Mickey and Jan Rooney inLet's Put On A Show!(Photo © Judie Burstein/Globe Photos)
Mickey and Jan Rooney in
Let's Put On A Show!
(Photo © Judie Burstein/Globe Photos)
There is a genuinely heartwarming performance taking place at Let's Put on a Show, starring the legendary Mickey Rooney and his wife, Jan -- but it's the audience that gives it, not the stars. No matter how indiscriminate you may think theatergoers are these days, there's no way that these patrons can possibly believe that the show they're seeing at the Irish Rep is anything but a sad embarrassment. Nonetheless, at the end of this excruciating two-act show, they rise to their feet and give Mickey a standing ovation. It's not for the act -- it's for the man, the career, the memories. It is, in fact, an extraordinarily generous and touching moment.

This musical revue of Mickey's life does just about everything wrong; that old line, "He's forgotten more about show business than you'll ever know" is all too true in this case. Blame father time, but Mickey has forgotten not only the rules of a good revue, he's also forgotten how to perform -- or, rather, his skills have deserted him. Yes, there are flashes when the young Mickey breaks through for a moment, and you can certainly still see the burning desire to perform that was always part of his brash charm. But those flashes leave a long, dark shadow; it's the ghost of talent past that haunts the stage.

In 1939, 1940, and 1941, Mickey Rooney was Hollywood's number one box office draw. Born in 1920, he appeared in his first film in 1926 but he was already a vaudeville veteran by the time he made it to Hollywood, having begun his show business career as an infant in his parent's act. Throughout his life, he was married eight times, most notably to Ava Gardner. He also worked with everyone from Spencer Tracy (Boy's Town) to Elizabeth Taylor (National Velvet), although he is most closely associated with Judy Garland, with whom he starred in a handful of his Andy Hardy movies and four MGM musicals. You can imagine what incredible stories he could tell about working with them and with others like Lana Turner, Audrey Hepburn, and his boss, Louis B. Mayer. Well, you have to imagine them, because Rooney tells us almost nothing in this show; there are some clips and generalized platitudes, most of them reserved for Ava and Judy, but even here he just skims along the surface.

The show is oddly constructed. It begins with Mickey coming out first; incredibly, he's the opening act for his wife, a singer of very modest reputation. At least he comes back after she sings and finishes the show, as he should. During the course of his time on stage, Mickey talk-sings his songs, does impressions (he may be the only person in the world who does a Lionel Barrymore impression, and it's excellent), plays the piano, tells jokes, etc. Except for the piano playing, all of this is read from a TelePrompTer.

The sad fact is that we don't like to see our icons diminished by time. Somehow, aging stars like Barbara Cook and Eartha Kitt are still capable of giving performances that are truly worthy of standing ovations; in the case of Mickey Rooney's show, the ovations should only be taken to mean "thanks for the memories."

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Isabel Rose
Isabel Rose
Bloom Off the Rose

Isabel Rose played a wannabe cabaret artist in last year's Anything But Love, a film that she wrote. Now, Rose is obviously taking a musical detour. We caught her one night stand at Makor on West 67th Street and quickly realized that this attractive young woman, fronting an eight-piece band led by Jeff Klitz and backed by two singers known as "Hot Stuff," is suddenly in the Las Vegas lounge business. The anomaly here was that she was performing at a Jewish Center; the location of the act only intensified the vulgarity of the show.

Rose's musical choices mostly ranged from peppy Latin numbers to solid-gold rock like "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me." It turns out that her voice is best suited to the less vocally demanding pop/rock; when she pushes, she tends to go flat. But that's nothing compared to how far south she goes when she opens her mouth to talk. First, there are the bad taste sex jokes: A performer with charm can sometimes get away with a little bit of this, and a natural comedian can make hay with blue humor. When Isabel Rose tried to snap off a risqué rim-shot line, it was downright painful. Nor did she do herself proud when she initially blamed the bandleader for screwing up the beginning of a song; the mistake was actually her own, which she finally admitted when the tune was over. It was also hard to buy her patter when she came on stage looking like a babe, going to great pains to show off her drop-dead figure, only to complain constantly about her inability to meet guys. At least the music and her manner came together in one song, which we're guessing is called "Hit Me." Rose brought a tough, brassy attitude to this song of sexual challenge; you might say that, for this show, it was par for the intercourse.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]