30 November 2010

The Ascendancy of Ann Harada

Melly Chlistmas!

Last night, the Broadway diva Ann Harada returned to her best-known character, Christmas Eve from Avenue Q, for a gala performance to raise money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Accompanied by a male harem of other Broadway stars, she sang, danced, and had me howling with laughter, for an impeccably good cause.

Yet her achievement is all the more remarkable when I phrase my lead sentence a bit differently: This girl I knew in college is an authentic Broadway diva now. And while I often find myself astonished by the miracles my friends can accomplish — from singing Strauss to building houses, from writing operas to cooking choucroûte à l’oie — the job classification is so particular, the designation so select, the number of office-holders so small, that my astonishment in Ann’s case bears repeating.

This girl I knew in college is an authentic Broadway diva now.

We had clues, even in college, and I suppose I had more than most others, since I watched Ann in every rehearsal and performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide at Brown. She played the Old Lady, and I can vouch for the fact that she didn’t rely merely on comical incongruity (tiny young woman of Asian-American heritage plays battered Rovno-Gubernian crone with nearly impenetrable Borscht Belt accent) to make an impact. Watching her cavort in “I Am Easily Assimilated,” you knew she was a star on the rise.

But success on the stage of Faunce House in Providence doesn’t entirely prepare a performer for a career on Broadway, and a number of actors (including this writer) retire when they graduate. To succeed in New York, an actor has to possess plenty of luck and pluck, yes, and Ann had to work and to wait for a very long time before her big break. But during that time, she had also built upon her strengths and skills, as an actor must, in order to blossom like a flower when the little sun of the spotlight fell on her at last.

Deeply Felt Performances: Ann and Friends in Avenue Q

So it’s fascinating for me to see Ann now — and especially fascinating to listen to her. She was always terrific, as I say, and yet she’s audibly grown up. Her voice in maturity is a thing of beauty and power, her registers seamless and her range (as she demonstrated by taking the Sarah Brightman part in a duet from Phantom of the Opera last night) phenomenal. I’m now confident that the note she can’t hit has never been written. Get her enough Avenue Q puppets, and she could sing the Lucia sextet as a solo.

Beyond technique, her voice has character, and that’s perhaps the most wonderful thing about Ann’s singing. Whether big and brassy or tender and sweet, she sounds like a real Broadway diva — which is to say that she sounds entirely and exclusively like herself. (And possibly a little bit like the legions of gay men who are imitating her at any given moment.)

Earlier this fall, I saw Ann in My Jewish Mother’s Lesbian Wiccan Wedding, opposite Liz Larsen (right) as the Jewish Mother.
This was the first time I’d seen Ann onstage in —
well, never mind how long.

It would be lovely to take credit for Ann’s talent, or even just to say I’d witnessed every step in its evolution, but the sad fact of the matter is that, as Ann gently pointed out, I wasn’t around. Her phenomenal career must be included among the many other developments (the growth of friends’ children, the disappearance of old haunts, etc.) for which my long Rip van Winkle nap hasn’t prepared me.

Yet how thrilling it is to wake up, to hear Ann, and to realize that she’s in her prime as a Broadway diva. Sometime tonight, in a piano bar near you, someone will imitate her. And right now, somewhere in the Midwest, some kid is playing her recordings, and singing along with her. Another New York story has begun.

Even if you didn’t attend her show last night, you can make Ann (and me) very happy, by making a donation to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Just click here.


latebloomingmom said...

So happy to be part of the ever-growing Ann Harada fan club ... and to have been one of the first cheering in her corner.

Anonymous said...

No such thing as a "Sarah Rice" part in Phantom. You mean "Sarah Brightman"

William V. Madison said...

Ooops! And thanks, Anonymous -- the correction is made.

I often confront an unconscious mental block where Sarah Brightman is concerned, due to an unfortunate childhood incident regarding a chipmunk and a dog whistle.