Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June, 2003
You know how sometimes you attempt to relate something that really cracked you up to a friend who wasn’t there when it happened and you fail? You want SO MUCH to share the fun with this person who just doesn’t get it. And finally you give up and say, “I guess you just had to be there.” Well, that’s how it is with Fame Takes a Holiday, except that the “there” in question isn’t the Theater Barn in 2003, it is New York City about 20 years earlier.
There once was a New York-based cabaret sketch comedy group called The High-Heeled Women consisting of the late Cassandra Danz, a long-time Hudson resident better known as Mrs. Greenthumbs, Mary Fulham, soap star Arleen Sorkin, and Tracey Berg. They were quite well known, won a New York Critics Circle award, published a book, and performed around the country in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. One of their writers was a young man named Warren Leight, who went on to win the Best Play Tony in 1999 for his play Side Man. Eventually everyone went their separate ways and tackled other creative endeavors.
In 1999, Danz, Fulham, and Leight reteamed to write a cabaret show about The High Heeled Women. It was called Night of 1,000 Heels and featured skits and songs from the group’s halcyon days in the 1980’s. None of the original High-Heeled Women appeared in it, but it was quite a success, so in 2000 they wrote a sequel. The result was Fame Takes A Holiday which was less successful.
Phew! Three paragraphs just to begin to set up this joke. You see the problem. If you walk in to this show cold you will spend a great deal of the first act trying to figure out exactly what you are seeing. This is a bad idea because the first act is only about fifty minutes long. And even once you piece together the fact that you are seeing four young women pretending to be four other young women (who are based on four real women) pretending to be various characters in a cabaret comedy act, it isn’t that funny because, well, I guess you just had to be there.
I have no doubt that the original High-Heeled Women were indeed hilarious, but a lot of their material has aged and aged badly. Just in the three years since Fame Takes a Holiday opened in New York skits about Iranian women and the French are much less funny. Also, there is a mistaken attempt at a plot here, which was not the case in Night of 1,000 Heels or in the Women’s original act. You know what? Fame Takes a Holiday is just simply a bad play. It was bad long before The Theater Barn got a hold of it, and so the only thing you can fault them with is selecting it over its apparently superior sibling Night of 1,000 Heels.
All that being said, there are four very attractive and talented young actress/singers at The Theater Barn who do their darnedest to make this turkey work. And sometimes they and Director Brad Marlow do succeed in surmounting the general puzzlement of the material and being very funny indeed. I will always have happy memories of Kathryn Foster impersonating a nauseated swan in a tutu, of Christine Gonzales prancing about in the shortest of short nurse’s uniforms, of Deborah Bowman definitely waving her grout float (yep, that’s what that gadget is called), and of Ann Westphal as Beverly Sills narrating an over-the-top ballet.
These women are funny, and they can sing, and they spend a great deal of time fairly scantily clad. Foster, as Polly, the leader of the fictional High-Heeled Women, is perky and likeable. Bowman, as DeeDee, the writer and intellectual of the group, is determined and versatile. Gonzales, as Crystal, the ruthlessly ambitious Latina, is adorable. I actually believed that she had the charisma to make it in a small way in Hollywood. But Westphal, as Lavender, the soft-hearted Lesbian, really intrigued me. I hope that she is not at the Barn just for this one show. I would like to see her tackle a real role in a real musical.
Abe Phelps has designed a deceptively simple set which serves the onstage-backstage schizophrenia of this show well. Jimmy Johansmeyer has created the myriad costumes, which the girls change in and out of on stage, with his usual wit and sense of color. The music in this show is mostly bouncy satire of 1940’s movie tunes, and it is pleasant enough. Musical Director W. Brent Sawyer vigorously tickles those ivories from his nook off stage.
Fame Takes a Holiday runs through July 6 at The Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs an hour and 45 minutes with one intermission. There is a surprising amount of gynecological chatter, so I would not bring children under 12. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003