Sutton Foster charms at swanky new Feinstein’s

Feinstein's at the Nikko

San Francisco Bay Area cabaret lovers drooped a little when The Rrazz Room, after attempting to make a go of it after departing the Hotel Nikko, finally packed up and headed out of town earlier this year.

But as Maria von Trapp is fond of saying, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” In this, case credit is due not so much the Lord (apologies) but to Michael Feinstein, one of this country’s greatest natural resources and practically a one-man juggernaut in celebration (and preservation) of the Great American Songbook.

Consider what this man is doing these days: he constantly criss-crosses the country performing in concert with symphonies and makes audiences very happy. He’s spearheading the The Michael Feinstein Great American Songbook Initiative, which is based out of the Center for Performing Arts in Carmel, Indiana. He just broadcast the third season of “Michael Feinstein’s Great American Songbook,” a fascinating series on PBS. He just published the book The Gershwins and Me (well worth a read, and the CD tucked into the back cover is sublime, with Feinstein singing and Cyrus Chestnut playing 12 Gershwin tunes).

He closed his New York nightclub at the Loew’s Regency last New Year’s Eve after 14 years (there are rumored plans of opening another Manhattan club), but at the end of April, there he was on stage for two private concerts in the former Rrazz Room space launching Feinstein’s at the Nikko.

San Francisco is where the young Feinstein cut his cabaret teeth – at the dear, departed Plush Room, to be exact. And it’s thrilling to have Feinstein back. He’s got an upcoming gig with the San Francisco Symphony on July 12 (info here) pegging to his Gershwin book, and after that he says we can expect him back regularly at Feinstein’s at the Nikko.

Sutton Foster - Laura Marie Duncan Jr

To officially open the room to the public, Feinstein and his team made a shrewd choice in two-time Tony Award-winner Sutton Foster. She’s a classic ingenue in the great Broadway tradition yet she’s contemporary (a moment to give a shout out to “Bunheads,” Foster’s sublime TV series on ABC Family – can we PLEASE have a second season of this sweet and witty series? Please?). To my mind, she’s a Mary Tyler Moore for the 21st century, with a little Ethel Merman and Julie Andrews thrown in for good measure.

Foster’s 70-minute show is pure delight. Her dress selection shows off her incredible legs, and her song selection demonstrates that she’s more than just a pretty (and pretty big) voice.

She pays homage to her Broadway roots in medley of songs from her shows Thoroughly Modern Millie, Annie and Little Women that bursts with optimism, then toward the end of the set she reveals a little more world weariness with a Sondheim blend of “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Being Alive.”

Musical director/arranger/accompanist Michael Rafter supports Foster with sensitive playing throughout her polished standards (“Nice and Easy,” “The Nearness of You,” “Warm All Over,” “I Get a Kick Out of You”) and on some of the more dramatic story songs such as Francesca Blumenthal’s “The Lies of Handsome Men” and Rupert Holmes’ “The People That You Never Get to Love.”

Foster shows off assured comic timing in Christine Lavin’s “Air Conditioner,” in which an overheated Manhattan dame is willing to throw down for anyone with AC.

The show’s sweetest moment wasn’t in “Sunshine on My Shoulders,” which was a little too sweet for my taste but rather in a medley of “It Only Takes a Moment” and “Time After Time.” Foster performed the song, without the aid of a microphone (like she ever really needs a microphone) to her adorable little dog Linus, who was sitting comfortably in her lap.

Though Foster doesn’t spend a lot of time on patter, and when she sings, she mostly directs her attention straight ahead and doesn’t really play the room, she oozes charm and cheerful good will. She sells Nat “King” Cole’s “It’s Crazy But I’m in Love” and Harry Nilsson’s “Good Old Desk” with a quiet voice that is the aural equivalent of a smile.

But on several songs, which she makes inextricably her own, we get more depth from this 38-year-old performer. “My Heart Was Set on You” by Jeff Blumenkrantz is heartbreaking, and James Taylor’s “You Can Close Your Eyes” is a wistful way to say goodnight to the audience (before storming back with a microphone-free “Anything Goes”).

Sutton Foster continues through July 12 at Feinstein’s at the Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $75-$95 (note: ticket price includes a $30 food and beverage credit). Call (415) 394-1111 or visit for information.


Patti Lupone
Patti LuPone is performing her latest cabaret act, Far Away Places, at Live at the Rrazz in San Francisco. Photos by Rahav Iggy Segev/

Need your Patti LuPone fix? You’ve come to the right place.

We have for you an interview with Ms. LuPone in connection with the San Francisco debut of her latest cabaret show, Far Away Places, at the newly configured Live at the Rrazz performance space in the Cadillac Building.

Here’s a sample of the interview in the San Francisco Chronicle:

But don’t expect LuPone back on Broadway anytime soon. She’s a little bitter about the Great White Way at the moment, having just come off two flop shows, the musical version of “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and David Mamet’s most recent play, “The Anarchist,” opposite Debra Winger.

