By Elliot Zwiebach for Cabaret Scenes
Dianne Fraser loves what she’s doing when she’s doing it for love — love of Broadway, that is.
Fraser is the producer of a series called An Evening of Classic Broadway in Los Angeles — a format that pairs singers with songs from the Great White Way. The next edition is scheduled for Rockwell Table & Stage on Mother’s Day, May 14 — the first time the show will be tied to a specific theme.
While the music will still come from Broadway, the cast will be composed of mothers and their offspring — a list of performers that will include Tami Tappan Damiano and her son Dante Damiano; Chelsea Field and her son Owen Bakula; Kelly Lester and her daughter Julie Lester; Nita Whitaker and her daughter Skye LaFontaine; and Fraser and her daughter Hayley Silver.
Fraser produces four to six Classic Broadway shows a year, “which hopefully leaves audiences wanting more,” she told Cabaret Scenes. And it’s a true labor of love, she added. “Brad [Ellis, the musical director] and I feel like we’re doing some good in this ‘Crazy World’ — hey, no one’s sung that one with us yet! — when we touch the hearts of people who love Broadway the way we do. And the singers always have a great time. They get to sing songs from roles they’ve played or have always wanted to play, or they’re able to try out new material and end up with a brilliant new arrangement of a song.”
Cabaret Scenes: How would you describe the concept of An Evening of Classic Broadway”
Dianne Fraser: It’s pretty simple. We give Broadway lovers a chance to hear show tunes they love, or introduce them to songs with which they may not be familiar. Some audience members prefer the old songs — in fact, I’ve had people come up to me weeping after a show, and saying Carnival was the first Broadway show they ever saw, and “Her Face” was their favorite song — while younger patrons love when we do material from The Book of Mormon, Wicked, Waitress, or Hamilton.
To me, “classic Broadway” means well-known songs from well-known shows or lesser-known songs by well-known writers. For example, we’ve featured songs from The Baker’s Wife, which never made it to Broadway, but was written by Broadway icon Stephen Schwartz, and we’ve also done songs from The Last Five Years, an Off-Broadway show by Broadway’s Jason Robert Brown. The song “Feelin’ Good” also fits our brand, though many identify it with Nina Simone or Michael Bublé, and are surprised it’s from The Roar of the Greasepaint, The Smell of the Crowd.
CS: How did the series come about?
DF: Someone who had seen a benefit concert I produced hired me to put together a program of Broadway music for her country club. That show featured John Boswell at the piano, with five great singers– Dan Callaway, Julie Garnyé , Damon Kirsche, Ashley Fox Linton, and Kate Pazakis. Subsequently, we performed the show at Vitello’s with an expanded cast and called it An Evening of Classic Broadway, and it was so enthusiastically received that Vitello’s asked us to do more. Because Boswell was not available, Brad Ellis came on board as pianist, and we did six shows before Vitello’s closed for renovations, which is when we moved to Rockwell. The Mother’s Day show will be our 14th performance there.
CS: How do you determine the song selection?
DF: We always set the line-up of performers before choosing the songs. We like a diverse group of singers — legit, belters, comic, young and older — that complement each other. We ask each singer what he or she would like to sing, so they don’t have to learn new music, though if a singer has difficulty choosing material, Brad is the final arbiter on song choices.
We typically have seven or eight singers doing two songs each or one solo and one duet. Brad and I always sing as well. Each show usually runs about 90 minutes and includes 18 to 22 numbers. We love duets and try to incorporate at least one in each show, and we’ve done a few trios as well, including some dance trios for “At the Ballet” and “Easy Street” – and we’ve done “Big Spender” with four dancer-singers, all choreographed by Sylvie Gosse, who danced in the numbers. Last year we also started doing group finales, rehearsed with harmonies and solo parts.
CS: Who hosts the shows?
DF: We’ve tried different hosts, but Brad’s comic delivery and repartee with the singers is so organic that I’ve become the hostess and Brad is master of ceremonies, in addition to serving as music director.
CS: What do you do when you’re not producing shows?
DF: In my “day” job I’m a partner in a management/production company, Industry Entertainment, where I represent writers and talent and develop film and TV projects as a producer. My career as a concert producer grew out of a series of salon performances in my home, which I still continue to do from time to time.
Like many singers, I had aspirations to be on Broadway, so I’d say these concerts were inspired in part by my love of performing and of all things Broadway. I’ll never quit my day job, which I also love deeply, so doing these shows allows me to live the dream and pursue everything that I enjoy.
CS: Any new projects going forward?
DF: I’m working with Greg MacKellan, the founding artistic director of 42nd Street Moon in San Francisco, to launch a non-profit theater company in Los Angeles modeled after 42nd Street that would offer musicals that are not usually done — gems from Berlin, Porter, Kern, and Rodgers & Hart, along with some more contemporary composers and lyricists.