Reynolds shines, despite the hour, the red sauce

Published May 12, 2007

Fans of Debbie Reynolds - and, my gosh, we are legion - will be relieved to know that she's feeling better and is going to be okay.

The concern started at Wednesday's matinee at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, when Debbie sparkled a tad less than she had during a show there the night before.

Don't get me wrong; she was wonderful, fantastic, and all that, but my waiter friends who saw both shows said she wasn't showing the energy she had the night before.

I went backstage to chat with her after the matinee, and she did look a tad peaked (pronounced peek-id), as we Texas girls say. (Debbie was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso before moving to California.)

Debbie feared that the eggplant parmigiana she had eaten around midnight had sat around a bit too long and made her sick. Even so, she gamely did the meet-and-greet thing with a long line of her adoring fans, though I'm sure she would have preferred to be somewhere curled up with her pillow.

I called her manager, Margie Duncan, on Friday, to see how Debbie was doing.

"She has a very delicate stomach, " Ms. Duncan said. It wasn't food poisoning, thank heaven. It was red sauce at midnight.

"That was too rich, too late, " Ms. Duncan said.

Besides, Debbie "does not do mornings, " much less early matinees, she added. Indeed, Debbie reminded us of that several times during the show.

To make things worse, her body was still operating on California time, which meant she had to be at the theater at 9 a.m., tummy-time, to be ready to go on stage at 10:15 a.m. (1:15 p.m. our time), an ungodly hour for someone accustomed to doing shows at 9 p.m., east coast time.

"I don't like early, " she told the audience. "The contract said 8 o'clock." She didn't realize it would be closer to 8 a.m. her time, not 8 p.m. as she is accustomed to.

Even so, the 75-year-old megastar put on a show for the books. She pranced around the stage in her emerald sparkles, joked with the audience, sang with all her heart and lightly danced along with the clips from her movies being shown on a screen by the stage.

"We fooled them all; we're still alive, " she told the 99 percent over-60 crowd.

She shared memories of acting with other megastars, including Frank Sinatra.

"He was a great kisser, " she said. "I married the wrong singer, " a reference to her ill-fated marriage to crooner Eddie Fisher, who subsequently ran off with Elizabeth Taylor, who is, Debbie reminded us with a sly grin, three months older than she is.

She reminisced about going over to visit with Judy Garland, did a terrific imitation of Barbra Streisand, kidded herself about her poor choices in men - "If there's a bad buy, I'm going to find him" - and joked that she should marry another sufferer of marital misfortune, Burt Reynolds.

"I wouldn't have to change my name, and we could share wigs, " she said.

She teased the audience about going to see shows at noon and teased the Show Palace for being "between a used car lot and a trailer park."

At least she didn't bring up the stripper joint across the highway.

Debbie rested and recovered all day Thursday at her local hotel. She boarded an airplane to Tennessee on Friday, will do a show at the Paramount Center for the Arts in Bristol on Saturday ($150 a ticket, by the way), then back to Los Angeles on Sunday.

"She's the biggest star we will ever have here, " said a rather wistful Nick Sessa, co-owner of the Show Palace.

A big change

Many of us indefatigable theatergoers were really disappointed to learn that Stage West Community Playhouse will not be doing Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita next season. A terrific road tour version of the show was at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center a couple of years ago, but those of us who love the music (warts and all) are always ready to go see it again.

In its place, the theater is doing Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe's magnificent Camelot, a daunting challenge for any theater and a worthy replacement for the Argentine tale.

No matter how many times I see Camelot, I still get goosebumps when the chorus sings the galloping Guenevere, as King Arthur's knights pursue her and her lover Lancelot when they flee to France.