Doris, Dolly and the Dressing Room Divas

“Just go with the magic,” says one of the three singers on stage to a slightly reluctant compatriot. However, it’s as much an instruction to the audience, asking us to swap the chaotic delights of the Edinburgh Fringe for some gaudy Twilight Zone dressing room where echoes of Hollywood’s greatest female singers linger among the make-up and hair spray. Still, there’s showbiz magic here, aplenty: three captivating performers (nominally playing the make-up artists who take turns to embody their subjects); some extremely effective accompaniment from musical director Hilary Brooks on keyboards; and, above all, an intelligent reflection on the lives of some exceptional women, which is so much more than “just” a medley of their greatest hits.

Cliché or not, this is a show not to be missed.

Despite the stars name-checked in the title, there’s little real surprise that the first subject is Frances Ethel Gumm, who was transformed by the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios into Judy Garland. She more or less set the gold standard when it came to on-set histrionics, drug abuse and numerous failed marriages. Was Garland was forever seeking approval from an absent father via a string of good-for-nothing husbands – the only exception, perhaps, being her second, Vincente Minnelli? The couple met when he directed her in Meet Me In St Louis; with the simplest of twists, the film’s famous Trolly Song becomes about him. (The couple, of course, had a daughter: “Liza was a cutie,” we’re told, “but we’ll get back to her later.”)

Doris Day, we’re told, was no less likely than Garland to “get all excited about nothing – and then married” to men who proved to be either abusive or after her money. A somewhat different squeaky clean diva is Julie Andrews, frustrated by being typecast as Mary Poppins, and yet capable of turning an innocent song into a really dirty one simply by removing some of the lyrics. This, however, proves to be a relatively brief, albeit hysterically funny interlude; switching the focus to Liza Minnelli reminds us how the “classic divas” of the past appear all too emotionally adrift despite their fame and fortune.

All of which would be somewhat depressing if it wasn’t for the final diva on the list – Dolly Parton. Say what you like about her – and chances are, she’ll have already got there first, more wittily – she’s the diva who has somehow remained emotionally grounded and in control of her own destiny, ready to stand up for what’s rightfully hers even if it means refusing one of her songs to Elvis Presley. You can’t help by cheer.

Unfortunately, of course, it’s eventually time for us all to return to Edinburgh, but not before all three performers – Frances Thorburn, Gail Watson and the wonderfully deadpan Clare Waugh – have proved their light comedic timing, brilliant singing and some genuine showbiz magic to a highly appreciative audience. Cliché or not, this is a show not to be missed.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Multiple Venues

Nests

★★★
Dundee Rep Theatre / Macrobert Arts Centre

The Yellow on the Broom

★★★
Underbelly, Bristo Square

Tom Neenan: It's Always Infinity

★★★★
Assembly George Square Studios

Police Cops in Space

★★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Rik Carranza: Still a Fan

★★★★
Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre

Marmite

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Secrets, songs and love lives of five legendary divas. Three make-up girls bitch, compete, harmonise and laugh as they entertain us with hilarious, heartbreaking, irreverent tales from backstage. Morag Fullarton, double Scotsman Fringe First winner and creator of Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut, presents another smash hit with a line-up of top talent: Gail Watson (Bar Flies, Sunshine on Leith), Clare Waugh (Casablanca), Frances Thorburn (Marilyn, Citizens Theatre) and award-winning musical director, Hilary Brooks. 'Genius' (Robbie Coltrane). 'One of the most brilliant shows I've ever seen...shivers up the back time' (Liz Lochhead).