Debbie Reynolds

by Kevin Kline

Thursday August 13, 2009

Debbie Reynolds.
Debbie Reynolds.  

Film and stage icon Debbie Reynolds recently concluded a four performance run at the Drury Lane theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. A regular performer at this suburban venue, Reynolds is celebrating her 62nd year in show business. And she's still got it.

Debbie (or Mary Frances, as is her birth name) is showbiz personified. She enters the stage with the same sunny smile and apple-cheeked charm that made her a household name in the 40s and 50s. And with a twinkle in her eye, she delivers a bawdy, low-brow one-liner that makes her older, loyal fans laugh uproariously and the younger audience members (all five of us -- including myself) sit up and take notice.

She's a charmer and loves her fans. I'm guessing her act remains pretty stagnant, as many audience members would yell out the punch lines to her jokes before she would get to them, or they would help set up an anecdote or song.

If you're a stickler for theater etiquette, stay far away from a Debbie Reynolds concert. All the rules are out the window. Pictures, video, talking -- it was all going on during the show. In fact, it wasn't uncommon for Reynolds to pose mid-song for a photo op, and then after standing still waiting for the picture, yelling, "Oh, for PETE'S SAKE! Press the damn BUTTON!"

The woman knows how to deliver a line. She has boundless energy, loves performing, and is a joy.

I was pleasantly surprised how funny and candid she is. Nothing seemed sacred. She talked about her ex-husband Eddie Fisher, with whom she had daughter Carrie Fisher and then he famously left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor: "I didn't know if he went up or down when he died. And, frankly, I don't care."

She discussed her wigs: "Yes, this is a wig. I have over 100 of them in a closet. They wanted me to update my look to wear the new, spiky wigs. You know the kind. But I want to look like Debbie Reynolds!"

She also revealed that her "Singin' in the Rain" costar, Gene Kelly, had a bald spot. His hair piece got caught in some gum she placed on the rung of a ladder during shooting. "Gene didn't talk to me for 22 years after that."

While a charming personality, my issue was with her singing. Reynold's doesn't have a huge voice, and selected songs way out of her league -- including a Judy Garland medley for her finale. The song choices seemed to come out of the blue, with her loose, off-the-cuff patter rarely connected to the tunes. However, as she noted in her opening number, the afternoon was all about performing songs "we know and understand."

However, I can't recall the last time I laughed so continuously during a show. The woman knows how to deliver a line. She has boundless energy, loves performing, and is a joy. The tacky-glam Drury Lane is a perfect venue for the sparkly performer. If she doesn't come back soon, I think there will be a lot of disappointed suburban theatergoers.