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Bebe Neuwirth has a musical story or two to tell at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Nov. 10.

Bringing Up Bebe

Bebe Neuwirth wants you to know that she won’t be singing “All That Jazz” this time. The Tony- and Emmy-winning actor says her new show won’t be a list of her most well-known songs from her stage career, including numbers from Sweet Charity and Chicago.

Instead, the actor — perhaps best known for her TV roles in Madame Secretary and as Lilith Sternin in Cheers and Frasier — will be in storyteller mode. Her new show — Stories and Songs with Piano with accompanist Scott Cady —will feature a collection of musical tales with strong narratives and compelling characters at the core. The show will play the Ridgefield Playhouse Nov. 10.

The revue will include songs from an earlier tribute show to composer Kurt Weill, some Tom Waits, a little Edith Piaf, some Sondheim and even a story-song from the Chicago composing team of John Kander and Fred Ebb (“Ring Those Bells”).

On the legendary run of that revival — still playing on Broadway after 22 years — she says she knew it was something special from its first incarnation as a one-week run as part of the Broadway Encores! concert series.

“It was the music,” she says when I ask about the show’s staying power in a telephone interview from New York. “The audience knew the songs so well.” Neuwirth adds that it also reintroduced the dazzling choreography of Bob Fosse, “who was way ahead of his time.”

The public can now fully appreciate the irony of the cynical show, she says, “especially in the face of what’s happening now. The world is now a vaudeville show.”

Neuwirth also praised producers Fran and Barry Weissler for keeping the show fresh for more than 9,000 performances. “They’ve been brilliant in their ability to keep it going while still respecting the show.”

As for the recent news that Kelsey Grammer may return to his Frasier character for another TV series, I asked Neuwirth if this means the return of ex-wife Lilith, too, especially now the she is free from Madame Secretary, having ended her run there earlier this year.

Neuwirth plays it cool, saying she has no idea and has not been contacted.

One can only hope.

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Lillias White brings her soaring voice to Norwalk on Nov. 4.

She’s a Showstopper

Lillias White is someone who knows how to stop a show — and she did just that in her Tony Award-winning performance in the Cy Coleman musical The Life. Ditto for her Tony-nominated role in Fela! and her Obie-winning role in Romance in Hard Times. Of course, there was the moment when she gave the song “The Brotherhood of Man” that gospel-soar in the revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Still don’t believe me? Then YouTube her benefit performance in Funny Girl when she brings down the house singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” after which you might be saying, “Barbra who?”

White will be bringing her concert show to the Wall Street Theater in Norwalk on Nov. 4.

“This show is going to be a lot of fun,” says White, who many will know from her Emmy-winning role as Rhonda the pink singing squirrel on Sesame Street. (She was also Fat Annie in the Netflix series The Get Down.)

Her show will include a tribute to Aretha Franklin. “She was very influential to me growing up in Brooklyn,” White says. “My mother would buy me 45s and her albums. I didn’t know at the time what technique was, but she certainly gave me insight into how a voice works and also how an interpretation of a song can be so moving.”

She says as a youngster she was encouraged to sing by her family — especially by her grandmother and her aunt, Lillias, who performed with the June Taylor Dancers on The Jackie Gleason Show.

“I was her baby. She would dress me up and after a Sunday dinner, the family would clear the table and my grandmother would put me up on on the dining room table and that would be my stage. I would sing and dance. I didn’t know what I was doing or really what I had, but I did know I enjoyed doing it and especially the attention.”

But it wasn’t until college and joining a theater company that she really developed her gift. “I always had the talent but there I learned the technique. That’s what I worked on — and still do.”

One of White’s favorite songs from her show is Lori McKenna’s “Humble and Kind,” which Tim McGraw recorded. “It speaks to me about the way I was raised. It’s the little things we can do for each other to show our humanity and to show kindness. There’s a lot of meanness and corruption going on and we need to remind ourselves to be nice to each other.” 

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Austin Pendleton is directing Matthew Greene’s powerful new play Thousand Pines, about the aftermath of a school shooting, at the Westport Country Playhouse through Nov. 17.

Tackling a Searing Subject

Austin Pendleton remembers first reading Matthew Greene’s Thousand Pines, a new play about how a junior high school shooting affects three families months after the incident.

“I remember reading it on the train up to Boston and I thought, ‘Whoa,’ ” says the director-actor-playwright in a recent conversation at New York City’s HB Studio, where he has taught acting for 50 years.

And he was only on page six, he says.

The script made its way to Mark Lamos, artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse, and after a reading at the theater, the play was put on the 2018 season. The production, with Pendleton directing, continues through Nov. 17.

“Healing is not easy,” says Pendleton, who says he is both “excited and scared” going into rehearsals about the emotional journey of these three families. “The spectrum is very wide, but healing is also God’s gift to tragedy. There is a natural process in people that works toward healing or partial healing or even acknowledging the hope for healing.”

Audiences may know Pendleton from his acting roles in films What’s Up, Doc?, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge and as the voice of Gurgle in Finding Nemo, among his scores of TV, stage and film credits. (He portrayed Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2012 HBO movie Game Change, about Sarah Palin’s rise as John McCain’s 2008 running mate.) Following Thousand Pines, Pendleton is acting on Broadway in January in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy. 

Have you heard… ?

… Actor Linda Powell, daughter of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, fresh from her run in The Roommate at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, will play the secretary of state in the upcoming and final season of Netflix’s House of Cards, dropping Nov. 2.

… There are some major players — both creative and producing — behind Because of Winn Dixie, a new musical based on the 2005 film, which will be in the summer slot in 2019 at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. The show stars the wonder-pooch Bowdie (you might have seen his dog-centric episode on HBO’s High Maintenance), and coached by animal trainer Bill Berloni of Haddam, who got his start more than 40 years ago for the world premiere of Annie at Goodspeed.


This article appeared in the November 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine.You can can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here.

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for the Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for The Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.