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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Bruce Vilanch Camps it up at the Empire Plush Room

Also see Richard's review of The Women

Bruce Vilanch makes his Empire Plush Room debut with Bruce Vilanch: Almost Famous which played at the Westbeth Theatre Center in New York for three months to raved reviews. Bruce Vilanch is the king of camp with his robust body wearing a bright red T-shirt with a slogan and his Prince Valiant hair.

Bruce opened the show by saying "Good evening, I'm Harriett Miers" which started the evening off on a high note. He talks about the upcoming "Celebrity Fit Club," VH1's popular reality-series on which he says he lost 18 pounds, which launches him into the song from A Chorus Line, "Dance: Ten, Looks Three," in which he mangles the lyrics.

Vilanch does some jokes about the Royals visiting San Francisco and how Carmella kept giving side glances to handsome Mayor Newsom. He tells of starring in the touring production of Hairspray at the Golden Gate Theatre. He describes the neighborhood as dicey and said the television crews of Law and Order should be filming there.

Bruce does a lot of "shaggy dog stories," making bitchy remarks about bygone actresses and actors such as the late Paul Lynde and his drinking habits. He even tells a very rude joke about what a drunken Paul said to the mother of a bawling baby on an airplane. There are potshots at the late Ann Miller and a "gaseous" Tallulah Bankhead (Bruce appeared with her in summer stock where he played a 14 year old butler). He does not let himself off the hook when he says "Every time I am in San Francisco people come up to me and says 'Aren't You Jerry Garcia?' However it's better when people in Los Angeles come up to me and says 'Aren't you Shelly Winters?'"

The almost famous raconteur talks about growing up in Patterson, New Jersey, his child modeling days for chubby clothes, his five years as a journalist at the Chicago Tribune, writing for such "sweet" shows as the "Donny and Marie" television show and "The Brady Brunch Variety Hour." There are great inside anecdotes about writing for the Oscar shows and bitchy stories of Bette Midler, Whoopi Goldberg and the legendary Sophie Tucker. Bruce does a great imitation of Sophie singing along with a lot of her old vaudeville one liners.

He throws out a lot of zingers along the way, such as a dig about the History Channel being more like the Hitler Channel since every time he watches it there is something about the German dictator. The gays get their shots also when he talks about Fire Island. He thinks there should be a CSI television series called "CSI - Fire Island." He says that when an arm washes up on shore wearing cheap jewelry no one gives a damn.

Bruce's act is not perfect and there are a lot of rough edges. He has a tendency to go off in different directions and some of the lines are clinkers that do not go over, and he acknowledges them as such. He goes a little over the line of good taste on some of the dead celebrities such as Ann Miller and Paul Lynde. His pianist Dwight Okomura has little to do since the comic sings only two songs.

Bruce Vilanch: Almost Famous plays at the Empire Plush Room through Saturday, November 19th. The cabaret is located in the Hotel York, 940 Sutter Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-885-2800 or visit www.EmpirePlushRoom.com. Mary Wilson the Supreme Diva makes her world premiere cabaret appearance starting November 29th and running through December 11.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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