Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Many Judys On Stage In Doing Judy
Also see Richard's review of Some Like It Hot
After seeing the opening of the Los Angeles hit Doing Judy, I was reminded of the Cary Grant line "Judy, Judy, Judy" that every Grant imitator does. Oh my God, all those Judy Garland imitators on stage at one time. From the opening, when three Judys came out in short pants tuxedo outfits with black fedoras singing "Come On, Get Happy" from MGM's Summer Stock, I thought this was going to be a fun show. Unfortunately, these three very talented entertainers whose character names are Carl Channing, Jody Garland and Rita Haywired (Rudy Guerrero, Matthew Martin and Rick Felkins) got "bumped off" one by one before they could finish the song. Why you might ask? Because that is what this little whodunit is all about.
The plot of this mystery is that a serial killer is targeting all of the Judy Garland imitators in San Francisco (a location change from Los Angeles since we have just as many Judys floating around up here as in L.A.). The San Francisco Chief of Detectives (Francesca P. Roberts) assigns straight arrow detective Mike Manley (Zach Galligan) to find this dastardly killer. Mike must infiltrate a drag-in-training class run by former professional Garland imitation Kenny Carlisle (Todd Sherry). Kenny has a special class on how to become a famous drag queen and it is called "homonics," which means famous actress's quotes from favorite films, or a gay equivalent of ebonics. There are many of these quotes in this production, from every queen's icons, like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Faye Dunaway (the coat hanger quote), and Susan Hayward, among others. The special class has some great characters including Chica (George Weiss Vando), who speaks Spanglish; a twinkle and daddy do, Sugar (L.B. Fisher) and Shelley (Tony winner Sammy Williams); and Francine (Patti Allison), a mother who wants badly to make up with her long alienated cross dressing son by performing a Judy Garland song.
There are a lot of clever lines through this campy production, such as "Can we just get a bucket of water and watch her melt?" We see the headmaster or mistress lead the class in "Judy-robics," exercise routines such as the waving of hands and saying, referring to the older Judy during the CBS days, "Don't forget to muss that hair trying to remember if you took that last Secenol." We also see some very good imitations with the students mouthing the words of the actual Garland. Of course, one more actor has to be killed before we discover the real villain.
Tom Pardoe, the director, has assembled a courageous company of gifted actors who take turns doing a full Garland number to the diva's great voice. There is a juvenile sense of fun in this production although there are some slow spots as well. It could be tightened up and faster paced. Zach Galligan, who starred in Gremlins 1 and 2, does a creditable job as the butch detective who really doesn't know his own sexuality, especially in a great scene where Kenny teaches Mike how to apply false eyelashes before Mike's big Judy Garland number. However, Zach should keep his day job as an actor and not try for a job as a Garland imitator. He looks hilarious, and not a pretty sight; he is just too male to make a good drag queen.
Todd Sherry, who was the lead Seymour in the National production of Little Shop of Horrors, is wonderfully flamboyant as Kenny. He is sharp as the world weary diva who is always needling the butch detective and saying such zingers as "Your macho act isn't welcome here unless you are doing Barbara Stanwyck." He has the best campy lines and he makes the most of his role. L.B. Fisher comes across as a great, thin, young Liza Minnelli. He has the mannerisms of Liza completely down pat as he mouths the words. He is also great as the bitchy young queen that you love to hate.
Patti Allison, who recently participated as Hugh Jackson's mother in the reading of The Boy from Oz, is great as the mother, Francine. She plays the role with a touch of Joan Crawford, with a hanger in the background. She has one brilliant scene in the second act when, dressed in a frumpy housecoat, singing softly to "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby," she suddenly takes off the housecoat to reveal a heavyset Judy in marvelous sequins in her later CBS years, breaking into song. She has the later Garland down perfectly and is one of the highlights of the show.
Also great is George Weiss Vando as Chica doing a great Garland number from Meet Me In St Louis. George comes out with the Baby Jane fright wig and a large pole in his left hand, sits on the edge of the stage and starts to mouth "The Trolley Song," bouncing up and down rapidly as if on a trolley on a very rough track. It is a priceless moment of the production. Sammy Williams does what he can with being a man who drinks a lot and does a George and Martha (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf) with L.B. Fisher. Their duet of "It All Depends on You" is on the mark.
The two main non singers, Lee Corbett and Francesca P. Roberts, are very good in their roles. It is especially fun to see the tall and distinguished Corbett dressed in leather and ready to go to a Folsom Street Bar. He also looks cute in the big Arabian Nights costume in the last scene. (Don't ask why.) Ms. Roberts has a great speaking voice and she looks like a great chief of detectives. I would have liked to have seen those three opening guys do more since they were terrific as Judy.
Doing Judy closed Alcazar Theater on October 12. For tickets call 415-441-4042 or visit www.doingjudy.com.