Christmas with a Twist
Don't Tell Mama on46th Street
has you covered if you're looking for good entertainment and a quick show. A Very Bette Christmas, written by Me & Jezebel playwright Elizabeth Fuller offers undeniable humor, noteworthy performances and a touch of silliness that makes your time well spent.
A Very Bette Christmas is the hypothetical situation of sliver screen star Bette Davis rehearsing for a live 1962 Christmas television special featuring festive music and skits along with other notable names such as Bing Crosby, Liberachi, Brenda Lee and Bette's very own favorite, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane co-star Joan Crawford. However, to Bette's misfortune, she finds that she and Amish, the Russian actor playing the minor role of "the elf," along with the director, are the only ones able to attend rehearsal. The rest of the star studded cast has been snowed in due to a massive blizzard which is shutting down most of Manhattan. In typical Bette fashion though, she seizes the opportunity to use her artistic license and take the show in a new direction – into a holiday roast of Joan Crawford.
While the plot is slightly over the top, the back story to the play sheds a funny light on Ms. Davis that may lend some credibility to the concept. In 1985, writer Elizabeth Fuller played host to Bette Davis at her Connecticut cottage during a hotel strike in New York City. For four weeks, Bette lived with the Fullers and according to Elizabeth, she seamlessly transitioned from guest into "running the household with an iron fist." While these events became the basis for Fuller's book and show, Me & Jezebel, it ultimately seeded the idea in Fuller's brain about what it would be like to spend time with Bette during Christmas. Although A Very Bette Christmas is completely fictional, Fuller says that, "I imagine it depicts Bette exactly as she would have acted, butting heads with her director, slinging icy zingers at Crawford and mingling with the audience as a sly method to take full control of the television special. There is no doubt about it; Bette Davis was explosive, intimidating and always the star!"
And that vision is exactly what you see during A Very Bette Christmas. Bette Davis, played by award-winning impersonator Tommy Femia gives an amazing performance. From the batting eyes, the overdone make-up, the constant smoking to the perfectly selected wig that he wears, Femia does Davis proud. His deep, gruff voice is thrown up an octave or so during spoken dialogue but returns to normal during any musical act. Purposely sung off key and with a thick New York accent, each performance is priceless and has you doubled over in your seat. You realize that you are watching the most ridiculous storyline and loving every minute of it.
Daniel John Kelly who plays the role of Amish, the only other actor to make it to set, delivers a fine performance and plays well off of Femia. Although Kelly's role is truly "silly" and at times, almost a little too "silly," once you get into the feel of the play, his character works and loses any annoying edge he might have had when the play began. Playing an extra who gets his big break since no other actors can make it to the rehearsal, Kelly has his character act the part of all the missing celebrity co-stars. He does amazing Liberachi and Bing Crosby impersonations and even dons a wig and pounds of blood red lipstick when he fills in for Joan Crawford as Bette throws out insult after insult.
Bette Davis has little holiday spirit as she shows no mercy to Joan Crawford throughout all of A Very Bette Christmas. In one scene, Bette plays all three roles of the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future as they one by one visit Joan Crawford in a parody of A Christmas Carol. Bette, without blinking an eye tells the subbing Joan that this is the sad, lonely life she gets for "sleeping her way to the top." Bette also takes numerous jabs at Joan Crawford's love of drinking by working them into several Christmas favorites. At one point while Bette is singing "Good King Wenceslas," the song suddenly turns into a full out ribbing of Joan. In the tune of the carol, Bette sings, "Every day's a drunken haze…." If that wasn't bad enough, Joan's drinking gets thrown into 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Bette lovingly reads to an audience member, "'Twas the night before Christmas, and all the house, Joan Crawford was stirring, because she was soused."
A Very Bette Christmas offers the audience exactly what it sets out to do. It offers an exaggerated look into the life and character of Bette Davis which keeps you laughing and leaving the performance with a smile on your face. When all taken with a grain of salt, A Very Bette Christmas is a one stop Christmas wonder sitting on Theater Row.
Performances of A Very Bette Christmas will run through January 8th at Don't Tell Mama on46th Street
between 8th and 9th Avenues. For dates, show times and reservations, please call 212-757-0788.