Sunday, June 14, 2009

Unsinkable?

You bet. If an act like the one she's proffering at the Carlyle can't sink that indefatigable MGM workhorse, Debbie Reynolds, nothing can.

An unusually subdued MISS DEBBIE REYNOLDS, courtesy of STARLET SHOWCASE. 

Debbie Reynolds. Oh. My. God. A train wreck, but an entertaining one. She was SO manic, we wanted to slap her at times. It's a hoary old act which Deb probably hasn't changed since 1973, and one obviously designed for bigger theaters in, say, Reno or Branson. It hasn't been scaled down for the intimate Carlyle at all, and the result is unnerving and uneasy. What's worse is that the star (admittedly resplendent in more red sequins than A Night Of 1000 Liza's) is clearly aware of the fact that she's playing a smaller-scale venue - she made several references to and jokes about it - but apparently didn't feel the need to alter her act accordingly.

The singing? Well, Miss Reynolds was always known more for her spunk than her voice, and age has not exactly refined her instrument. She had rather clever, re-written lyrics to "I'm Still Here" ("I survived Louis B. Mayer, and I'm here"), but if you weren't listening VERY closely, some of the in-jokes flew over your head because of her wobbly pitch, incredibly sloppy phrasing, and a maddening, consistent-through-the-show need to rush the tempo. 

For instance, what should have been the showpiece of the set (a medley of  songs from her MGM days) practically flew by as an afterthought - ONE sped-up verse each of "I Wanna Be Loved by You," "Abba-Dabba Honeymoon," "Singin' in the Rain" and "The Tender Trap," punctuated by hurried dialogue ("...and then I did this picture with Frank Sinatra at Metro"), and culminating with "I Ain't Down Yet" from Molly Brown. Miss Reynolds more or less sang this one complete, intending it to be a "showstopper," but this brassy, belting number showed off all the worst aspects of her voice. 

Known for her sometimes caustic, often raunchy humor, Reynolds' stage patter with the ringsiders was bizarre, overly familiar and "earthy" to a fault - it became downright embarrassing at times. "Eat, eat, it's expensive here - whatcha got there?" was a tired, repeated refrain throughout the evening. And one mention of her age and a joke about how no one under 50 in the room would recognize her was funny - it became strained and unfunny after the fourth or fifth crack.

The best part of the evening was a deadly, dead-on impersonation of Barbra Streisand. Oddly, Debbie's voice sounded pitch-perfect as Babs, albeit hidden under tons of reverb. She should have kept the reverb button on for the rest of the act. The Big Closing Number was a medley of Judy Garland songs ("My dear friend at MGM..."), which was OK and cute when she did "You Made Me Love You" and "For Me and My Gal" (both suited to her range and folksy, down home style), but turned mawkish and unintentionally funny when Little Debbie attempted to torch her way through a (thankfully) abbreviated "The Man That Got Away," which segued into a strained last chorus of "Over the Rainbow." The finale was a surprisingly tender, sweet, complete rendition of "Tammy," a song she used to denigrate and kid in her other acts - it was the best song of the night.

On the plus side: she's a trouper, Debbie Reynolds is, and she looked great. Despite the fact that it was a pretty bad show, she still had you rooting for her, and we (and the other handful of gay men in the sparse, second show audience) were one of the only ones who gave her a standing ovation. We shook her hand as she exited, and thanked her for coming back to New York. We were sincere, too; we just wish she had come back with better material.

7 comments:

  1. wow...I felt like I was right there with you....even a little scared at times she might pop out of the screen and ask me "Whatcha got there?"

    Somehow I think the *more* fun show with her would be, oh, maybe backstage or over drinks, you know?

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  2. what a great description and critique! Inexplicably, she must not have a gay man in her entourage who could have corrected all these flaws for her during rehearsals.

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  3. yes, excellent reportage! i saw her with minnesota orchestra a few years ago.....sure, it's not perfect, but for me, i just loved seeing her.....that alone makes me smile. she's 77.....bravo!

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  4. What a wonderfully written review! Thanks for sharing, sweetie. Have fun tonight!

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  5. Oh, dear. Proof that simply having Been There, on its own, might not be enough. You'd think she'd at least have Carrie whip her up some good patter...

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  6. Thanks for the review. I am not that familiar with Reynolds but it is a wonder that she can still get up and give it a go considering her lifetime of hard luck. I know exactly how unsettling a show/performer can be when not properly scaled for the venue. I saw Betty Buckley once at the (very small, intimate) Cinegrill in L.A. and she nearly killed us with an excruciatingly loud "Memory"; shouted as if to the back row of the Winter Garden Theater.

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  7. As always the reproting was as entertaining(if not more) than the show!

    And remember even if she only strutted on stage to bake ham in an EZBake oven it would be a 1000 times more entertaining than what passes for an evening's entertainment in Boston!

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