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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Carrie Fisher's Wishful Drinking and
Debbie Reynolds and the SMC in Singing  in the Rain Take Seattle by Storm

Wishful Drinking
Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher proved a long time ago she was far more than the daughter of Hollywood darling Debbie Reynolds and fifties pop crooner Eddie Fisher, with a talent far greater than she displayed in her (undeniably career making) role as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars film trilogy. Her scathing comic novels, most famously "Postcards from the Edge" and its well received film version, showed her depths as a writer. In her sassy, high-octane one-woman show Wishful Drinking she lays bare here wacky Hollywood upbringing, roller coaster film acting career and her well-documented struggles with chemical dependency and bi-polar condition. Based on what I saw at the show opening at the Seattle Rep, this is the most hilarious and fiercely honest one-woman show to come along since Elaine Stritch's Tony Award-winning At Liberty. Knowingly directed by Tony Taccone, who presents us with a very much at ease Fisher, an extended Broadway run for this show seems like a sure bet.

Entering with a throaty, belty and exuberant "Happy Days are Here Again" (who knew she sang, even with her lineage?) Fisher immediately showers those seated in the rows with glitter, and sets the pattern for much warm and good-humored audience interaction to follow. Act one is largely about her famous family, and much of her chat is centered around her legendary Mama, now her next door neighbor who comes off as much a Texas born Auntie Mame as she does a parent. Carrie's Dad Eddie of course dumped Debbie, Carrie and her younger brother Todd for a torrid romance and marriage to his late best friend Mike Todd's grieving widow, Elizabeth Taylor. Carrie describes this Hollywood tangled web as she recounts her own daughter's flirtation with a grandson of La Taylor, by ways of a skewed work-flow chart of all the Debbie/Eddie/Liz degrees of separation, which she calls "Hollywood Incest 101"; she ultimately ended up telling her daughter that she and Taylor's grandson were "related by scandal." She clearly abhors her own work as Princess Leia, and brings out not just a Leia wig which she dons, but another she plants on a willing gent from the audience.

Act two balances more darkness with the lighthearted self-mockery, as she probes more deeply into her failed marriages with songwriting legend Paul Simon (who wrote some of his more pointed lyrics about his ex), gay second husband Brian, and the drugs and mental health issues. Fisher has a presence in this show that clearly displays her comfort being there, and despite some of her solid film supporting work, it is a joyous revelation to see her shine in this rib-tickling yet nuanced tell-all. Visually, she is staunchly supported by the talented Andrew V. Nichols' colorfully off-center Scenic, Lighting and Projection design.

Wishful Drinking may be too much information for some, but not for my tastes or the vast majority of the audience around me. Carrie Fisher, bravo! The force is clearly with you ... in fact it is you.

Wishful Drinking runs through May 3, 2009 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle Center. Go to www.seattlerep.org for tickets and further information.

A few weeks prior to Fisher's opening, her marvelous movie-legend Mama, Debbie Reynolds, won standing ovations for her exuberant and life-affirming appearance as the centerpiece of the Seattle Men's Chorus' utterly satisfying spring concert Singing ... in the Rain. Thanks to the choreographic wonderment of Kathryn Van Meter, several of the SMC men were dancing more than they were singing, through numbers evoking the golden era of Hollywood dance, and the full-voiced choral ensemble were in top form warbling songs from all manner of Hollywood film and film musicals, but especially focusing on Reynolds classics like "Belly Up to the Bar Boys," "Hallelujah," "Aba Daba Honeymoon" and of course "Singin' in the Rain."

But the two SRO audiences at McCaw Hall were clearly there to see one of the last surviving members (and possibly the last active performer) from the era when the M-G-M lion roared, and the remarkably youthful 77-year-old Reynolds didn't disappoint. She charnmingly chatted and sang along with vintage film clips, cracked wise about herself (telling younger audience members she was "Princess Leia's Mother") and a certain ex-husband ("He barged down the Nile"). The crowd particularly swooned Debbie reprising "my hit", "Tammy," with smooth support from the SMC. And if the show wanted for anything, it was for more of her expert Hollywood star impressions (she tantalized with tidbits of Hepburn and Dietrich however).

The SMC took a hit with audiences kept away from their usually sold-out Holiday concerts by the inclement weather this past December. Happily, this sold-out winner should have helped re-stuff their coffers, as well as emphasizing that in this new depression a name headliner, with the appeal of a Debbie Reynolds and a focus on just plain fun music, is what Seattle audiences are craving right now. That's entertainment, all right!

For upcoming Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus events go online at www.flyinghouse.org

Also see David's interview with Debbie Reynolds.


Photo: Kevin Berne



- David Edward Hughes



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