She was a strikingly beautiful young woman, with the manners of a Southern belle, the language of a drill sergeant, the daring of a trapeze artist, and the talent to become the greatest actress of her time. But for Tallulah, life was the thing, not the play. She was an impetuous woman who wanted to try everything at least once.

- Tallulah Bankhead biographer Denis Brian

In the play Tallulah, we get a good look at this interesting woman - at a point in time between her "young woman" days and the end of "trying everything at least once." At 90 minutes, presented in real time (with the intermission serving as a several hour gap) the two acts invite us into the boudoir of the woman who is more known for her behavior and personality than for her work, admirable though that work may have been. We are confidants of Tallulah as she speaks to, winks at, and asks questions of those of us gathered in the Byham Theatre, an intimate place by Broadway Series standards. We don't necessarily learn a lot of new things about Tallulah Bankhead, but we can see what it might have been like to know her at this point in her life.

Kathleen Turner plays the bawdy Tallulah as easily as if she had portrayed the legend for years, though the play was presented in only two venues before this tour started. Turner is voluptuous and beautifully gowned by Bob Mackie. She presents several sides of Ms. Bankhead, changing from exuding confidence to almost falling apart as she deals with keeping the world around her in its proper, supportive place. Although the pretense of a party for President Truman as the backdrop for the 1948 setting may or may not be factual, Tallulah drops real names, anecdotes, and facts about her life as she prepares for and recovers from said party. Turner handles it all quite well and is a very charming actress on stage. Her incredibly rich voice transfixes as it delivers the almost non-stop dialog, and her face is so expressive I doubt those in the last rows of the balcony had trouble knowing what she wanted us to imagine Tallulah was thinking. Aside from Turner's performance, the most delightful part of the show is the sumptuous set design by Derek McLane.

This is not a perfect play, but it might be if some rewriting is done during the remaining eight stops on the tour. It seems at times that there is going to be a story, then it appears that there isn't. If the party and the other events current to the play (phone calls, etc.) are to advance some plot, let them; otherwise it would have been more interesting to see Ms. Bankhead at different times in her life, covering a longer time span than one night. And a few of the many one liners are real groaners. But it was not a wasted evening; it just held anticipation that wasn't completely fulfilled.

Tallulah is presented by SFX Theatrical Group & James L. Nederlander, in association with Duncan C. Weldon and Tony Fantozzi and runs through November 5 at the Byham Theatre. Written by Sandra Ryan Heyward, Directed by Michael Lessac, Set Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Bob Mackie, Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski, Original Music by Michael Jay, Sound Design by Scott Lehrer. Starring Kathleen Turner.

Other Tour Dates for Tallulah:
Baltimore, MD 11/07/2000 - 11/12/2000
Chicago, IL 11/14/2000 - 11/26/2000
Philadelphia, PA 11/28/2000 - 12/03/2000
Palm Beach, FL 12/5/2000 - 12/17/2000
Dallas, TX 1/9/2001 - 1/14/2001
San Francisco, CA 1/16/2001 - 2/22/2001
Detroit, MI 2/13/2001 - 3/4/2001
Columbus, OH 3/06/2001 - 3/11/2001

Also see the schedule of Pittsburgh theatre

-- Ann Miner

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