Lost in the stars with Annaleigh Ashford

Apr 30

Lost in the stars with Annaleigh Ashford

Anyone who laments the lack of spectacular new Broadway stars need look no further than Annaleigh Ashford, a bona fide star if ever there was one. A Tony Award-winner for You Can't Take It with You and former star of Wicked, Kinky Boots and, most recently, Sunday in the Park with George opposite Jake Gyllenhaal, Ashford is smart, charismatic and so loaded with talent it's almost an embarrassment of riches.

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Judy Collins warbles Sondheim

Mar 01

Judy Collins warbles Sondheim

It's only logical that Judy Collins would end up doing a show devoted to the songs of Stephen Sondheim. The legendary American singer is, after all, the only one to deliver Sondheim an actual radio hit. Her version of his "Send in the Clowns" (from A Little Night Music) is his only radio hit – it was on the Billboard charts for 11 weeks in 1975, peaking at No. 36. Then, rather amazingly, Collins' recording charted again in 1977, peaking at No 19. The recording also nabbed a Grammy for song of the year.

Some three decades later, Collins, more gorgeous than ever at 75, is parlaying her success with "Clowns" into an entire act.

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Norm Lewis brings on the leading man charm

Oct 21

Norm Lewis brings on the leading man charm

More than two dozen songs and four standing ovations later, Norm Lewis has officially made his San Francisco splash. The Broadway leading man and golden-voiced baritone made his long-overdue Bay Area concert debut Sunday night at the Fairmont's Venetian Room as part of the Bay Area Cabaret's 10th anniversary season.

Most recently, the 50-year-old Lewis nabbed a Tony Award nomination opposite Audra McDonald in The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, but his impressive resume also includes Javert in the revival of Les Misèrables, King Triton in Disney's The Little Mermaid, the Sondheim revue Sondheim on Sondheim and Side Show. He also has a recurring role as a senator on ABC's "Scandal" and will be starring opposite Bernadette Peters and Jeremy Jordan in A Bed and a Chair conceived by Sondheim and Wynton Marsalis. So all of that to say: Norm Lewis has chops, and he's not afraid to use them.

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Lea Salonga: Broadway star, Disney princess, cabaret chanteuse

Sep 02

Lea Salonga: Broadway star, Disney princess, cabaret chanteuse

It’s the day after the Richmond-Ermet AIDS Foundation, and Lea Salonga, visiting family in the Bay Area, is still glowing because, at the curtain call, she got to hold hands with Shirley Jones.

“Some of the 20somethings there had no idea who Shirley Jones was,” Salonga says. “My jaw dropped on the floor. Come on, people! Watch a rerun of The Partridge Family at the very least. See Oklahoma! or Carousel! She has done Broadway and film and television and she still looks and sounds amazing. If you don’t know Shirley Jones, woe be to you. Those of us from New York all know who she is.”

Salonga is no slouch herself. A Tony winner for Miss Saigon, she is married, has a 5-year-old daughter and makes her home in Manila, in her native Philippines. She’ll make her San Francisco cabaret debut later this month as the season opener for Bay Area Cabaret, now in its second season in the Fairmont Hotel’s venerable Venetian Room. Her original date on Sept. 16 sold out quickly, so a second show, at 5pm on Sept. 17 has been added.

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The blossoming of Anika Noni Rose

Feb 21

The blossoming of Anika Noni Rose

Watching Anika Noni Rose (seen above, photo by Andrew Macpherson )on the cabaret stage, you sense a superstar in the making.

The gorgeous Rose, all of 38, has already made a name for herself in the theater, winning the Tony Award for her performance in the Tony Kushner/Jeanine Tesori masterwork Caroline, or Change. On screen, she provided the voice of Tiana, Disney's first African-American princess (in The Princess and the Frog) and she smooched and sang with Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce in Dreamgirls.

She has conquered stage, screen and TV (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, The Good Wife) – the cabaret stage is about the only performance arena she hasn't yet made her own. But she's working on it. In only her second solo cabaret act – her first in San Francisco – Rose demonstrated a sassy onstage persona, an appealing voice and a vintage collection of songs.

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Chita’s jazz…and all that

Nov 06

Chita’s jazz…and all that

Last night I fell in love with a 77-year-old Broadway legend.

Actually, I started with a giant crush that developed during a recent phone interview with Chita Rivera (read the story in the San Francisco Chronicle here), and then that crush fell off the deep end when I saw her in person at the recently re-opened Venetian Room in the Fairmont Hotel as part of the Bay Area Cabaret series.

About 13 years ago, when I was the new theater guy at the Oakland Tribune/ANG Newspapers, I had the chance to interview Rivera in person at the Clift Hotel. She was launching a Broadway-bound autobiographical show called Chita and All That Jazz. On my way to the interview, I passed a flower stand, and on impulse, I bought her a gardenia. I knew that's not what a seasoned professional would do, and my purpose wasn't to butter her up – it was more about honoring her extraordinary career. To arrive empty handed felt like...not enough. When I sat down with her and gave her the flower, her eyes welled up, and the interview was wonderful. I got a big hug at the end, and I was happy.

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