Alan Palmer in Fabulous Divas of Broadway
(© Josef Reiter)
Alan Palmer in Fabulous Divas of Broadway
(© Josef Reiter)
In Alan Palmer's heartfelt but sadly quaint new solo show Fabulous Divas of Broadway, which is playing at St. Luke's, the performer describes how, as a child, he would produce plays in his parents' basement. Unfortunately, the sense of Palmer's continued desire to "put on a show" pervades this tribute to the female Broadway performers who have "inspired" him over the years.

While Palmer insists that he enjoys playing male roles, and not a fan of doing drag at all, he does whip through a myriad array of costumes (from C. Buckey) and wigs (from Ingrid Bakis) as he brings to life the likes of Ethel Merman, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minnelli, and 25 other divas. These elements, combined with Palmer's well-observed mimicry of these women's gestures and body language, do give us a sense of the singers' essences. However, Palmer's vocals -- while attempting to capture some of each diva's signature sound -- are strained throughout. (In fairness, he admitted at the press performance that he is recovering from a bout of laryngitis.)

Moreover, two audience participation sequences propel Divas into unbearably hokey territory. The first is a "Name That Diva" sequence in which several audience members come to the stage to guess which Broadway performer originated songs such as "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" and "The Ladies Who Lunch." The second sequence is a musical "Mad Libs" in which the lyrics for "What I Did for Love" are refitted with nouns, adjectives, and verbs that have been called out by the audience. (At the performance I attended, the song became "What I Did for Cows.")

Further undermining Divas' effectiveness is Palmer's superficial and sometimes condescending patter. For example, in talking about a parody of Patti LuPone heard during the 1980s in Forbidden Broadway, he explains "it's a show that parodies Broadway." Since this long-running spoof is playing just around the corner, this seems somehow unnecessary.

Thankfully, a device he employs early on in the show falls to the wayside. When describing bad and unprofessional performers with whom he's worked, he inserts the names of famous celebrities. Thus a particularly drunken chorus girl becomes "Britney Spears," another colleague is referred to as "Nick Nolte." It's the sort of thing one might do over late night drinks in a particularly bitchy mood, but certainly not the sort of material that makes sense for a professional Off-Broadway show.