BWW Review: I'M NOT FAMOUS Is a Pulsating Musical Journey with Astounding Barbara Minkus
Barbara Minkus is a dynamically talented singer/actress who commands the stage in I'm Not Famous, her latest and most complete autobiographical show. She just finished a sold-out run at the Santa Monica Playhouse where she got extended twice. I believe the show is slated to travel across country and on to New York. It definitely should, as this story is so well honed, and has universal appeal and great meaning for anyone who has ever gotten stuck along the way to fulfilling one's dreams.
Minkus goes back to age 3 when she sang for the first time in Chicago. Her father owned a famous department store. She called her mother a shoplifter because they had a room in their house named the Instant Gift Room. Mom would fill it with toys, clothes and anything else she could find at the store and keep them on hand for family birthdays, barmitzvahs, etc. Mother also had another hobby, entertaining a boyfriend on the side named Arthur. Whenever she wanted to go away with him without the father's knowledge, she would tell him that she was accompanying Barbara on auditions. In her teenage years, Barbara had blossomed into quite a performer. She did have one big problem, though: she was fat, not your typical little Jewish girl. When she opened her mouth to sing, what poured out was astonishing from pop to operatic. However, as she performed, people would laugh. She was not only overweight but... terribly funny.
Minkus proves her worth as a comedic actress with humorous anecdotes like the ones above throughout he 85-minute show. Yet, there are also quite poignant moments like when she won a role on The Danny Kaye Show. She idolized him, but during her first week, she didn't even see him until the day of taping. He did not rehearse with her. Of course, the show came off brilliantly and Barbara was a smash, but was let go...for no apparent reason. This painful experience reduced her to tears. Yes, there were successes. She won Lucy in the original Broadway musical You're a Good Man Charlie Brown and eventually got cast as a regular on the TV hit Love American Style. Her life, nevertheless, was not a happy one. It was "run don't walk" back and forth between New York and LA. Something was misssing....until, quite by accident, she met opthomologist Arnie Barron, whom she married. She felt the need to expand her horizons, got into therapy and went back to college and got a degree with a major in musical theatre and a minor in therapy. Today she performs as Barbara Minkus, marriage counsels as Barbara Barron and is a happy wife and mother of two children, known as Barbara Minkus Barron.
This fulfilling journey is made engaging by the petite lady herself who sings about a dozen songs such as "The Man That Got Away", a splendid "Nobody", "Once Upon a Time", "That's Life", the bouncy "If My Friends Could See Me Now", and her beautifully rendered finale "Here's To Life". James Cooper as scenic designer has done a lovely job particularly with the projections on two small screens behind. They add so much color and substance in telling the stories. The wonderful Ron Barnett accompanies Minkus throughout at the piano, and Susan Morgenstern has not only directed quite fluidly but also written the script with Minkus. It flows seemlessly, making its points with down.to.earth humanity as well as possessing an entertaining flair.... but primarily it's the star who makes it all work. Her incredible light shines brightly at every moment. She may not think she's famous, but she will live on in our hearts....and that's about as famous as one could wish to be.