“I’m mightily depressed about the state of our art,” LuPone says of the commercial theater. “I’ve been in this business a long time, but I’m still so naive. I’ve always trusted producers, but Wall Street has taken over, and they don’t know what the f- they’re doing. I wish they’d go buy baseball teams and leave us alone. These money people are destroying Broadway. They throw money at a show, then abandon it, and they’re messing with the economy of the people who rely on this profession. This isn’t a game for us.”

Read the entire interview here.

Patti Lupone

We also have a review of Far Away Places from the San Francisco Chronicle.

But LuPone’s sweet spot is the combination of aggression and endearing sincerity she displays on the muscular and melodic Brecht-Weill “Bilbao Song” and Sondheim’s daffy “By the Sea” from “Sweeney Todd,” a show she performed with the San Francisco Symphony and in a Broadway revival.

Then there’s the full-on drama of the Brecht-Weill “Pirate Jenny,” an angry aria that runs with blood and ferocity. When she finishes the number, eyes blazing, you want to hand her a straitjacket and a third Tony Award.

Read the review here.

Patti LuPone’s Far Away Places continues through Sunday, March 24 at Live at the Rrazz, 1000 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are $60-$75, plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit

Ah, Men! Betty Buckley tackles the boys of Broadway

In 1985, Betty Buckley was sensational as a boy in the Rupert Holmes musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood (which happens to be back on Broadway at the moment in an all-new production). She was playing Alice Nutting, a famous male impersonator, and the trousers role fulfilled a long-held fantasy of being a boy on Broadway (as a kid growing up in Texas she longed to be a Jet in West Side Story).

Betty Buckley 1

Though she’s only ever played that one sort-of male character, Buckley has achieved other notable career heights, like her Tony for Cats and a string of memorable movie roles from the gym teacher in Carrie and a truly terrifying loner (named Mrs. Jones) in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. And her cabaret and concert career is one of the busiest and best reviewed in the country.

Well the 65-year-old Buckley is getting back to the boys in her new cabaret show and CD, Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway in which she sings more than a dozen songs originally sung by male characters in shows. (check on the CD or digital download on Amazon here)

On the phone from New York, where she’s performing yet another new cabaret show (The Other Woman: The Vixens of Broadway), Buckley says of the Ah, Men! show: “They’re just all songs I really love and never got a chance to sing until now.”

San Francisco audiences will experience the boyish side of Buckley when she brings Ah, Men! to the Rrazz Room this week (Oct. 30-Nov. 4). Among the songs she sings are classics like “Maria” and “Jet Song” from West Side Story and “Luck Be a Lady” from Guys and Dolls and “Hey There” from The Pajama Game. There’s also an extraordinary suite from Sweeney Todd and a show-stopping re-write of “Hymn to Him” from My Fair Lady that is now “Hymn to Her” and samples tidbits of men’s songs from a vast array of Broadway shows. The latter was created by Buckley’s current musical conspirators, Eric Kornfeld and Eric Stern (also part of that triad is pianist and arranger Christian Jacob). “They’re my team now,” Buckley says. “This is the second collection they’ve done with me. I called them recently and said, ‘What’s the next one?’ We’re thinking about it.”

Betty Buckley Ah Men CD

The coming year is a big one for Buckley. In February she’ll play the Madwoman of Chaillot in a revised version of Dear World by Jerry Herman. Buckley is an inspired piece of casting for the role. She gets to sing two of Herman’s best songs, “I Don’t Want to Know” and “Each Tomorrow Morning.” Her director/choreographer is Gillian Lynne, whom she worked with many years ago on Cats.

Dear World is such an inspiring, touching show,” Buckley says. “It’s totally revised, completely different. Gillian is brilliant. We stayed in touch after Cats and talked about working together on different projects. Two years ago, she approached me with this, and last February it got serious. It’s thrilling to work on new material as your subconscious works to bring you to your creative awareness.”

Next year will also see the long-awaited release of Buckley’s album Ghostlight, which she made with superstar music producer and old friend T Bone Burnett.

The only drawback to Buckley being so busy is that she’s not able to spend much time on her Texas ranch, where she has a menagerie of 17 animals, including horses.

“I really haven’t seen the animals much this fall at all,” Buckley says. “I’m really concerned about leaving them when I go to London. I have to leave them in various people’s care, which is kind of traumatic. I’m taking my Shih Tzu, though. I’ll just have to tell the other animals, ‘I gotta go earn the money to pay for your grain and hay and vet bills and caretakers.’ I don’t think they get the concept.”

Though she has accomplished so much, Buckley says there’s still a great deal she’d like to do.

“I love working and collaborating with brilliant, wonderful, exciting, gifted people. So far, knock wood, that keeps happening. I’ve been so blessed. It’s really remarkable, and it’s been a wonderful journey thus far.”

