Review: Debbie Reynolds at Mohegan Sun's Cabaret Theater
In 1972, Debbie Reynolds founded The Hollywood Motion Picture Museum. The non-profit museum owns a collection of Hollywood costumes, props and movie memorabilia that Debbie bought, sight-unseen, from the movie studios when they cleaned house and got rid of unwanted stuff to free up some room. In those boxes, among other things, were Marilyn Monroe's white "subway grate" dress, Elizabeth Taylor's "Cleopatra" costume, a pair of Judy Garland's ruby slippers from "Wizard of Oz" and thousands of other pieces of movie history. The collection is unrivaled.
Debbie Reynolds spent her own money to buy the boxes of unknown content, at auction, so the public would have the opportunity to appreciate these pieces of movie history, instead of them being scattered to private collections. I have seen part of the collection, which was housed in Debbie's Las Vegas Casino. That Casino closed a few years ago due to Debbie's then-husband's gambling addiction. He lost millions of his, and her, money. The casino folded under a mountain of debt and became a short-lived WWF casino, before being absorbed as an administration building for Bally's Resort Casino.
The costumes and props were re-packed and Debbie has been looking for a new, permanent home for the museum. After rumors that the museum would open in the back of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, CA, it seems that Pigeon Forge, TN is going to be the likely new home of the The Hollywood Motion Picture Museum. Dolly Parton put Pigeon Forge, TN on the map with her theme park, Dollywood, so the location is not pulled out of thin air. "The deal is not yet signed", Debbie told me, "As soon as it is, I would be happy to do an interview about it, but not 'til the deal is done. I don't want to jinx it."
Debbie Reynolds has made her career playing the girl next store, the wife next store, and has recently been cast in the role of "slightly eccentric mother". She played Albert Brook's mom in "Mother", Kevin Kline's mother in the movie "In and Out" and the role of Bobbi Adler, Deborah Messing's (Grace) mother, in the hit sitcom "Will and Grace". Her persona is of the girl from Texas who made it big, but never forgot where she came from or how to work hard.
On Thursday evening, Debbie, looking every bit the Hollywood/Las Vegas legend she is, strolled out from back stage left in a two-piece sequin, slit up the left leg, jacket open at the front, costume. It is a variation on the costume she has worn for her stage show, forever. She found her look and stuck with it. The wig? Up, blond, perky. The face? Perfect! The smile? The same "Tammy " smile you remember from the movies. The song? "I feel a Song Coming On".
"Hello, Good Evening" she waved out into the audience as the two-piece band behind her vamped. "I am so relieved to see that so many of my fans are still alive." "Many of you young folks may not know who I am, I am Princess Leia's mother." "You thought you were coming to see Connie Stevens?"
From that start, it was an evening of nostalgia, and camp. Debbie introduced great clips from some of her movies, including clips from "The Unsinkable Molly Brown' and, of course, "Singing in the Rain", which in my opinion, is right at the top of the list of best movie musicals ever, right behind "Wizard of Oz". "Watch us there" Debbie said, "Watch us as Gene Kelly, Donald O'Conner and I dance down that marble staircase and never once look down at our feet. How we did that without breaking our necks, I'll never know."
Debbie's act is more of a one-woman variety show, than concert. She told jokes, some good, really good. Some bad, really bad. She has the market on Eddie Fisher/Elizabeth Taylor jokes, and no one else can tell them. She can tell funny stories about love, marriage and betrayal, and Elizabeth Taylor, and you know it comes from first hand experience. Debbie Reynolds owns those jokes and stories, because she lived them. The Monica Lewinsky jokes, are getting a bit threadbare at this point, though.
Debbie does impressions, first as Zsa Zsa Gabor, she set up the bit to talk about Zsa Zsa marrying Nicky Hilton, and then tells a few jokes about Nicky's grand-niece, Paris. A quick, off-stage, wig change and nose add-on, and Debbie comes back to do a dead-on Barbra Streisand, that is not the most flattering impression of La Streisand ever, "Barbra hasn't seen that yet", Debbie said, "That's why I am still living."
After a quick costume change (same style costume, this time in turquoise sequins), during which she runs a Hollywood blooper reel with some really funny stuff on it, Debbie re-takes the stage for a Judy Garland medley. This was the first time I have her seen do the medley, and it works. The crowd loves the songs, the memories and the fact that Debbie is paying homage to Judy.
As the applause for the medley ends, Debbie said, "Well, I have done everything but my one hit." "You may remember I was in a movie a few years ago called 'Tammy and the Bachelor'." To the audience's delight, she sang it as sweetly as she ever did.
At 74, Debbie Reynolds seems like she is a part of the entertainment industry's collective unconscious. As an older performer, she is in good company. Eartha Kitt, Chita Rivera, Barbara Cook, Ruth Brown, Elaine Stritch and Carol Channing, are all women over 70, and all have cabaret/nightclub acts. I am hopeful that Debbie will follow Kitty Carlisle Hart's example and perform for the next twenty or so years.