Connie Champagne Sweeps You Away With the Performance, the Music, the Emotion; Kiki and Herb at A.C.T.

by Buzzin' Lee Hartgrave on July 20, 2007

Connie Champagne sings songs in “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” that might have been sung by Judy Garland if she were alive today. And nothing is a better fit than Jerry Herman’s ‘Gay National Anthem’ — ‘I Am What I AM’ from La Gage Au Follies. Champagne has all the Judy mannerisms down and her rendition of the Herman song easily could have been written for Garland. Champagne is so close to the real thing (Judy), that it is almost eerie. Do you suppose that it’s a trick? Maybe they reincarnated the Elfin Garland somehow. What is so great about this Judy show is that Champagne makes it one of the most personal, provocative and satisfying musicals in recent memory by bringing Garland up to date with modern music.

The show starts out with the moving and emotional ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye’ from Sunset Boulevard. In her later years, Garland would have made a great Norma Desmond. And ‘Goodbye’ is a song that even if she never sang it – must have mouthed similar words. The audience was mesmerized with this song and the arrangement. You could have heard a pin drop. The evening is not all-serious stuff. There is plenty of humor in songs like ‘Oh What a World – I Don’t Know What It Is’ by Rufus Wainwright. Wainwright did his own Judy show at Carnegie Hall that garnered rave reviews. His lyrics are just a wonderful delight…so clever that even a scrooge would have to smile. Champagne delivers it with a devilish glint in her eye.

Also fun is “Scarecrow’s Lament”, “Tin Man”, “Return To Oz” and “Be A Lion”. These songs would have certainly been in Judy’s repertoire – as she surely would have liked to have fun poking a little fun at The Wizard of Oz. But Judy Garland was always best at the tearjerker songs. And “Bring Him Home” from the musical Les Miz would have been perfect for her. Champagne wrings out every teardrop on this one. It’s especially meaningful with the War going on. From the failed Broadway Musical The Boy From Oz, Champagne renders a breathtaking “All I Wanted Was The Dream.” Why this show never worked on Broadway is one of those crazy puzzles. Hugh Jackman, the star, got rave reviews, but somehow it just didn’t click. But the music clicks in Champagne’s rendition. It will stay with you forever. It gets you because that is all that Judy wanted…the dream.

Champagne features the recent Tony Award song from Grey Gardens. “Another Winter In A Summer Town.” Very moving – and kinda makes you think of San Francisco weather. We live that song in every love affair as we walk thru our perpetual summer fog. Judy as Hedwig? Sure thing! … And it’s a hoot. Champagne has a marvelous time with Stephan Trasks’ “Wig In A Box”. Champagne has the chemistry to pull it off, as Judy Garland would have done it.

There is some dialogue in-between the music. Everyone thinks that someone doing a Judy Garland show must be a gay man. If fact when I first heard the name Connie Champagne years ago, I thought that she was a drag queen with a name like that. Champagne kids about it. “Most of the time,” she says, “I am a Gay man.” And then there are the double meaning phrases like when she is Judy Garland – she sez: “It’s marvelous for me to be singing again.” Of course a reference to the Late Judy Garland. The audience loved these little quips, as I did.

The Henry Krieger/Tom Eyen song “I Am Changing” – certainly personifies Garland. She was always promising to be more prompt, to change, to not be so difficult. It never quite worked that way – thus this song brings all of Judy’s hopeless tragedy to front stage. Wow! I was a dishrag after that one. With a sumptuous Cabaret set, Alan Sawyer fluently directs this crisply acted musical show. The musical Director is Joe Collins and his amazing arrangements are thrilling. What a treat. The effective costumes by Theresa LaQuey are perfect, as is the lighting by Brian Morse. The show is simply irresistible! At the New Conservatory Center.

‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ is a song that Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote. And Champagne does a great job on it – but for me, I will never say Goodbye to the Yellow Brick Road. I want to come back to see it again.

CONNIE CHAMPAGNE HITS ALL THE RIGHT NOTES. It’s the richest most complete characterization of Judy Garland that I have ever seen. At the New Conservatory Theatre Center. www.nctcsf.org

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! –(Highest Rating)
WINNER! The Lee Hartgrave FAME AWARD to Connie Champagne Best Actress in a Musical.


Kiki and Herb (Justin Bond and Kenny Melman.) Photo by Carol Rosseg.

KIKI AND HERB – ALIVE FROM BROADWAY. ECCENTRIC DUO — NASTY GOOD FUN!

