In Latin, the word "diva" means "Goddess." A diva can also be a famous show girl, an opera singer or any woman who is glamorous and fashionable. But it may also signify a spoiled woman who thinks she's above others and demands attention in the most manipulative ways.
In her new one-woman show, Layne Littlepage will not only explore the various definitions of the word diva, but will bring some of Broadway's favorite divas to life through story and song.
"Broadway Leading Ladies: Viva the Divas!" opens Friday at the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts in Carmel, where it will run for four weekends. Littlepage will be accompanied on the piano by Rick Yramategui.
Performing songs from the Golden Age of Broadway musicals, Littlepage will impersonate or sing in the style of stage legends including Julie Andrews, Ethel Merman, Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Fanny Brice, Beatrice Lillie, Carol Channing, Elaine Stritch and more.
"I'm calling the show 'Viva the Divas!' because I'm going to talk about their different personalities, and the different ways they became stars," said Littlepage. "I'm singing songs that made them famous, and tying them together in a funny way."
She mused, "The subtitle is 'Great Broadway stars that I have known, that I have not known, or that I've only spoken to over the phone.'"
Littlepage was influenced by many of these Broadway leading ladies as a high school student, when she'd listen to their records on an old turntable.
"I loved all the classical theater," she said. "A lot of these women were role models for me. Whenever I got a record, I wanted to be that person. I think I got inspired by every one of them."
Later, she translated this inspiration into creating musical shows about her role models. After playing the part of Madame Arcarti in a local production of "High Spirits," a friend suggested she put together a Beatrice Lillie show.
She performed the show at Monterey Peninsula College Theatre in the late 1990s, then took the show on the road to New York and around the country.
Littlepage followed her Beatrice Lillie show with a Julie Andrews show, as well as other productions featuring the songs and stories of famous composers, including George and Ira Gershwin, Noel Coward and Cole Porter.
"Viva the Divas" will be the first show that features a variety of performers in one production — and all of them women.
"It's different from doing a one-person show, or a show about one or two composers, because there is so much more variety," said Littlepage. "It was more complicated to put together. For example, with George and Ira Gershwin there is a chronological narrative. But with this I tie the narratives together by talking about (the performers) as Broadway divas, how they succeeded, and how they intersected."
While she will impersonate the divas in some of the songs, in others she'll sing in the style in which they were originally performed and others she'll perform with her own Littepage twist.
In preparing for the show, she used a wide range of references from YouTube to the library to find inside stories that she can share with the audience between songs.
"People are always interested in show business inside stories," Littlepage said. "This show is really about their songs, their lives, how their careers intertwine, who gets the role in the movie — and who doesn't. I talk about which stars were rivals, which stars were friends. Sometimes they were a little of both."
Lily Dayton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. GO!
What: Layne Littlepage stars in her original show "Broadway Leading Ladies: Viva the Divas!"
Where: Carl Cherry Center for the Arts, Fourth Avenue and Guadalupe Street, Carmel
When: Opens at 7:30p.m. on Friday, July 27, and continues at 7:30p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3p.m. Sundays through Aug. 19
Tickets: $25, available at 238-0092 or online at www.ticketguys.com
Information: www.carlcherrycenter.org, www.laynelittlepage.com