- CHARITY BENEFIT
By: Myra Chanin
Betty and Barry, Back to the Bathhouse is a theatrical recreation of sorts by a pair of current-day wannabe Midler and Manilow playing the legendary Continental Baths one last time for auld lang syne. Fugeddabout getting back to the Baths; Bette and Barry (ne Donna Maxon and what-kind-of-a-name-is Fonda Feingold) have made it to the basement stage at the Laurie Beechman Theater to revel in M&M&M — Memories, Midler and Manilow. Don’t bring a swimsuit because there ain’t no pool here, but come to think of it, bathing costumes were never the preferred mode of attire at the Baths or so I’ve been told. Patrons preferred to immerse themselves in their birthday suits because it made what happened next just a little more laid-back … in every way.
Be sure to Vasine your eyeballs to better check out Donna/Bette’s costumes and wigs, to better observe the amazing jiggling of her amazing breasts and to better focus on Jake Lemenes and Matthew Parker, aka Bette’s Boys, as cute as they are talented, singing their hearts out in virginal white towels or equally pristine slacks and undershirts. And clean out your ears to better hear past transposed to the present via Donna/Bette’s dirty jokes and the late Sophie Tucker’s comments about her boyfriend Ernie, observations so hip that they will forever be hilarious. Donna is no mere Bette wannabe. She was also Bette’s body double in the film Outrageous Fortune. Bette herself proclaimed, as soon as Donna shut up long enough to let her speak, “Girl, you have a career!”
Donna and Fonda sing the songs that fueled Bette’s career, like Delta Dawn, Leader of the Pack, Friends, and Manilow’s like Copacabana, Mandy, Looks Like We Made It. Donna’s banter includes touching reminiscences of Bette’s Bathhouse friends now lost to AIDS. Donna and Fonda blend on stage as though they’d been working together since infancy. How did they actually meet? Would you believe at a Staten Island dog run, a coincidence that restored my faith in fate.
How divine is Donna? Not as divine as the real thing, but who is? Donna’s wigs, make-up, outfits, her brio and stage presence are irresistible. She’s a subtle, albeit, off-the-wall performer as well as the spitting image of the Divine Miss M … two days before an intervention by friends sent her off to the fat farm. The audience loved her, especially the couple sitting next to us who’d emigrated here from the Ukraine and immediately booked Bette and Barry for a family function.
The unsung genius behind this madness is the accomplished Michael Schiralli, the show’s co-writer/director, who deserves a Quirky Comic Genius Award, should such a thing exist. Michael’s also worked with Kvetch Extraordinaire Jackie Hoffman on her last four hilarious solo shows. His knack for bringing out the funniest and best in narcissistic, perverse he/she/its was evident in his past work with Varla Jean Merman, Coco Peru and Tammy Faye Starlite.
Bette and Barry are returning to the Laurie Beechman Theater on Wednesday September 12th at 9:30 pm.