BWW Reviews: These BROADWAY BABES are the Real McCoy!
Before there were cell phones, before there was Facebook, before there was even email. . . there were the BROADWAY BABES, Kaye Ballard, Liliane Montevecchi and Donna McKechnie. Now legends in their own lifetimes, these three stars are still strutting their stuff and doing it better than most performers less than half their age.
Now in their seventies (McKechnie) and incredibly, their eighties (Ballard and Montevecchi) these icons of entertainment past, played to a packed house at the Albuquerque Little Theatre on July 27. For almost three hours, accompanied, on stage, by a select band of accomplished musicians (expertly led and directed by talented pianist, David Geist) they delighted the audience with stellar performances from a golden age of musical entertainment, now, sadly, largely unknown to younger generations raised on and hypnotized by, an array of modern technological gadgets.
Since each of these wonderful ladies has her own unique style, they took the stage in turn, connecting with the audience in extended solo performances, giving each one the opportunity to display her own individual talents to the fullest.
Donna McKechnie, attired in an elegantly simple, flowing, long blue dress, opened the show. Best known for her performance in A CHORUS LINE (for which she won a Tony award for best actress in a musical) her focus was on traditional songs from her long and varied career. In between songs, she related stories of her interactions with some of the great showbiz names she has encountered and worked with along the way. Especially charming was the tale about meeting her idol, Fred Astaire, who came to visit her backstage and, after taking her out to dinner, invited her back to his mansion, where they ended the evening dancing together - something she had not had the courage to ask him to do and which, for her, was truly a dream come true.
She was followed by the inimitable and exquisitely French, Liliane Montevecchi, who must have made a pact with Old Father Time, stating that as long as she agrees to carry on performing, he agrees to look the other way. Dressed in close-fitting, black pants with a slit up one side, to reveal legs that go on for ever, Montevecchi is living proof that, for her at least, age really is nothing but a number.
A classical ballerina by training, she began her career as a prima ballerina in Paris, before arriving in the US to be signed by MGM. In the years since then, she has worked in live theatre, films and television, appearing as a singer, dancer and actress. Her performance, in 1982, as Liliane La Fleur in NINE, won her a Tony award for best featured actress in a musical.
Montevecchi is also a talented comedienne, who kept the audience enthralled with her antics, as she delivered songs in both French and English (Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Stephen Sondheim...) and related stories from her colorful past. Her physical, vocal and mental agility show not the slightest signs of slowing down and her charisma is almost tangible. Ah, vive la France indeed!
The second half of the show was devoted entirely to Kaye Ballard and opened with a compilation of excerpts from her long and illustrious career, projected onto a screen at the back of the stage. That career covers just about everything, from burlesque, vaudeville and nightclubs, to musical theater, films, television and variety shows. Singer, actress, comedienne, storyteller and all-round talented performer and entertainer, Kaye Ballard has appeared on the Tonight Show, the Muppet Show and the cover of Life magazine. She has also recorded several albums and appeared in shows too numerous to mention, including GYPSY; FOLLIES; CARNIVAL and THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE.
In spite of her advancing years, Ballard's vocal chords are still impressively intact, as is her wicked sense of humor and her obvious love of life. She can still perform a song, tell a story and deliver a joke, with perfect ease and her ability to connect with her audience is also still abundantly apparent. When she declared to the audience, towards the end of the show, "I love you!" someone yelled back, "We love you too!" and everyone immediately burst into spontaneous applause. A beloved star, indeed.
And a special mention goes out to the musicians, affectionately referred to as 'the band.' These five guys, playing a range of instruments that included guitar, banjo, drums, bass and violin, were the musical cherry on this delightful cake. Having them up there on stage made the show even more intimate and pianist, David Geist, who has himself played in Broadway shows, including CATS and LES MISERABLES, was the perfect musical partner for these legendary performers.
I couldn't help wishing that the show could have been captured on film, not only for the pleasure of seeing it again... and again... but also because maybe, just maybe, some of the millenials out there, if given a glimpse of the real meaning of the word 'entertainment', may begin to realize just what it is they've been missing.
photo courtesy of Albuquerque Little Theatre