Travels with V.J.

Tonight, of course, is the Tony Awards, and the gang from Talkin' Broadway will be there as we meet at the Rainbow Room lounge around six o'clock. Prior to that, however, I'll be catching the matinee of Cabaret.

The red eye from Las Vegas to New York took all of four hours and eleven minutes as we had 200 m.p.h. tail winds. Getting in around 6 a.m., I spent all of Friday doing some gardening at our guest house, but mostly sleeping off the jet lag.

On Saturday, we headed into the city to meet some staff members at B. Smiths restaurant, where we had a very nice lunch before heading to the matinee of Chicago. I wanted to see Karen Ziemba in the role of Roxie Hart. $60 seats in the mezzanine weren't bad; however, the tickets were stamped "obstructed view"...not to worry, only thing I wouldn't see was the drummer in the onstage band.

Chicago is still a crisp production and had some wonderful surprises as well. Ziemba plays a pretty good Roxie, but Velma, played by understudy Mamie Duncan-Gibbs, was sensational. Bebe Neuwirth has been out the last few days with a foot injury. Mamie is a seasoned Fosse dancer with just the right flip of the wrist or turn of the leg. She's got just the right attitude and a singing voice to boot. I've seen all the Roxies and Velmas in this current production. Some have been better than others, but all were good in one way or another. However, Mamie Duncan-Gibbs is the best Velma to come down the pike since Chita Rivera. Mamie is in the chorus playing the role of "Annie" which is where she went last night as Bebe returned to the role.

The other pleasant surprise was Ernie Sabella in the role of Amos. Ernie replaced Joel Grey for a stint when Grey went on vacation, and, now that Grey has moved on, Ernie is in full time. He brings to the role the original humor that Barney Martin did in the 1975 production and carries it off flawlessly. There were a few added laughs as Billy Flynn, who never remembers anyone's name, kept referring to Amos as Andy. Hinton Battle plays Flynn, and for some reason there was audience laughter on the Amos and Andy references... laughs which were never there before. Battle lacks the sleaziness which is required of the role, but he's okay. He's also given a tap routine for some strange reason.

Marcia Lewis is still knockin' em dead in the role of Matron Mama Morton. The duet with Velma, "Class", was executed perfectly and had the audience rolling. I noticed for the first time in "The Cell Block Tango" that one of the lines was cut, perhaps to be politically correct. If you have the OBC, you can listen to one of the gals talk about her boyfriends who had seven wives. Cut is the line " of those Mormans, y'know."

Overall, Chicago is always a great friend to revisit and is still a must see should you be heading to New York.

Afterwards, we headed over to Barrymore's for the proverbial cheeseburgers and ran into a few Talkin' Broadwayers. Mike and Rodney were there and we chatted for hours. It's great fun in Barrymore's, as you never know who is going to be in there, or what you'll hear. The main thing that caught my ear is the buzz on the street that The Beauty Queen of Leenane is simply great and should be picking up at least two Tony Awards tonight. It has "Best Play" and "Best Actress" written all over it!

We'll see tonight how accurate the buzz is.

See you tomorrow with a special report on The Tony Awards!

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