan sent a note to the press people, asking that if k.d. came out at the end of the show and sang her masterful rendition of "Hallelujah" he (the fan) would contribute $10,000 to the Actors Fund. She did, brought down the house and made 10 grand for the Actors Fund.
But, when a similar request -- for a $20,000 charity donation -- came with the request for k.d. to sing Roy Orbison's "Crying," which she made her own 20 years ago, k.d. refused. "I've retired that song. I'll never sing it again." Too bad. Not even Orbison got what k.d. did out of that slow-building ballad. Sometimes even the most intelligent and talented performers don't know what's best for them -- or their fans. But maybe "Crying" reminds her too much of her "country" period, which was artistically splendid, but not always a happy time for the star.
IN LONDON, another lady who has made life upon the wicked stage a smashing success is the legend Angela Lansbury. She has received rave reviews for her performance as Madame Arcati, the dizzy mystic in a new production of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit." This is the 88-year-old Lansbury's return to the London stage after a 40-year absence. (She collected five Tony Awards in the U.S., in productions as varied as "Mame," "Dear World," "Gypsy," "Sweeney Todd" and, in 2009, "Blithe Spirit.")
And the honors keep on coming. On September 15, the American Theatre Wing honors Dame Angela at its annual gala, at The Plaza Hotel. Call 212-765-0606. And on October 14 Miss Lansbury receives the 2014 Rolex Dance Award at the Career Transition for Dancers event. Call 212-581-1212. Both of these New York nights are traditionally star-packed and loaded with splendid entertainment. But Angela's presence at both provides an extra sheen.
To think, this was the woman whom Hollywood had no idea what to do with, and whom television denied an Emmy, despite numerous nominations. (She was also nominated for three Oscars. Hollywood finally gave her an honorary statuette this year, although heaven forbid they should have allowed her to accept in person on Oscar Night itself!)
Life upon the wicked stage might be "nothin' for a girl, but for a woman like Angela Lansbury, it brought her to full bloom, and her petals haven't yet fallen!
THIS N' THAT -- Sure hope I get around to seeing the latest Roundabout Theatre Company revival of "Cabaret" with Alan Cumming as the wicked Master of Ceremonies and movie actress Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles. It opens April 24. The buzz on this Sam Mendes/Rob Marshall production has been hot. And who doesn't want to hear those dark and brilliant John Kander-Fred Ebb music and lyrics, with a great book by Joe Masteroff?
Speaking of cabaret, one of its most treasured fixtures, Baby Jane Dexter returns to Manhattan's Metropolitan Room for two shows only, April 18 and 25. Her show, "More Rules of the Road" was ecstatically reviewed the first time it played the Metropolitan Room. Call 212-206-0440.
Last but by no means least, the legendary Barbara Cook, brilliant Broadway ingenue-turned-concert artiste, will be honored on May 16 by the Drama League with the Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theatre Award. This happens at the Marriott Marquis in New York. Call 212-695-7400.
ENDTHOUGHT: Just when we thought CNN had plumbed the lowest depths in its nonstop coverage of the Malaysian plane tragedy, the network last week went into subterranean bad taste. They turned it into a grisly quiz show, with so-called anchors taking Twitter questions from -- I am sorry to say -- rather idiotic people, with idiotic "theories." It became rather jovial, although some of the "experts," who felt obliged to answer these queries, looked a little sick to their stomachs.
But this didn't stop the CNN guys from going: "Oh, and for this one, we'll give it toooo...."
All that was missing was a buzzer and an announcement of a "winner." Just disgraceful.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
Broadway babies -- Vanessa Williams ... k.d. lang ... Angela Lansbury ... Michelle Williams ... Barbara Cook ... Baby Jane Dexter
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