Betty Buckley’s Ah, Men! The Boys of Broadway runs Oct. 30-Nov. 4 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$60 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit

Mark Nadler is crazy for 1961

Cabaret dazzler Mark Nadler is on the road both literally and figuratively. He and his partner, a classical pianist, are in the car heading back to New York from a gig in Louisville, Ky. Not to worry, he’s on the phone, but he’s hands free (“Unlike my love life,” he quips). The time in Louisville was great because, as he quips again, he got his “two lips around a julep.”
Mark Nadler Photo
In the figurative sense, Nadler is on the road to the past in his new show. That shouldn’t be a surprise for a singing-and-piano-playing raconteur like Nadler, who mines the Great American Songbook for all it’s worth. The surprise is that Nadler is not heading back quite as far this time. He’s reaching back to 1961, his birth year, in Crazy 1961, which make its San Francisco debut at The Rrazz Room on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.

Think about 1961 for a minute. In addition to Nadler’s arrival on the planet (along with Barack Obama, George Clooney and Scott Baio), the year saw movie releases such as The Parent Trap, West Side Story and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In world events, the Vietnam War started, construction began on the Berlin Wall, President John F. Kennedy signed the Peace Corps into being and the Bay of Pigs incident nearly turned the Cold War atomic hot. That’s an eventful year.

It’s all covered in Nadler’s show, which he began researching as his 50th birthday loomed. Once he started delving into his birth year, he was hooked.

“It’s a fascinating year both historically and musically,” he says. “Musically it sits right on the cusp of the Golden Age of musical theater and rock and roll. Gypsy and The Music Man both closed that year, and Bob Dylan and The Beatles made their first performances in public. Everything was teetering on the brink. Judy Garland did her big comeback concert at Carnegie Hall. Barbra Streisand made her first TV appearance. The Supremes were signed to Motown and Patsy Cline recorded ‘Crazy’ on my birthday.”

Because he’s covering such a wide range of music, Nadler, who usually accompanies himself, is backed by a full band – bass, drums, guitar and horns. And Nadler proudly writes all of his own arrangements and orchestrations, which are not always what you might expect. For instance, he does Noël Coward’s “Sail Away” (from the show of the same name), but he doesn’t do it a la Coward. He does it as a hard-driving rock song that’s about heading to Vietnam. And he doesn’t do “Crazy” the way Cline did it. Because 1961 was also the year that Ray Charles swept the Grammy Awards, he re-imagines the song as if Charles were doing it.

Nadler is still his charming, high-energy self in this show, but this outing really does showcase another side of the performer. He doesn’t tap dance this time around, but he does do The Twist.

“The response to this show is the strongest I’ve ever gotten,” he says. “I have loyal, generous audiences who have liked my work, but I’ve never seen so many people coming back to see it again and again. I guess the more you see it, the more you get out of it.”

Perhaps the repeat business has something to do with the colossal medley Nadler put together of the Top 50 songs of 1961 (including “Moon River,” “Stand by Me,” “Calendar Girl,” “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” to name a few). That’s 50 songs in eight minutes (see below for a sneak peek).

“What was fun for me in the medley was making it make sense,” Nadler says. “I liked making liaisons, like the last word in one sentence also being the first word in the next song. Or doing things like joining the theme from ‘Mr. Ed’ with Chubby Checker’s ‘The Pony.’ Opportunities like that don’t come along every day.” And let’s not even mention the song “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor (On the Bedpost Overnight)?”

Given the success of Crazy 1961, it might be understandable if Nadler became the King of Chronology, doing different shows based on different years. But that’s not likely to happen.

“I have this game I play with myself when I put together shows,” he says. “I have to do something I’ve never done before. I can’t see myself wanting to do a show based on another year. Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim agreed that the greats really try to forge new territory. I’m not saying I’m Rodgers or Sondheim, but when I learned that’s what they did as a modus operandi, I decided to take on that game as well.”

[bonus video sneak peek]
Mark Nadler performs a “fast and furious” medley of the top 50 hits of 1961.

Mark Nadler’s Crazy 1961 is at 9:15pm Friday, Aug. 31 and Saturday, Sept. 1 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco, Tickets are $35 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit

Terri White’s Great White Way (and a perfect martini!)

Terri White 3
Terri White (center) as Stella Deems in the hit Broadway revival of Follies. White led the ensemble (including Bernadette Peters, left, and Jan Maxwell, right) in the rousing number “Who’s That Woman (Mirror Mirror).” Photo by Joan Marcus Below: White can scale down her Broadway belt to cabaret size, as she’ll do at the Rrazz Room on July 10.

Palo Alto native Terri White grew up and became a Broadway star, thanks largely to her big break in 1972’s musical hit Two Gentlemen of Verona, which she also performed on tour at the Geary Theater. There have been dramatic ups and downs in White’s career – it is a theater career, after all – but her journey has brought her back to the Bay Area several times, including a double stint in 1994 at the then-named Theatre on the Square in Make Someone Happy composer Jule Styne’s last hurrah (White remembers it more as Make Someone Run because it wasn’t Styne’s best work; he died several weeks after the show), followed by Nunsense 2.

