Ladies In Charge

Ladies In Charge

Buckley’s in her cozy lair; Williamson and McArdle enliven Rudetsky’s chat

In my favorite Bette Davis movie, “Marked Woman,” a gangster questions the meaning of Club Intime, the name of the establishment she toils in as a hostess.

“Intimate,” he is informed, “You know, ‘Get together.’”

“Then why don’t it say that?”

Well, Betty Buckley transformed the already quite cozy Café Carlyle into just that with her show, “Smoke,” last Wednesday night. A true Cancer, she obviously felt every note of what she sang, her eyes welling up with tears at the end of each song. To have this diva stare right at me while doing Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Where Time Stands Still” gave me, as we used to say as kids, “chicken skin.”

Looking resplendent in an Armani tunic (“Vintage,” she told me), Buckley proffered her Garbo bone structure and gave a very deep reading of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” possibly the most beautiful and hardest to sing song of them all. Her voice, which has that duality of being a trilling croon and then belting you out of the room with its power, shimmered on Jobim’s “How Insensitive” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to His Face”—though I would have preferred if she had followed Marlene Dietrich’s lead and sung the latter with its original lyric, “Her Face”.

Seth Rudetsky’s last two “Chatterboxes” at Don’t Tell Mama have really cooked, and if you call yourself a true theater maven and don’t make a habit of going Thursday evenings at 6—and supporting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS which gets all proceeds—you’re strictly a poser. As for the breathlessly funny Rudetsky, with the possible exception of moi, he’s the best celebrity interviewer around, a rare gift in an age in which we have to suffer through the cretinous Larry King, James Lipton’s insufferable pomposity and that redundant interrupter, Charlie Rose.

On February 24, Ruth Williamson at “Chatterbox” proved herself well in that glorious tradition of Broadway funny broads. She said, “It doesn’t get any better than being backstage at ‘La Cage Aux Folles,’ in the green room, watching ‘American Idol’ with The Cagelles. Those girls are mean! And a designer is always whipping up something special for them to wear backstage, so they’re always making these grand entrances.”

She recalled acting in “Annie,” with Sarah Jessica Parker, “talented, but the weirdest looking kid,” and Alice Ghostley, “the funniest woman alive,” and did a hysterical impersonation of that actress’ inimitable, neurotically intense delivery, listening to the hapless notes of some hapless director: “Uh huh…mm-hmm… I see,” and ending with “I don’t think so…” “So Paul Lynde!” cried Rudestky, who was immediately corrected by Williamson: “You never say that to her. She says he stole his whole act from her.”

Williamson drooled over the memory of Peter Gallagher in “Guys and Dolls” (“those lips, those eyes”) and recalled how, on his final night in the show, she surprised him in the wings by flashing him with three signs, “Good,” “Bye” and “Peter,” strategically placed over her naughty bits.

She’s developing a show about legendary performer and “Eloise” author, Kay Thompson (who schooled Judy Garland), with Manhattan Theatre Company. With her gangling comic talent and vocal chops—Rudetsky kept exulting over her high C at the end of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”—if anyone can bring that genius back to life, it is surely Williamson. Now, who will play the Williams Brothers—Thompson’s backup troupe—one of whom was Andy?

One week later on March 3, Andrea McArdle came off as the nearest contemporary thing we have to Judy Garland, in terms of big, belting voice and, just as essentially, natural, supersonic wit. Never mind that she actually played Judy in the 1978 TV movie, “Rainbow,” directed by Garland contemporary and fellow child star Jackie Cooper. “A horrible experience,” she recalled. “He was so manipulative. Hollywood was such a rude awakening after Broadway.” Cooper’s parents had exploited him, living high on the hog while he slaved at MGM and he wanted McArdle to be full of a similar angst about her family, which she simply didn’t have.

“He flipped out and turned on me like you wouldn’t believe,” McArdle said of Cooper. “He’d say, ‘Look at that spot on the wall. Ok, we got the shot!’”

Rudetsky is the biggest “Annie” freak on the planet—he knows everyone who ever played orphans Pepper and Molly—so that star-making vehicle was discussed at length. McArdle said the original Annie was supposed to have been either Bette Midler or Bernadette Peters, causing Seth to shriek, “What? A 70-year old Annie?” “Well, it was 1976.” “A 50-year-old Annie?”

McArdle was 12 when she was asked to step into the role two days before the opening, and she said she would do it only if her friend, Robyn Finn, unhappy as Molly, could play Pepper. McArdle remembered how it was always a work in progress until they brought in Dorothy Loudon as Miss Hannigan, who proved to be the linchpin: “A lot of what was written for her songs came directly from her, during rehearsals.”

Recalling a road tour of “Jerry’s Girls,” McArdle said to had to have an appendectomy and co-star Carol Channing rasped to her, “‘You can’t be out for two weeks and come back to the show.’ So I rushed through my recovery and returned and on my first night back, I was standing at the top of these stairs and passed out, all the way down them. Thanks a lot, Carol!”

But McArdle also recalled that she and Leslie Uggams were always awed by how well Channing photographed, “while we’d look like the Manson family. Geoffrey Holder would design stuff for her, but it’s easy to dress a stick. Clothes always look great on a line. But I think of her and her clothes advice every time I’m photographed. She’d say, ‘Always wear something nautical, anything sailor.’ And she’s right, that navy with the white always looks great!”

McArdle and Channing were replaced in that show when it came to Broadway, and McArdle said she doesn’t know exactly why, but “Let’s face it, Chita Rivera, who I adore, was just way too hot for Jerry Herman’s music. I mean, her doing ‘Let’s Go to the Movies’?”

McArdle favored the crowd with a little ditty entitled “Tomorrow,”—truly, her “Over the Rainbow”—and then naughty Seth forced her to do “Maybe,” from “Annie,” as well, which, even after rapid-fire conversing with him for more than an hour and nary a sip of water, she pulled off magnificently.

McArdle is appearing at Joe’s Pub on March 13 in a rare, solo cabaret appearance.

Contact David Noh at