Kathy Halenda’s RTP performance of ‘Somewhere Over the Rose’ embodied theatre
I am a theatre critic so why am I reviewing a one woman cabaret? Because Kathy Halenda is theatre. With a resume as long as my arm, Kathy has played every diva of the musical comedy repertoire that exists.
She excels at the grande dame roles: Mamma Rose, Mame, Nancy in Oliver, Mae West in Ziegfeld, Raffaela in Grand Hotel, Golde in Fiddler on the Roof and Maggie Jones in 42nd St.
Here Kathy pays tribute to two other divas: Judy Garland (Somewhere Over the…) and Bette Midler (The Rose).
Kathy, like Judy and Bette and every diva and grande dame in show business is beloved by the gay community or as Kathy points out – in the day, gay men went by the moniker “Friends of Dorothy.” This evening we were all “friends of Kathy.”
What exactly is it that draws the gay community to these larger than life women? Damned if I know, but it might be the fact that they are married to their careers, have had disastrous relationships (many times with gay men as husbands) and probably that they bring the pain and suffering of their lives to their music.
Ms. Halenda spends much time going through the biographies of these two women to mine out the similarities and common themes in their lives. Finding these threads lead her into songs by both that accentuate the discoveries.
Too many songs were sung for me to recount them all. I’m not one of those critics who take notes during a show. That just interrupts my attention to what’s going onstage. I do know that I had to bite my lip several times not to sing along to songs I love (Judy’s “The Trolley Song” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” Bette’s “Wind Beneath my Wings” and “From a Distance”).
Ms. Halenda held the stage and the rapture of every audience member for both of her sets. She commands the stage every moment and brings us into her world so completely that we love her even when she forgets the sequence of songs and brings out her cheat sheets to find out where she is. One particular difficult song with pre-taped percussion threw her timing off and she started twice and stopped, trying again, finally going to her lifeline and musical director Jose Simbulan, and sticking by him until they found the rhythm.
This just endeared her all the more. She did not freak out, she knows we’ve all been there and we loved working through it with her. Now that’s star power.
I’m a huge creampuff so I choked up many times during the show but none more than during the seminal songs of the show “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “The Rose.” As the show ended Ms. Halenda used both songs as a mash up to create a conversation between Bette and Judy, Bette telling Judy to get a grip and survive, Judy doubting whether she had the strength to go on, preferring to be at the place “Over the Rainbow.”
In the audience I attended was heavily attended by friends and practitioners of theatre, some of who do not come out much but came because it was Kathy Halenda.
Ms. Halenda is a born and bred Richmonder. She has travelled the country with national tours but she has never made any other place her home. She is a credit to the kind of talent Richmond, Virginia can produce.
Kathy will appear as Aunt Ella in Riverside Theatre’s production of Oklahoma starring another Richmond favorite, Matt Polson as Curly. You should plan your trip now and see these two powerhouse performers. The shows runs July 20 – September 18 in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Top image via Bruce Perry
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