But White’s most memorable San Francisco stage experience, at least until she makes her cabaret debut July 10 at the Rrazz Room was in the Cy Coleman musical Barnum in which she originated the role of Joice Heth (singing the memorable song “Thank God I’m Old”). The touring production was playing the Golden Gate Theatre, and on this particular day, the 49ers were just about to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.

“Someone in the audience had a transistor radio and yelled out the winning score,” White recalls. “The show stopped for a good 20 minutes, with everyone cheering and horns honking outside and all the stagehands screaming downstairs. Poor Jim Dale was stuck up there doing shtick for 20 minutes. He couldn’t do anything else.”

Such interruptions aren’t likely to happen during White’s cabaret gig, The Great White Way, which, despite its name, is not just a round-up of White’s Broadway career, though there will be some representation from some of her more recent work such as the revival of Finian’s Rainbow. Alas, White will not be performing “Who’s That Woman (Mirror Mirror),” her show-stopping number from the recent Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. She’s still under contract to that production, which just closed its run in Los Angeles, and cannot sing its songs. But there are plenty of other songs to sing, including one she wrote herself.

Terri White 1

To paraphrase another song from Follies, good times and bum times, White’s seen them all and my dear, she’s still here. Along with high-profile gigs like Barnum or Ain’t Misbehavin’ in which she understudied Nell Carter, White kept her chops up slinging drinks and singing up a storm in some of New York’s best piano bars like Rose’s Turn and The Duplex. By 2008, things had gotten tough for White and she was, for a period, homeless. But with the help of a NYPD officer who happened to recognize her, she got herself together and was soon back on Broadway.

One thing that helped her? Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. “That book helped me to re-focus. Instead of woe is me, I said thank you to the universe,” White says on the phone from L.A. “I had my eyes closed to the world and to my surroundings and to myself. I realized I had to turn that around. Only the best has happened since then. I have a gorgeous wife, a great life and three Broadway shows in the last 32 months. I’m doing what I wanted to do. When I was negative, I was closing off to what the possibilities could have been. I’m not a bad person, though I thought I was. Apparently I’m not. I continue saying thank you and keep going forward with that.”

The gorgeous wife White mentioned is Donna Barnett, and the two got married, rather famously, just after New York made same-sex marriage legal. They did not do it in a small way – on the contrary, they did it with two other couples on stage at the St. James Theatre after a performance of Hair.

“It was such an emotional experience,” White recalls, what with the audience crying, the couples crying and the Hair tribe crying. “But what I loved is that after the show, they announced that there would be a wedding ceremony on stage, and you didn’t see one person leave that theater.”

White’s big news is that she and Barnett are moving to Los Angeles. While performing in Follies there, she got a new agent and is excited to remind the Hollywood powers that be just who she is and what she can do. “They tend to forget who you are if they can’t see you,” White says. “So we’re giving LA a try.”

Even with all her success, in life and on stage, White say she never strays too far from a local piano bar. “I love to socialize and be with friends,” she says. “In piano bars, there’s no fourth wall. You can connect directly to people’s hearts and minds. Cabaret is a lot like the piano bar experience except people are actually coming specifically to see you.”

Oh, and after all those years in piano bars, White still makes a pretty mean martini. Here’s her recipe:

Terri White’s Perfect Martini
Use vodka or gin – whatever you prefer.
Swirl the martini glass with vermouth, then dump the vermouth.
Stir (never shake) your vodka/gin (or better yet, keep it in the freezer).
Rather than just pouring the liquor over the lemon twist, rub the edge of the glass with the twist first so that with each sip you get the citrus essence without it being overbearing.

[bonus video]
Here’s Terri White tearing it up in “Who’s That Woman (Mirror Mirror)” from the recent Broadway revival of Follies.

Terri White’s The Great White Way is at 8pm, Tuesday, July 10, at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $35 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit

Ben Vereen and a sweet, happy life

Ben Vereen - Photo 1

When you call Ben Vereen’s mobile phone, you get a most entertaining voicemail message. It’s Chita Rivera singing, “My wish for you is a sweet, happy life.” Then a cheerful Vereen says that’s his wish for you as well. It’s such an uplifting message that by the time you hear the beep, you realize you don’t really miss talking to the man himself.

But then you get the man himself, and he proves to be even more cheerful than that message. At 65, and after a car accident in 1992 that would have sidelined just about anyone else, Vereen is a man on the move, a man with a plan. He’s bringing his show Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen to the Rrazz Room June 12-17. Next month he’ll play the newly opened 54 Below, the cabaret underneath the former nightclub (now legit Broadway theater) Studio 54. Then he goes to Australia, and after that, it’s Broadway, baby. At least that’s the plan. Vereen is hard at work on the show he’s call in The Last of the Showmen, and that’s really what he is.

As someone who has worked with the greats like Sammy Davis Jr. on the way to becoming great himself, Vereen knows all about the golden age of showmen – the unique razzle dazzle of someone who can sing, dance, act and fill a stage – and is the ideal entertainer to bring some attention to the legacy of legendary showmen, of which he is undeniably one. That’s not to say, however, that showmanship is dead. On the contrary.

