Regional Reviews: Seattle
Who is Sunny? And what is her connection with the blondes she recreates in her show: Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Dolly Parton, Madonna, Joan Rivers and Britney Spears? The answer to the first is easy enough to answer, thanks to her bio, but the second is a mystery.
For starters, Sunny is currently at the Crepe de Paris Cabaret with the world premier of her show, 7 Blondes: Sunny & Her Fabulous Ladies. A singer with a gold record from Ecuador and hit songs in Spain, Sunny had her own theater in Branson, Missouri, where she was crowned Branson's Rhinestone Cowgirl, and recently moved to Seattle to be with her husband, Greg Thompson, a local producer who specializes in productions for cruise ships and Vegas casinos. We find this out in the last ten minutes or so of 7 Blondes, but we never do discover her connection to her subjects. For that matter, we really never find out whether or not she can impersonate the majority of them either.
Let's take a break for a moment and examine the rich history of impersonation as an art form. From its grandiose beginnings, where actors portrayed Caesars and Emperors in sarcastic plays, to the cast of Forbidden Broadway toppling sacred cows of a different color, impersonating the famous has served the dual purpose of providing entertainment and social commentary. When done well, it goes beyond mere mimicry, being infused with the artist's perspective and feelings on the subject as well. Imagine Christine Pedi poking fun at Liza or Patti Lupone in Forbidden Broadway. Rich Little creating an entire conversation between seven ex-presidents of the United States. Tommy Femia and Steve Brinberg's recreations of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand. The late, great Charles Pierce's whirlwind of a show in which he brought to life a host of female film stars. All these performers had a focus, or more importantly, a point of view, toward the people they were recreating. 7 Blondes lacks any such focus and is the stage equivalent of singing along to an album with a hairbrush.
Whether or not Sunny is able to recreate these legendary women is open to debate, as we are never given the chance to see her fully in action. Instead, Sunny spends most of the show singing and dancing (in fabulous recreations of the original outfits) to video clips of said stars. Thus we see Sunny do "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" a la Marilyn while said star is singing and shimmering behind her, or recreating Madonna's "Express Yourself" while the original is performing alongside her larger than life and more importantly, larger than Sunny. Now given the choice, which would you watch; the original or the pale copy?
The show is poorly conceived and executed, and smacks of the ultimate vanity production; it is the local equivalent of a bad soprano renting out Carnegie Hall for a recital. Which is too bad, since Sunny seems to have the chops, training and personality to deliver an intimate and entertaining show. Her personality lives up to her name and she definitely has a voice, as evidenced by the few minutes she stopped trying to be somebody else (even a self-created diva) and connected with the audience. For those few minutes, Sunny became a real person, instead of a construct or an imitation. If she had expanded on those moments and built a show around them, she could have given an honest performance. Sunny (or her producer/director husband) should have trusted herself more. She would have been much better served with less artifice and more art in a scaled down show. Forget about an upstaging video screen and cheesy synth tracks. Do away with the overwhelming, claustrophobic set that looks like Moulin Rouge threw up after an absinthe induced hangover. Get rid of the village of thirty-six that it took to create your show (why does a one-woman show need a casting director, anyway?). If she had simply done a small scale show, even one focusing on these seven larger than life blondes and the impact they had on her, we may have gotten to know the real Sunny, who just may be a worthy addition to the blonde pantheon as well.
7 Blondes runs Thursday through Sunday at 9pm through September 30. For reservations, call 206-623-4111.
- Jonathan Frank