DIVA TALK: The Best of 2013

By Andrew Gans
27 Dec 2013

Bernadette Peters
Photo by Joan Marcus

Bernadette Peters in A Bed and Chair
After her haunting performance as the heartbroken, emotionally shattered Sally Durant Plummer in the recent revival of Follies, it was exciting to have “fun” Bernadette back on the New York stage, drawing laughs with a knowing glance or chasing a spotlight in a thrilling, belty version of “Broadway Baby.” Peters also shone in more serious moments, including a touching “Like It Was” and a sensational “Ladies Who Lunch” that the three-time Tony winner built to an exciting climax. A Bed and A Chair: A New York Love Affair, it should be noted, marked Peters’ seventh collaboration with Stephen Sondheim, following her Broadway outings in Sunday in the Park with George, Into the Woods, Gypsy, A Little Night Music and the aforementioned Follies as well as the Carnegie Hall mounting of Anyone Can Whistle. Has anyone in musical theatre history been so beautifully paired with one composer’s work as Peters?

Chita Rivera in A Legendary Celebration
For those who worried Chita Rivera's lights might have dimmed now that she is an octogenarian, fear not. The Tony-winning triple threat proved in a stunning 90-minute concert Oct. 7 that her talents are as numerous and powerful as ever. In fact, Rivera was in prime form, singing, acting, dancing, joking and simply strutting around the stage like no one since… Chita Rivera! Directed by Graciela Daniele and written by Terrence McNally, the evening featured highlights from Rivera's award-winning career with just enough patter to illuminate the songs that followed. The evening's vocal high point was a thrilling, haunting rendition of Jacques Brel's "Carousel." The way Rivera breathed into each and every lyric brought beauty to her vocals, and the use of her voice, hands and arms — combined with the wonderful musical arrangement by Mark Hummel and orchestration by Lynne Shankel as well as Jeff Croiter's lighting — created a perfect, theatrical and highly moving moment. Although this writer has had the pleasure of catching Rivera on Broadway in Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Dancer's Life, Nine and, most recently, in the revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, this evening was somehow even more remarkable, one of those magical nights in the theatre. It was also abundantly clear that the gifted performer is loved not only by her legion of fans, but also by the theatre community, who were among those reveling in this night to remember.

Jennifer Simard in Disaster!
One of the funniest performances in recent memory is currently being given by Jennifer Simard, who plays a nun with a bad habit (sorry!) in Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick’s Off-Broadway comic delight, Disaster!, at the St. Luke's Theatre. Whether she’s almost-inaudibly singing “The Lord’s Prayer,” demonstrating why she’s “Torn Between Two Lovers,” belting “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” or strumming her guitar with abandon, Simard finds every possible comedic moment and some you wouldn’t even have thought possible. Mary Testa, who plays Brooklyn-born Shirley Summers, is also hilarious, especially in an eye-blinking, pelvis-thrusting scene that leads to Tourette's-like outbursts. Also, keep an eye out for the young Matt Farcher, who boasts a beautiful, versatile tenor.



*

 

Well, that's all for now. Happy holidays, and happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

*

Diva Talk runs every other week on Playbill.com. Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly columns Their Favorite Things and Stage Views.