12 Must-See Vintage Diva Performances! | Playbill

Diva Talk 12 Must-See Vintage Diva Performances! Revel in the talents of these Broadway and cabaret stars.

Full disclosure: Now that I'm able to access YouTube on my TV, I spend about an hour each night watching a mix of diva and dachshund videos. What follows are not my all-time favorite videos—those will be featured in a future column—but recent finds that I was surprised and thrilled to discover. (P.S. I have spared you the doxie adventures.)

Karen Akers
Prior to her Tony-nominated Broadway debut in Nine, Karen Akers was already a fixture on the cabaret scene and had been featured in a TV special and debut album entitled Presenting Karen Akers. In 1980, the velvet-voiced singer performed two songs from the recording on a German TV show: Jacques Brel's “A Song for Old Lovers" and Craig Carnelia's “I Met a Man Today,” which you can watch below.

Andrea Marcovicci
A mainstay at the Algonquin for over two decades, Andrea Marcovicci took storytelling in a cabaret act to new levels with evenings that followed one character's journey through song. Although her cabaret career took off in the late ’80s, she had been singing for years. Here she is in 1977 performing three songs: “You Don't Know Me,” “Do You Miss Me?” and a wonderful, upbeat rendition of “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart.”

Helen Schneider
Before she became one of the leading musical theatre stars in Germany, where she opened Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard, Helen Schneider enjoyed a pop and cabaret career that included several appearances on The Tonight Show to promote her debut recordings, So Close and Until Now. The high belter, who had been in the running for the title role in the original Broadway production of Evita, is seen in this 1977 cabaret TV appearance performing a trio of tunes from her first album, the aforementioned So Close.

Barbara Cook
It was in college when I was first introduced to the soaring soprano of Tony winner Barbara Cook via her solo recording, As of Today. I’ve never seen the Music Man star perform songs from this album, so I was excited to find this 1984 TV appearance on The Jonathan Schwartz Show, where Cook charms with “Ain’t Love Easy” (21:31 mark) and “You and I” (17:05 mark), among others.

Karen Mason
I’m not sure I would have recognized the glamorous Karen Mason—whose numerous Broadway outings include originating the role of Tanya in the long-running hit Mamma Mia!—from this 1987 performance at the first-ever MAC Awards, but I certainly recognize that powerful belt, which she applies terrifically to the Joni Mitchell classic, “Both Sides Now.” Here, the ever-delightful Mason is accompanied on piano by her late musical director Brian Lasser.

Loni Ackerman, Laurie Beechman and Betty Buckley
In 1982 Andrew Lloyd Webber had three musicals running on Broadway—Evita, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Cats—a feat the composer will replicate this summer once the revival of Cats joins the newly opened School of Rock and the long-running The Phantom of the Opera. Merv Griffin celebrated Lloyd Webber as Cats began its record-breaking Broadway run by inviting the composer and three of his then-current stars—Loni Ackerman, Laurie Beechman and Betty Buckley—to perform on his much-missed talk show. Ackerman, who was then starring in Evita, offered the musical’s signature tune, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”; Beechman, who was the Narrator in Joseph, brought the composer to his feet with a roof-raising “Pharaoh's Story”; and Buckley, who was about to open in the feline phenomenon, previewed what was to become her signature tune, “Memory.” (The musical performances begin at the 28:50 mark.)

Betty Buckley
While we’re on the subject of “Memory,” here is another early performance of the ballad by the Tony-winning actress. Just listen to her soaring vocals. Stunning.

Shirley Bassey
I don’t think I was quite aware of the magnitude of Shirley Bassey’s career until I began browsing through the multitude of clips of the concert artist that are available on YouTube. There are numerous filmed concerts that were broadcast on TV in London, Melbourne, Germany, the United States and more. Here, the high belter delivers a powerhouse version of “People” in 1979 on her TV variety show. That final note is simply astounding!

Alix Korey
It’s so great to have Alix Korey back on Broadway in the thoroughly moving revival of Fiddler on the Roof the Broadway Theatre. About 20 years ago, the gifted comedic actress performed a benefit concert, which was appropriately titled Alix Korey Sings the *! (* Out Of Broadway. Here she is doing just that to the Brigadoon gem “There But for You Go I.”

Nancy LaMott
Korey often performed with the late, great Nancy LaMott, who possessed a remarkable ability to find the emotional center of any song, bringing a lyric to life as honestly as possible. Here, LaMott sings James Taylor’s “The Secret O’ Life” at one of a series of free, casual Monday night concerts at Steve McGraw’s in NYC in 1994, accompanied by Christopher Marlowe. I love both the message of the song and Nancy’s singular interpretation.

Okay, one dachshund video…
I’m not sure this Meatball can sing, but boy is he cute!


Well, that’s all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to [email protected].

Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly Their Favorite Things.

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