Review: “From Judy to Bette: The Stars of Old Hollywood” (on-line)

by Lynn on March 29, 2020

in The Passionate Playgoer

From Judy to Bette: The Stars of Old Hollywood

Written and performed by Rebecca Perry

Accompanied by David Kingsmill

Directed by Michael Rubinstein

Costumes and props by Claire Hill and Patricia Whalen.

Just because we are self-isolating does not mean that reviews need to stop. Recently, the wondrous Rebecca Perry did a streamed version of her terrific theatre show: From Judy to Bette: The Stars of Old Hollywood. The word “Fireside” was added for this version. It was recorded at her parents’ house (I think her Mom did the techno stuff, her father provided the fireplace with ecologically responsible log).

I first saw the 30 minute version of this show at the Next Stage Festival in 2016. The show has been expanded to a 100 minute version, has played across the country and the Edinburgh Festival. The show deals with four Hollywood stars: Bette Davis, Judy Garland, Betty Hutton and Lucille Ball. These women would not be pigeonholed by the men who headed the studios. These women broke the mould and the rules.

The starting off point was MGM of the 1930s with its own kind of glamour. Rebecca Perry dressed in a beautiful off the shoulder black gown for Bette Davis and added accessories for the other women. For example she added a red flower and red gloves for Judy Garland (with a tip of he hat to The Wizard of Oz), a hat for Betty Hutton and an apron for Lucy. Perry began each segment with a picture of each star and segued from segment to segment seamlessly.

Perry focused on what made each woman distinctive rather than dwelling on the biographical aspects. And she noted that 90 years later those four women are still household names. Bette Davis wanted to be memorable not likeable and she was not shy about saying “no” when she didn’t like something.

Judy Garland was brilliant and tragic. (Perry informs us that Garland was the second choice for The Wizard of Oz. The studio wanted Shirley Temple! Garland won them over). Garland was ahead of her time in that she was championed by gay men. When an interviewer noted that disparagingly Garland cut him dead and walked out.

Betty Hutton went from character parts to leads. She proved wrong anyone who thought that being a goofy woman would not lead to stardom. Hutton replaced Judy Garland in Annie Get Your Gun. And she intimidated Ethel Merman in Panama Hattie to the extent that Merman had Betty Hutton’s song cut from the show. Betty Hutton got ‘even’ by becoming a star of Broadway and film.

Lucille Ball was not afraid to be “ugly” or at least less than glamorous. It took her 20 years of dancing in the chorus before she became a star. She became a superstar in television. She was the innovator or many “firsts.” “I Love Lucy” was the first television show to use a live audience (she hated the sound of ‘canned laughter.’) She was the first star to be pregnant on TV; to be in a mixed-marriage; to own a television studio. Lucille Ball was a force in television and in comedy.

Rebecca Perry often sang songs associated with each of the four women but she didn’t imitate their singing styles. Rather she emulated them. She has a strong voice and a lovely sense of how to sell a song. She is ably accompanied by David Kingsmill. Her writing is economical, funny and captures the essence of the four stars at the centre of her show. Perry is a confident, graceful, joyful performer who took us to the heart of what made each of these icons so distinctive and remarkable.

Above is a link to her on-line show. It’s still live. Give a look and enjoy. And if you have a chance to see Rebecca Perry in a show in the future when we all go back into the theatre, grab it!

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