“Let’s talk about my godson, Usher,” Vereen says on the phone from Los Angeles. “What about Or Beyoncé? Cats like that. It’s a younger generation doing their own thing, entertainment metamorphosing into something different. But we’ll always have song-and-dance men and women. I’m proud to be part of that legacy.”

Rrazz Room audiences may get a peek at some of the Showmen material while he journeys through some highlights of his storied career – like his Tony-winning turn in Pippin or his memorable performances in Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago or, most recently, Wicked (he was the Wonderful Wizard of Oz). Vereen was last here three years ago (read my review of that show here), and if the new show is anything like the one he unleashed then, audiences are in for a treat.

But don’t expect Vereen to spend a lot of time wallowing in the past. Ask him what he’s most proud of in his 65 years, thinking maybe he’ll say it was playing Chicken George in the seminal miniseries Roots or working with Bob Fosse on Sweet Charity or Pippin (pictured below). But Vereen is a man of the moment.

Ben Vereen Pippin

“I’m most proud of working in the Rrazz Room next week,” he says. “I’m in the present. I wake up in the morning and get another opportunity to do what I do. People ask me what I still want to accomplish, and I say, ‘The next day.’ Today is enough. I will take what I can in today and be fulfilled in today. I had to learn to live in the present. It happened when I found my breath. I’m a grandfather now. That’s something that will slow you down and make you grateful for each day.”

Vereen says he has a special fondness for San Francisco because he claims it’s where his career really took off. Even though he’d already done Sweet Charity in Las Vegas with Fosse and Golden Boy with Davis, he says it all really started when he drove his mail truck – he was living in it at the time – from Los Angeles to San Francisco to replace Philip Michael Hall in Hair. The year was 1970.

“I was a hippie!” Vereen says with glee. “I was a black hippie living in a puke-green ’54 mail truck I called Henry Charles Mailer. I had a tambourine, a guitar and a footlocker full of clothes. I think there was even an American flag hanging on the truck. I pulled up to the Orpheum Theatre to do Hair, and then after that I stuck around for the play No Place to Be Somebody. A journalist named John Wasserman wrote a story called ‘How a Star Is Born,’ and my career took off. Next stop was Broadway in Jesus Christ Superstar.”

San Francisco was also the birthplace of Vereen’s daughter, Naja, who died tragically in a 1986 car accident. “San Francisco is where my daughter came into the world. How could that city not hold a special place in my heart?” Vereen says.

Vereen is clearly a man of spirit. One of his many activities these days is teaching young people the performing arts.

“In the beginning, biblically speaking, God created Earth,” Vereen says. “It’ doesn’t say God manufactured Earth. What we’re trying to do now is manufacture young people into life. Life itself is an art form. As long as we try to manufacture, we take out the essence and the spirit of life. Spirit is art. Children express art from the first cry out of their mother’s womb. They come to bring us art, and we try to separate that by educating them. We cut away the arts from the school system, and we’re cutting away our soul, our spirit.”

Earlier this year, Vereen and the rest of the Roots met for a reunion at the home of Oprah Winfrey. It was a reunion of sorts for Vereen and Winfrey as well.

“I met her years ago when she was working in Baltimore. She interviewed me in a little room,” Vereen recalls. “Sitting in her home, she said, ‘I remember you. We go way back.’ It was wonderful. The whole experience was wonderful. Imagine we’re still talking about Roots 35 years later. Talking about the value of it, what it brought to the country and our world. It’s not just about African-American life but about life itself, about true spiritual roots. If we can get back to those roots, maybe we can find peace on the planet. If enough people can believe in that with me, it can happen.”

And wouldn’t that be a sweet, happy life.

[bonus video]

Please enjoy Ben Vereen and Chita Rivera in the 1999 Las Vegas production of Chicago.



Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen Live! runs June 12-17 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $45-$50 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit

Debby Boone lights up Yoshi’s

Debby Boone 2

With her dad, Pat Boone, on the big stages of Las Vegas, Debby Boone was able to explore Sin City in the swinging ’60s. She remembers seeing some of the big-name performers – Sinatra, Streisand, Presley – but it was the lounge singers who really made an impression.

“I’d look into one of the lounges and see some beautiful woman in a beautiful gown standing by a piano and singing a song,” Boone recalls. “I knew then that’s what I wanted to do.”

That’s exactly what the 55-year-old Boone is doing now, but it took her a while to get here. She had a detour in the late 1970s when, at age 20, she had what you call a mega-hit record. “You Light Up My Life” won her a Grammy and the song itself won an Oscar and broke chart-topping records once held by the Beatles. Mega-hit.

Every singer dreams of a hit record, but this hit was seismic, and it trapped Boone in a music industry that didn’t know quite what to do with her.

“In those years it was all about trying to figure out the next hit record and the frustrations of trying to reconcile the fact that I didn’t really have the image, at that point in time, for Top 40 radio.”

Now Boone is allowed to be herself and do what she does best – sing great songs with great musicians. And she gets to wear beautiful dresses.

