Reviewed by Leonard Jacobs
Presented by Eric Krebs and Chase Mishkin at the Douglas Fairbanks Theater, 432 W. 42 St., NYC. Opened Oct. 10 for an open run.
As good as she is, I wonder if Tovah Feldshuh's performance in "Tallulah Hallelu-jah" is the first nail in the coffin of one-person (or nearly one-person) celebrity impersonation shows. Rewind 10 years: Haven't we had a million of them?
Perhaps, but they're not going away. After all, they're inexpensive, easy to produce, and appeal to our vaudevillian instincts: "Does she sound like Tallu?," "Does she sing like Tallu?," "Is she really dead-on?" Problem is, the production, written by Feldshuh with additional material from Larry Amoros and Linda Selman, feels like a novelty act or a party favor, not a character study. And it's so contrived: Set at a USO benefit concert, circa 1956, Tallulah must "vamp for five" when headliner Ella Fitzgerald gets waylaid in New Haven. Honestly, if she had to vamp for 5, 10, 20, how thrilling it would be. But Tallulah vamps and camps for 85—which feels more like 805—and we feel the same by the end.
Again, to be clear: Feldshuh, a charismatic actress, jumps for jive as the Jasper Julip. But this town is used to stars impersonating stars—that's only half the battle. The bar is high now—too high—and you feel it. Yes, there are fun attempts to diversify and mitigate, such as introducing "The Music Man" penner Meredith Willson (played by Bob Goldstone) as Fitzgerald's accompanist, but his character, wafer-thin, is an opportunity wasted. There's handsome Mark Deklin as Corporal Chapman, offering Tallulah enough drinkies to transform her day-camp ribaldry into imaginary sleepaway camp snuggle-sessions, but that's got bugs in the tent, too.
Does everyone in this production (directed by William Wesbrooks) believe that hauling out burnt World War II musical chestnuts yet again will somehow roast the audience into submission, turning us into latter-day examples of the Gallery Boys and Girls who were Tallulah's "dah-lings"? Listen dahling, haughty, alcohol-induced reminiscences don't make a Blackglama legend—only a determinedly black one.