Review of Celebrity Autobiography at the Broad: A Piece of Toffee Twice Chewed
Georja: Celebrity Autobiography is playing at the Edye, a cabaret space at the Broad Theatre in Santa Monica. It is a perfect cabaret piece, light, gossipy, fun. Its creator Eugene Pack won a Drama Desk Award in the category of “Unique Theatrical Experience” for coming up with an entertaining concept: have celebrities read from other celebrities’ books.
It’s a great format-a blank stage where different performers and rotating material can fit in in an ongoing and never-ending succession. Kind of like the touring Vagina Monologues which enlisted performers from all corners of the globe, Celebrity Autobiography feels like a piece that has and could run in various places for years to come, as there is an endless supply of celebrity minutia and Hollywood history and just as huge an amount of eager fans to lap it up. It will next be seen at the Grammy Museum (213 765 6800).
Gerald: In the world of book publishing, there is nothing more tantalizing to an editor than a celebrity biography with the star’s headshot on the cover. If the subject’s name is a household word, the book is almost certain to sell to at least a few thousand hardcore fans and stands a more-than-even chance of becoming a million-copy bestseller. What goes between the covers is typically not a huge concern. The celebrities either dictate their stories to their assistants or hire ghostwriters to interview them and then fill in the narrative gaps. Either way, the results are only surprising in how ordinary the stories are.
Georja: Our group of celebrity performers was all very adept at bringing forth the material. Especially succinct and funny was Roger Bart, when he interpreted the writings of Vanna White. He later knocked our socks off as Dolly Parton, accent and attitude. Ms. Parton, who asks “What is more disgusting, spitting out my food or being a lard ass?” is so humorous in her writing I would be tempted to get a hold of her book myself.
Fred Willard gave us David Hasselhoff, Guinness Book of World Records’ “most watched TV star on the planet, who wanted to prove he “was more than a guy in red speedos running on the beach.” I actually developed a new respect for Hasselhoff as I heard about his challenging himelf with a difficult Broadway role. Willard also did a bravado scene as Richard Burton, seen through the eyes of Debbie Reynolds (Dale Reyfel) and Eddie Fisher (Eugene Pack).Richard, to Elizabeth, "How could you do this to him, he loves you so much. I might take him upstairs and f*** him myself!"
Gerald: The stars confessions, for the most part, deal with: 1) embarrassing moments, 2) food obsessions, and 3) affairs. The affairs are a distant last in importance to the tellers because all the juicy stuff has already been soaked up by the tabloids. It is much more interesting to learn that George Hamilton is a sucker for Girl Scout Thin Mints (by the box) and Dolly Parton loves to gobble donuts but doesn’t swallow and spits the mushy dregs into a Styrofoam cup.
Georja: It was fun to see Laraine Newman with a perfect Cher impersonation telling us she likes candy, but that there is “just as much fulfillment from fruit.” Jennifer Tilly made a great Ivanna Trump and Elizabeth Taylor. And one of my favorite gossips of the night was Eugene Pack’s interpretation of Burt Reynolds, especially the catty things said about his ex, Sally Fields. That is another book I may have to pick up… Illiana Douglas as Melissa Gilbert was awesome when she told Rob Lowe, "You don't f*** with America's sweetheart." Will Forte was fun as Tommy Lee. Tate Donovan portrayed an amusing, sappy Kenny Loggins.
Gerald: The take-away is that stars are people, too. Duh. But put these words in the mouths of skilled comedians – quoting verbatim, mind you – and prepare yourself for fits of hysterical laughter.
Photos by Peter James Zielinski
Georja Umano is an actress, comedienne and animal advocate
Gerald Everett Jones is the author of the Rollo Hemphill series of comic novels
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