Theater News

Kaye Ballard: Old-Time Show Biz at its Best

That beloved old pro KAYE BALLARD holds court at Arci’s Place. Barbara & Scott Siegel join the opening night festivities.

Few entertainers are more beloved by their peers than Kaye Ballard, and that affection was very much in evidence at Ballard’s opening night performance of her new show, Another Final Farewell Appearance, at Arci’s Place. Among the celebrities lending their support were Fred Ebb, Peter Howard, Sheila MacRae, Gavin McLeod, Jim Lowe, Billy Stritch, Larry Storch, Ruth Warrick, and Liz Smith. Upon her entrance, before she could say a word or sing a note, Ballard received a tumultuous ovation.

In an act that largely features musical comedy material, Ballard demonstrates her gift for comic timing and her larger-than-life personality. She opens with the witty “I Don’t Do An Opening Number” by Suzanne Buhrer, acknowledging in the song–as she does throughout the show–that her jokes and her sensibilities belong to a passing era of show business. In the end, Ballard is more at home kidding about Paul Lynde than making wisecracks at the expense of Brad Pitt. Her humor is, shall we say, classic rather than cutting edge. But in the hands of an old pro like Ballard, the old jokes still work.

She is fully in her element in the musical theater repertoire; Ballard’s diminished vocal abilities are not an issue in these numbers, which are all about attitude, personality, and timing. Her talk-singing rendition of “A Letter From Martha Stewart” is a wondrously wild series of comic toppers; it begins with Martha “writing to you on paper I made myself” and eventually builds to Ms. Stewart’s delivery of said letter on a sled pulled “by a horse I made with a little DNA I had lying around the house.” It’s great, nutty fun. So, too, is Ballard’s deft rendering of Dale Gonyea’s clever “Name Droppings” and her “senior moment version” of “It Had to Be You,” in which she purposefully forgets the words.

The only flaw in this show is Ballard’s insistence upon performing the occasional ballad. She brings sincerity and feeling to the lyrics but, because her instrument isn’t what it used to be, she has to work very hard–and the effort shows. The only time the ballads pay off is at the end of the show, when she puts two tender tunes together and suffuses them with sentiment. This sequence begins with Ballard’s memories of her longtime pianist Arthur Siegel, now deceased, and the song he co-wrote with June Carroll: “I Want You To Be The First One to Know.” Ballard then segues into Portia Nelson’s “As I Remember Him.” The song starts as a tribute to Siegel (no relation to these writers, unfortunately) but soon expands to encompass her warm feelings towards many of her show business contemporaries–most notably Henny Youngman, whose humor she adoringly re-creates.

The show is carefully crafted and directed by Barry Kleinbort. Ballard’s musical director/pianist is young Geoffrey Kiorpes, gamely standing in for the irreplaceable Arthur Siegel.

At the end of the show, syndicated columnist Liz Smith unexpectedly took the stage. She got a big laugh when she said she had the right to do this, because “I’ve slept with most of the people in this room.” Smith brought the star back out, telling the audience how Ballard had befriended her 48 years ago in Texas and had helped her to make her way in show business. It was a touching tribute to a one-of-a-kind entertainer.