Boone will be in San Francisco this weekend (Sunday, May 20) with her show Reflections of Rosemary, a tribute to the late, great Rosemary Clooney, who happens to be her mother-in-law (she’s married to Gabriel Ferrer, Clooney’s son with José Ferrer). Boone first did this show in San Francisco about seven years ago at the now-defunct Empire Plush Room.

This won’t be quite the same show audiences saw in 2005 (which also spawned a fantastic CD with the same name as the show). Boone says she’s been adding songs like “Cloudburst,” which are not necessarily Clooney’s hits but beautifully written songs that Boone connects with. That’s one of the lessons of performing she learned from her mother-in-law.

debby boone 1

“I’d go watch Rosemary on stage,” Boone says on the phone from her Southern California home, “and I’d admire the elegant simplicity she had in her approach to a show and a song. She connected with people at such a deep level. There was no showing off vocally, and it wasn’t about sharing what was inside of her by way of the songs. It wasn’t about high notes and fancy runs – the stuff that people are so impressed with today for reasons I don’t quite understand. Rosemary would open her mouth and sing within one octave and touch you on many levels.”

In the show, Boone also sneaks in some tunes from her forthcoming CD, “Swing This” about Vegas in the ’60s.

“I love what I’ve been doing with this show because it’s very heartfelt and sentimental and a little bittersweet reminiscing about Rosemary,” Boone says. “But I’m ready for a fun, high energy, let’s all have a great time kind of show and CD. I’ll sing songs that have great arrangements by John Oddo and tell stories about the days my dad was headlining in Vegas. I was so enamored of all the glitz and glamour and the stars.”

Boone’s famous father has never asked when she might perform a musical tribute to him, but she says audience members ask her all the time. It’s something she’ll do when the time is right, and she’s looking forward to dipping into her father’s rich musical history.

“I think people forget what kind of music he used to sing before the pop hits like ‘April Love’ or ‘Tutti Fruitti,'” Boone says. “He’s got all these beautiful albums and songs with tremendous arrangements by Gordon Jenkins. It’d be great to revisit that material.”

Boone would also like to pay musical tribute to her mother’s father, the country legend Red Foley. She’d like to do a CD and a show honoring her grandfather.

“Everywhere I go people remember him so fondly,” she says. “When I sing his songs, they come from this new place in me. It’s like, ‘Where did that come from?’ I didn’t know that was in there.”

Boone has been on Broadway twice – in 1982 with the short-lived Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and again in the ’90s in the long-running revival of Grease. She has done a number of touring and regional shows (she says her favorite is Camelot) and would happily return to the musical stage.

“I’ve never had more fun in my life than doing musical theater,” she says. “I dream of originating a role, but mine is not a typical female lead voice. I don’t have those big, high money notes that most roles for women require. I recently saw the revival of Follies in LA, and it made me jealous. I want to go and play, too.”


Debby Boone’s Reflections of Rosemary is at 7pm Sunday, May 20 at Yoshi’s San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco. Tickets are $35. Call 415-655-5600 or visit

Faith Prince & Jason Graae: a perfectly delightful duet

He says he’s been a fan of hers since he was a child. She says he makes her pee.

Quips fly fast and furious when talking to Jason Graae and Faith Prince, especially when they’re talking about each other. Graae and Prince are the latest double act on the circuit, and it’s about time. Seriously. These two have known and loved each other for years, ever since they met in college at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Faith & JasonAnd oh, yes, there’s that infamous homecoming date and late-night chili surprise. But more on that in a minute.

Graae is the celebrated singer/actor/comedian who most recently brought his Jerry Herman tribute, Perfect Hermany, to the Rrazz Room last spring. And Prince is the Tony-winning Broadway star of Guys and Dolls, Little Me, A Catered Affair (among others) and last summer’s national tour of Billy Elliot, which had an abbreviated stop at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre last fall.

Now bosom buddies Prince and Graae and hitting the road together in The Prince and the Showboy (and there’s a long subtitle with their names and awards attached, see the info box below), coming to the Rrrazz Room this weekend (March 25-27) for three performances only.

The idea for teaming up was actually hatched here in San Francisco, thanks to 42nd Street Moon. The company’s annual songwriter salon feted Jerry Herman this year, and Graae and Klea Blackhurst were slated to headline the show. Blakchurst had to pull out because she got another gig (“I had a dream…”), so Prince, who lives just up the road in Sacramento, filled in.

Graae explains: “When news of our show hit, we got a call from a synagogue in Westchester. ‘Oh, you have a show together? Great!’ And they essentially hired us.”

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So Graae and his college pal had a show to put together, and while they were at it, they decided to hit the road together. But what about an act? They already had “Bosom Buddies” from the 42nd Street Moon show. “We’ll just do that one song over and over again,” Graae jokes. But seriously folks, they’re working with musical director Alex Rybeck on putting together a combustible evening of duets and solos.

Of course it will be brilliant – you don’t expect any less from these two. But will they reveal their romantic history? Just in case they don’t, let’s travel back a few years to Cincinnati (let’s just say they were in college a few years ago). She was a junior. He transferred in as a sophomore. Both were working toward a BFA in musical theater. She was friendly resident assistant, and he was living in the dorms.

