wed 17/07/2019

Debbie Reynolds - Alive and Fabulous, Apollo Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Debbie Reynolds - Alive and Fabulous, Apollo Theatre

Debbie Reynolds - Alive and Fabulous, Apollo Theatre

Can't sing much any more, but she can still crack a great joke

Debbie does London: 'If I'm Princess Leia's mother, that makes me some kind of queen'

Let me confess immediately: Debbie Reynolds didn't mean a great deal to me beyond Singin' in the Rain, warbling "Tammy" and Being Princess Leia's Mother (and believe me, she gets plenty of comic mileage out of the Carrie Fisher connection). But I knew she had a fabulous Hollywood history, and having been smitten by old troupers Elaine Stritch and Barbara Cook in London, I wondered if she could match them. Half-sashaying, half-tittupping on to deliver her own abbreviated, adapted version of Sondheim's "I'm Still Here", she immediately provoked the comparison. Did she compare? Nowhere near. But is her repartee slick and funny? Sublimely so.

At 78, the voice can be forgiven for rarely breaking the surface of the right pitch - and that's actually a virtue when you're impersonating Marlene Dietrich. Yes, she does all the voices, and what's more, she knew them, from Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn - marvellously captured - and Bette Davis to Barbra Streisand, who gets a big solo spot at the end of the first half complete with false nose and wig, and even bubbles up to a few spot-on top notes. The miking's not as good as it should be: some of the lyrics can't be caught, and I suspect that's not Debbie's fault. But her rapport with her long-term drummer and pianist is good, reminding us that this is vaudeville in living form ("a bit of this and a bit of that", she calls it - "now they say 'in concert'").

The stand-up routine is both warm and sharp, seeemingly spontaneous - including one joke that brought the house down, which I won't spoil, and one that didn't work - mocking of the various "jerks" she married and making much of the line that if husbands don't last, audiences do. I wish there was more of the routine whereby she passes remarks, in a kind of live version of DVD commentary, and sings along to some of her MGM roles shown on screen. "Glad I shaved my armpits" greets her bursting out at a party in Singin' in the Rain, and of course the "Good Morning" sequence is pure joy ("Gene made us do 40 takes and then chose the first").

I was expecting more in the second half, maybe a wry commentary on the cheesier lines and the less well-fitting roles; but that was short and serious, a nice spotlight on long-term piano partner Joey Singer followed by a homage - no impersonation this time - to friend and neighbour Judy Garland ("I'd pop round after work, we'd have a couple of drinks, she'd give Liza a drink"). She slipped in one more good quip before taking her standing ovation: "If I'm Princess Leia's mother, that makes me some kind of queen", followed by the expected dig. There were plenty more kinds of queen in a glitzyish audience of celebrity and half-remembered soap stars, of course; but the golden girl who once said she would end up stuffed like Trigger and sing "Tammy" if you put a dime in still rules the stage. Don't miss her.

The stand-up routine is both warm and sharp, seeemingly spontaneous

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