Christine Ebersole was in an airport a couple of weekends ago when she spotted a book by her late "Camelot" co-star, Richard Burton. "I saw 'The Richard Burton Diaries.' It's like a 700-page book, and I got it! I'm in his diaries!" she said, her enthusiasm spilling out over the phone line. The actor was suffering with an injury during the 1980 revival at Lincoln Center, but he wrote only nice things about his young co-star. "I adored him," she said. "He was in a lot of pain, and he talked about that in the diaries. His shoulder was really out."
Ms. Ebersole had just a couple of Broadway shows under her belt at that time. She went on to be a two-season regular on "Saturday Night Live" and a stalwart of the New York stage, winning two Tonys as best actress in a musical -- for her 2001 performance as Dorothy Brock in the revival of "42nd Street" and for her "dual role of a lifetime" as Edith Beale and Little Edie Beale in "Grey Gardens."
She has a movie opening April 26, co-starring with Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton and Susan Sarandon in "The Big Wedding," and she is a regular on the Pittsburgh-set "Sullivan & Son," none of which has slowed down her concert schedule. On Monday, she returns to the Cabaret at Theater Square as part of the Trust Cabaret's one-night-only series.
Ms. Ebersole, 60, has received many rave reviews, but her cabaret shows have really brought the superlatives out of New York music and theater critics.
Ben Brantley of The New York Times said, "Listening to the range of her technique packed into her unmissable cabaret act pushed my admiration into something like awe." Steven Holden, reviewing the cabaret show "Age Before Beauty" -- which she will share with Pittsburgh audiences Monday -- declared it "brilliant." Both men wrote of the multitude of voices and personalities she is able to project in her cabaret acts.
She crisscrosses the country for work these days but has a longer break than expected from her role on the TBS comedy "Sullivan & Son," where an injury to star and Hampton native Steve Byrne has shut down production for nine weeks. Before she knew the break in TV action was coming, she had fit the Pittsburgh gig and one in Palm Springs, plus a premiere of "The Big Wedding," into what she calls "a hiatus."
The woman who played Ado Annie in "Oklahoma!" isn't just a girl who can't say no. She goes where the scripts and situations are most appealing, from a comedy like "The Big Wedding," in which she plays mother of the bride to Amanda Seyfried, to Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," in which she will play Leonardo DiCaprio's mother.
"That was last November," she said. "It was fun, really great. It was three separate days of work, but it was with Rob Reiner and Marty Scorsese and Leo DiCaprio, so that was pretty special."
She also moves easily between smaller concert venues such as the Pittsburgh Cultural District's Theater Square and the splashier ones, such as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.
"It just has a real intimate vibe that I find really nice; I really appreciate that art form," she said of performing her cabaret acts. "It is different than performing for 2,000 people -- it's a different kind of energy in the room."
She doesn't play favorites with songs in her cabaret act, which she describes as a mini-musical. "It has a beginning, a middle and an end; it's not just a random smattering of songs, so that one song, one story, impacts the other." "Age and Beauty" was created in collaboration with her longtime director, Scott Wittman, and you can be sure it will include a sampling from fan-favorite "Grey Gardens."
Reflecting on the many phases and forms her career has taken, she begins where the conversation started, with that 1980 production of "Camelot," when she commanded the stage beside a legend.
"There was Richard Burton and Milos Forman [her "Amadeus" director] back at the beginning, and 'Saturday Night Live.' I feel really blessed that I've been able to move in these different paths and participate in these different mediums. The good news is I enjoy every minute of it. So when someone says, what is your favorite, I enjoy whatever I'm doing right then."
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. First Published April 7, 2013 4:00 AM