Rebecca Perry’s From Judy to Bette: The Stars of Old Hollywood is a loving tribute to Bette Davis, Betty Hutton, Judy Garland, and Lucille Ball, four strong female stars. It’s part of this year’s Next Stage Theatre Festival.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the 30 minute piece – not a bad thing. I get to wonder in advance how Perry will approach it and then get to spend 30 enjoyable minutes watching a combination of storytelling and singing.
Working on a tiny stage – a raised dais about 7 x7 feet – with a microphone and minimal props, Perry tells us about four strong women who managed their careers and made their own opportunities in a time when actors (male and female) didn’t have a lot of choices outside of the studio contract system.
Perry doesn’t do impersonations; it’s more as if she channels the women. She’s a terrific singer. She was wonderful in the Judy Garland segment singing After You’re Gone, Clang Clang Clang Went the Trolley and, of course, Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Betty Hutton is probably not as well known as the other three, but as soon as Perry mentioned Annie Get Your Gun, I knew who she was talking about. She sang both parts of the chorus of Anything You Can Do and You Can’t Get A Man With a Gun. She also sang a very funny song I had never heard before: Murder, He Says.
Perry’s singing style was completely different for Hutton than it was for Garland. Not surprising given the differences between their styles. Hutton was much more countryish than Garland. It always impresses me when a singer can do that.
Bette Davis was a master of pithy one-liners. I’m familiar with a lot of them but Perry managed to find some of the lesser known ones to fill in the Davis back story. She used one of the few props – a fake cigarette – to great advantage. My favourite part was her depiction of Davis doing an audition that was absolutely guaranteed to not get her the part, which required singing and dancing. It was brilliant.
She approached Lucille Ball differently. Rather than telling stories about her, Perry used a top ten list citing the firsts in Ball’s career. It was a really clever way to handle it and it was an impressive list. As she read out the items, Perry would make a Ball face. Just lovely.
I have to mention Patricia Whalen’s costume design. Perry wore the most beautiful red gown. It was absolutely gorgeous; very red carpet glamour.
From Judy to Bette: The Stars of Old Hollywood has a strong feminist message delivered in a very entertaining way. The 30 minutes zipped by and left me wanting more.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for From Judy to Bette: The Stars of Old Hollywood are $10.00
- Showtimes and ticket information are available on the Next Stage website
Photograph of Rebecca Perry by Tanja Tiziana