“I asked him to go to the homecoming dance,” Prince recalls. “He was really funny and charming and very good. He was fun.”

Neither remembers much about the dance itself, but afterward, Graae says Prince invited him to one of her favorite little Italian restaurants. She said it was called something like Schalina. Turned out she was taking him to a hole-in-the-wall chili restaurant called Skyline Chili (who knew Cincinnati proclaimed itself to be the chili capitol of the world?).

“We had chili five ways, which includes spaghetti noodles, cinnamon, onions, beans, cheese. You name it,” Graae says. “That was Faith’s little joke on me, but I loved the chili, and we had a great night.”

It wasn’t a love match in the traditional sense, but it was a love match of sorts.

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“Jason evokes in me what he evoked in me then,” Prince says. “My heart always gets lighter when I’m around him. He’s a fun person to be with. He makes me smile and makes me howl with laughter. He also has incredible depth and has done well with life. It’s invigorating to be around somebody like that.”

Here’s Graae’s end of the mutual fan club: “She’s a powerhouse, and I’m thrilled to be performing with her. Should be combustible and exhausting for the audience, I should think. I always look forward just to being in the same room with her. She’s an incredible actress. I’m blown away by how focused she is, how economical with movements and comedy. Just so smart. She can get any laugh she wants, of course, but then she can sing a ballad and rip your heart out.”

Graae, though he’s a mighty funny man, can do exactly the same thing. “Jason and I both like to do the pathos and the humor,” Prince says. “I think we really complement each other, and we have the same sense of humor. It’s wacky, but it’s grounded in truth. We both have enough edge that it’s not gooey. It’s not from anger or harshness. It’s not bitter.”

The set list is still being developed, but Graae and Prince may even pull out some material from the post-college shows they did together in New York, Living Color (which originally had the much more interesting name of The Texas Chainsaw Manicurist) and Olympus on My Mind.

Who knows, they may even re-live their early days and treat the audience to a bowl of 5-way chili.

And, by the way, Prince is serious when she says Graae makes her laugh so hard she tinkles. “I may have to invest a little in Depends.”

The Prince and the Showboy: An evening with Tony Award-Winner Faith Prince and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle/Ovation Award-Winner Jason Graae runs March 25-27 at the Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $40 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 800-380-3095 or visit

Faith Prince photo credit above: Joseph Marzullo/

Todd Murray’s voice: delicious as warm bread


Not many people can claim success in the fields of musical theater, bread baking and crooning. Todd Murray can.

Growing up in a small Pennsylvania farming community, Murray had two loves. One was music. The other was food. In the pre-Internet, pre-cable TV days, Murray figured it would be impossible to break into the entertainment industry and maybe not as difficult to break into the food biz. Up until his senior year of high school, he had his sites set on chef school.

But then in college, he started gravitating toward performing and started getting jobs in Opryland USA, Tokyo Disneyland and summer stock in his home state.

On the phone from Charlotte, N.C., where he’s visiting his partner, Broadway performer Douglas Sills, who is starring in the tour of The Addams Family, Murray recalls his early days of performing in venues like cruise ships and the Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey. At auditions, Murray, who has a rich bass baritone, was constantly being asked if he could sing higher. Desperate for a job, the young performer would try to comply.

“It took me a long time to accept that my voice range was my voice range,” Murray says. “Where I sound good is lower than where most men sound good. That’s who I am, and it doesn’t work to plug me into someone else’s sweet spot. It doesn’t mean I’m not a good singer. I’m a different singer.”

So Murray found himself singing and dancing in the chorus.

“I got bored with that,” he says. “And there was no guarantee that I’d become a leading man on Broadway, which is what I wanted. I decided I wanted a little more control of my destiny.”

So while on tour with The Secret Garden, Murray met a fateful loaf of bread in San Francisco. The bread baker was Oliver Zaenglein, who was baking European-style loaves just as the artisan bread craze was taking hold.

Todd_on_Hollywood_Blvd.When Murray finished his tour about a year and a half later, he called Zaenglein with an offer: how about Murray licensed his bakery and opened an outlet in Los Angeles? The deal was sealed, and Murray ran the bakery for the next decade (though unfortunately Zaenglein died suddenly only eight months after Murray moved from New York to LA).

“I enjoyed being a businessman,” Murray says, “but I didn’t want to grow old being a baker. This other thing was gnawing at me – my music. I needed that outlet, so I started to put together my own shows.”

That’s how a Broadway baby turned bread baker becomes a cabaret performer.

As Murray began testing the cabaret waters in New York and LA, he gained in confidence. He sold his bakery to fund his first CD, called, naturally, When I Sing Low.

Reviews for his shows almost always referred to him as a crooner, and that got him thinking about what his next show might be.

“I realized I didn’t entirely know what crooning meant,” Murray says. “We know Sinatra and Crosby were called crooners, but when I started researching, I came to see that the microphone is the key to singing intimately, almost conversationally.”

