Having created a sensation wherever it has already played ( including the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis ) , ... And Then There's Bea, With Her Friend Billy Goldenberg at the Piano, promises to be a brilliant and bawdy evening of musical theater and comedy starring Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and performer Bea Arthur. [ Runs May 22-31 at the Park West, 312-902-1500. ] Ms. Arthur, who won over Chicago audiences with her memorable performance as Mrs. Draper in Strike Up The Band during the winter of 2000, returns to town to entertain in her own distinctive and delightful style.
Gregg Shapiro: Last year when we spoke, it was just prior to your appearance in the Ovations! production of Strike Up The Band. Can you please tell me something about that experience?
Bea Arthur: It was wonderful. I enjoyed it enormously.
GS: Now you are in Chicago to perform ... And Then There's Bea with Billy Goldenberg. Can you please tell me about this show?
BA: We had been toying with the idea of doing it for about three years. He'd be off doing something. I'd be off doing something. Finally, we got together and said, Hey, let's really do it. We tried it out a number of times. At the end of last summer, we tried it out for three nights in Westport, Conn., at the White Barn Theater. Then we did more work on it and took it up to the Great Waters Festival in New Hampshire for one night. That's when we decided that we're really going to do it. We got ourselves a producer and we have a company and we opened in Minneapolis on the 24th ( of April ) . We're getting ready to tour until Christmas. Then, God willing, Broadway in 2002.
GS: So the reaction to the show has been good?
BA: Fabulous! Absolutely fabulous. Of course, Minneapolis is such a wild theater town anyway. We did it at the Guthrie theater, which was wonderful. Of course, I'm definitely looking forward to Chicago again. Talk about a theater town.
GS: Can you please tell me something about the material?
BA: I don't really know how to describe it, except I like to think of it as Barbara Cook meets Redd Foxx. What I mean by that is that we do some wonderful, wonderful music, and a lot of it is fairly ribald. It is not autobiographical, I will say that. We tried to stay away from ( that ) . There is an occasional amusing anecdote and a couple of stories. I think it's a lovely evening. Knock wood.
GS: How did you first become acquainted with your "friend and pianist" Billy Goldenberg?
BA: I think it was in 1981. Marilyn and Allan Bergman did an evening at the Dorothy Chandler ( Pavilion ) , in L.A., for the benefit of the American Civil Liberties Union. Instead of doing the usual, which lyricists do, they have a pianist there and they say, "And then we wrote...," and then they sing it. They got their favorite performers together - the list was wonderful...it included Streisand. They had each performer do a number of songs that they had written. And they had the composer, for each of the segments, conduct that particular segment. Billy had done Queen Of The Stardust Ballroom with them. I did three of the numbers from that show and we just became very fast friends.
GS: It sounds wonderful. Are there plans to record the show and release it on CD?
BA: Possibly. We haven't even thought of that. All we're really concentrating on now is working on it and refining it. We learn a little something from every place we play.
GS: Rufus Wainwright, the son of singer/songwriters Loudon Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, has immortalized in you in the song "California" on his new album Poses. Were you aware of that?
BA: No ( laughs ) . Does he say something nice?
GS: It's actually very sweet. The song is full of all of these pop culture references, included the television show Rhoda. The line from "California," that refers to you, goes, "I don't know this sea of neon/Thousand surfers, whiffs of freon/And my new grandma Bea Arthur /Come on over."
BA: Oh. Okay ( laughs ) . That's lovely.