Debbie Reynolds: An Evening of Music and Comedy

The veteran star’s glittering revue proves she’s lost none of her charisma, wit, or glamour.

Debbie Reynolds with pianist Joey Singer
Debbie Reynolds with pianist Joey Singer

Veteran actor-singer Debbie Reynolds may be one of the few remaining stars groomed in Hollywood’s studio-system heyday of the 1950s, but as she proves in
Debbie Reynolds: An Evening of Music and Comedy, her glittering revue at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, this consummate entertainer has lost none of her sharp-as-a-pistol wit, buoyant stage presence, and old-style glamour. Perhaps best of all, she exudes a warmth that shines brighter than a multi-megawatt marquee.

The 76-years-young star seems to have 1,001 self-deprecating jokes about old age up her sleeve. With tongue firmly in cheek, she takes on the persona of a ditsy aging starlet who doesn’t know how to pronounce — let alone use — VCRs or DVDs. But she has just as much fun making ingenious ad libs as she does sticking to her well-honed routines. On opening night, she chided latecomers and parlayed a briefly uncooperative microphone into a hilarious running gag.

If her appealing voice is no longer an instrument of perfection, her ability to sell a great song like “The Man That Got Away” remains undiminished. With the sterling support of music director/pianist Joey Singer and drummer/percussionist Gerry Genuario, Reynolds croons a zesty mix of nostalgic tunes, including a show-stopping medley of Judy Garland songs, a delectable duet with Singer on “I Love a Piano,” and as her finale, “Tammy” from the film Tammy and the Bachelor, which she describes as “my one and only hit.”

She also recalls highlights of her life — sometimes touchingly, sometimes sardonically. But even when she’s making bawdy jests about her three ex-husbands, she’s never anything less than a classy dame. She compares her modest growing up-days in Burbank — when her cash-strapped family all slept in the same giant bed — to her marital years, when she says she finally started sleeping alone. Talking about her rocky love life, she suggests hooking up with Burt Reynolds, so “I wouldn’t have to change my last name and we could share wigs.”

Reynolds also shows projected shots of her children, Todd Fisher and writer-actor Carrie Fisher, growing up, and unleashes virtuoso comic impressions of Katharine Hepburn and Zsa Zsa Gabor, and, using a bit of theatrical wizardry, a devastatingly funny if egomaniacal Barbra Streisand.

Among the show’s most joyous moments is the segment when sparkling Metrocolor projections of her greatest films, such as Singin’ in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, are augmented by Reynolds singing along and making nostalgic observations downstage. But she hardly needed to sing Molly Brown‘s anthem, “I Ain’t Down Yet,” since her indestructible charisma is evident from the minute she steps on stage.

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