The advent of the microphone changed singing, and suddenly, radios across the land were filled with the soothing tones of singers like Crosby singing to housewives in their houses once the husbands had gone off to work.

“You don’t think of singers like Bing Crosby as sexually charged, but that’s how it was seen back then,” Murray explains. “These crooners invented pop music as we know it today.”

So Murray created Croon, the show with which he’s making his San Francisco cabaret debut at the Rrazz Room Oct. 24 and 25. The show features songs from the 1920s to today. Crosby and Sinatra are represented, of course, and so are Ella Fitzgerald, Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, Lou Rawls and Leonard Cohen.

Murray introduced a few of his own songs on his second album, Stardust and Swing, and for Croon, he and pianist/musical director Alex Rybeck collaborated on a song called “And I’m Leaving Today,” which was nominated for the MAC Awards in New York for best song.

“Doing shows like Croon for intimate clubs is where I get to express who I am,” Murray says. He is controlling his destiny. “I set the key,s I set the songs. I set the interpretation. I’ve gotten really good response. My voice is happily different from what’s out there. You don’t hear a lot of men singing in the range I sing in.”

Murray has other projects going, including a documentary called Toni and Rosi about German pianist sisters who escaped the Nazis and lived and performed in New York. (visit the movie’s website here).

As for food, Murray’s busy schedule means he only gets to eat it these days. But he keeps ties to the food world. His favorite chef is Patricia Wells for whom he wrote the song “Patricia.” He’s heard this before, but maybe it’s time for a new twist on a cooking show. The Crooning Chef anyone?

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Here’s Todd Murray singing his original song “And I’m Leaving Today.”

Todd Murray’s Croon is Oct. 24 and 25 at 8pm, Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $30 (plus a two-drink minimum). Call 800-380-3095 or visit Visit Todd Murray’s website:

Lea Salonga: Broadway star, Disney princess, cabaret chanteuse

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Tony Award-winning Broadway star Lea Salonga brings her cabaret act to the Fairmont’s Venetian Room as part of the Bay Area Cabaret season. Photos courtesy of Lea Salonga

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 continues to work on stage – her most recent Broadway show was the revival of Les Miserables from 2006 to 2008. Though she’s performed in concert since she was a kid, she’s doing the more mature thing now. With her debut last year at New York’s Carlyle Hotel, she’s officially a cabaret chanteuse.

Lea Salonga 1She’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.

Earlier this year, Salonga turned 40. If it seems she should have hit that mark a while ago, it’s a testament to her already storied career, which became an international success when she was cast as the title role of Miss Saigon at 17.

“Around my birthday, I looked in the mirror and said, ‘If that’s what 40 looks like, bring on 50!’” Salonga says. “I think getting older is great. Actresses worry about people knowing their ages, and I understand that because people are judgmental. But people know my story. I can’t lie about my age. I’m primarily a singer, so age doesn’t matter. The 40s are wonderful so far. You’re young enough to enjoy life, old enough to kick some ass and no one questions you.”

Lea Salonga CD coverSalonga received some glowing reviews for her Carlyle cabaret shows, and she recently released a live CD, recorded in that lovely Manhattan boite, called Lea Salonga: The Journey So Far. The disc surveys her entire career, including her gigs as the singing voice for Disney princesses Jasmine (in Aladdin) and Mulan (in the movie of the same name).

Recently dubbed a Disney Legend, Salonga and fellow princess voices Anika Noni Rose (The Princess and the Frog), Jodi Benson (The Little Mermaid) and Paige O’Hara (Beauty and the Beast), received awards and sang their signature songs.

Salonga’s daughter was in princess heaven at the ceremony, scoring autographs from all the famous ladies – including her own mother. “She was looking up at me saying, ‘Mommy sign my book?’ I said, ‘Honey, I live with you. I can sign your book any time.’ But I thought that was sweet. I actually matter to my daughter!”

In addition to her concert and cabaret work, Salonga is heading back to the musical theater stage with a show called Allegiance with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo and a book by Kuo and Lorenzo Thione. The show, set during the Japanese internment during World War II, will open at San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre in the summer of 2012.

The musical had a workshop in New York earlier this summer, and the cast included George Takei and Telly Leung. Salonga says the workshop “went really well.” And the really great thing, she says: “My mother really liked it and loved the music. She said based on the music alone the show will fly. Believe me, she minces no words if she thinks something is bad. But this is a show she enjoyed. We’re all excited about the show. I consider myself a transplanted New Yorker, so I’d be very happy if the show ended up there.”

Lea Salonga is in concert as part of the Bay Area Cabaret season at 8pm Sept. 16 (SOLD OUT) and at 5pm Sept. 17 in the Fairmont Hotel’s Venetian Room, 950 Mason St., San Francisco. Tickets are $60 general with discounts for subscribers and those younger than 18. Call 415-392-4400 or visit

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Here’s Lea Salonga singing “Reflection” from Mulan at the Disney Legends award ceremony last month at the D23 Expo.