Also see Sharon's review of La Bohème
Cissy Conner's Plane Crazy isn't so much a show as a showcase. Billed as a comedy (with music) about the experiences of a flight attendant, Plane Crazy is just an excuse for Conner to show off her talents. And they are considerable.
Conner is a comedienne. Her comic stylings are slow to get going - and when you think you're going to have to sit through an hour of watching Conner dim the lights and stick a flashlight up her nose to sing "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer," it looks like it's going to be a very long hour. But Conner's humor is much better than this, and when she pretends to be a stuck-up passenger who follows an apology for being too condescending with, "You do know what condescending is, right?" you know you're in good hands. Conner is also a strong physical comedienne, and she surprisingly finds new laughs in what I'd thought was the overdone flight-attendant-showing-you-the-safety-features-of-the-aircraft routine.
Conner is also an impressionist. She has previously played Katharine Hepburn in a one-woman show, and also performed Marlene Dietrich in An Evening with Marlene, so it is not surprising that both Kate and Marlene end up on Conner's flight. She also does a dead-on Cher - at one point, she even puts on a long black-curled wig, but it is wholly unnecessary; Cher is apparent in her voice and manner. And when Cher breaks into song, an unusual rewrite of "I Got You, Babe" apparently requested posthumously by Sonny Bono, it is hilarious, because she not only sings it, but captures Cher's eyeball-rolling irritation at Sonny in her voice.
But the show starts to waver when Conner tries to sing when not doing impersonations. The problem isn't so much Conner's singing voice - it's that we never really hear it. Conner frequently sings in the character of a dippy flight attendant. It's an annoying voice which is, once or twice, intentionally off-key. Conner tries to get humor out of the goofy delivery of silly lyrics, but her mock singing voice is more irritating than anything else.
It should also be noted that the songs Conner sings are not original works, but their authors are uncredited in the program. She closes the show with Robert Lindsey Nassif's "The Air Is Free," from "The Flight of the Lawnchair Man" (from 3hree), a song which probably goes unrecognized by the bulk of Conner's audience and should really be credited. Moreover, Conner sometimes alters her songs' lyrics, raising troubling questions of artistic integrity. Her best song is probably her version of "Movies Were Movies" (from Jerry Herman's Mack and Mabel), in which she has inserted a sequence of famous movie impressions to perform. The impressions are fast, furious, and funny, but I couldn't help cringing every time she sang "Movies were movies when movies were more than a show," rather than Jerry Herman's original character-specific lyric. There must be a better context for Conner to display her talent at movie character impersonations.
RBI Productions presents Plane Crazy. Written and performed by Cissy Conner. Produced by Mary Todhunter and Mik Scriba. Directed by Bob Garrett. Musical direction by Dan Belzer.
Plane Crazy runs Thursday through Sunday at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena through February 29. For tickets or information, call (562) 901-9799.
Update: Plane Crazy has moved to the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 3:00 through June 6, 2004. or tickets or information, call (562) 901-9799.
Photo by RBI Productions