Kiki is a man and wears a dress and blurts out boozy renditions of songs made famous by Britney Spears and others. But Justin Bond (Kiki) is not just your average drag queen. Bond has been stomping around stages in Glitter and Be Gay productions for years. With his raspy and vibrant vocalizing about everything from anarchy and Jesus, Kiki keeps you awake. Herb (Kenny Mellman) plays the piano and acts mostly as the straight man for the act. He also sings with Kiki on some of the outrageous songs. Mellman is a really clever musician his arrangements are just great. What a fabulous talent he has. There are times however in the show that the music drowns out the diva, as Mellman Pounds out the songs. And I do mean pound. I think that you could probably sit on the curb of the A.C.T Theatre and hear the music.

Kiki Durane is a made up person, who is 76 years old. Kiki talks about a strange event that when Kiki and Herb, who have lived for hundreds of years now, were asked to witness the birth of the baby Jesus way back then. They somehow drank something that contained the afterbirth of Jesus – and thus they have become immortal. Is that kinky enough for you? Well wait – it gets even more bizarre. As the show goes on and on…Kiki gets drunker and drunker. Spilling her class of booze all over the stage. Yeh, she’s a messy drag queen. This song: “When I’m not with you I lose my mind” (Britney Spears) sung by Kiki most likely shows that they are both probably out of their minds.

I have to say that the mostly Gay audience was thoroughly enjoying the hijinks on the stage. There was lots of hooting and hollering and back talk from what looked to be a “Bear Contingent.” This is Political Cabaret, and probably would not be for your Grandfather or Grandmother unless they are very ‘Progressive minded’. Bushettes would definitely not feel comfortable because even the dead Falwell is resurrected. As Bond puts it “If we’re not annoying someone, then we’re not doing a good job.” One set is when Kiki tells us about when they were on a Princess Cruise ship. In the middle of the Ocean they were asked to leave. Then they were thrown overboard. Kiki also tells us how she met Herb. “We both were abanded children and were sent to a Government non-facility for retards. Herb had it worse. He was not only a retard, but also a homo and Jew. This of course was at the height of the depression in the 30’s” – Kiki sez. Are you being annoyed yet?

There is a lot of dark humor along with the sheer brilliance of the show. Then there are the moments that you wish you could have been the one to throw them off the Deck of the Princess Cruise. Due to the volume of the piano (which I suppose is deliberate) you can’t catch every lyric that Kiki sings. Therefore we probably miss some gems as the evening goes on to its climax. Some of the skits are way too long. I think the show should be trimmed by about 20 minutes. When Kiki gets serious on a ballad – it was a marvelous revelation of how melancholy and sweet she is. Most of the time she is a little bit of Carol Channing, Norma Desmond and Bette Davis scratching and hissing at the air. She is one big package of glitter and glamour. Everything on Kiki Glitters from her eyelids to her toes. She sure is ‘Sparkle Plenty’. Great Set design is by Scott Pask. Terrific lighting – Jeff Croiter. Imaginative Costume design – Marc Happel. At A.C.T. on Geary Street thru July 28.

RATING: THREE GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!! – trademarked-

ENTERTAINMENT TODAY:

GROUP NAMES BUZZIN LIKES: “Afrolicious” spin with Djs ‘Pleasuremaker’ and ‘Senor Oz.’ At the Elbo Room on Valencia St.

And at Annie’s Social club…you can try “Missionary Position’ and Resurrection, 9PM. Is it better that way?

Ruby Dee and The Snakehandlers are at The Argus Lounge on Mission St>>>at The Great American Music Hall are the ‘Asylum Street Spankers’. The spanking starts at 9pm on O’Farrell Street right next to the Mitchell Brothers Theatre.

Oh COME all Ye Republicans…to see ‘The Republican Duck Hunter’. ‘Gee, Buzzin didn’t know that Cheney was in town at the Edinburgh Castle.’

KURTAIN UP! (sic)

The Kinsey Sicks are known for their Politically incorrect musical extravaganzas. Their new one has this delicious name – “Condoleezzapalooza!” Don’t go if you faint easily. At the Herbst Theatre on Van Ness Ave.

An Angry Caretaker at a Cemetery doesn’t like it when someone exhumes a Grave. It’s all there in ‘The Gravedigger’s Tango.’ Look for the review in next Column. Buzzin will probably DIG it!

In Santa Cruz you can get WIGGY with ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’. The Rock Musical is playing at Galaxies’ at 2505 Mission in Santa Cruz. Wig on!

“We say what we like…and We Print It!” — theleehartgraveshow@yahoo.com

The Photo of Lee Hartgrave Boy Reporter is by Jim Ferreira – Film Noir & Hollywood Glamour. www.lafterhall.com.

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Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave

Buzzin’ Lee Hartgrave is a longtime theater critic in the San Francisco Bay Area. His reviews appear each Friday in Beyond Chron.

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