Singer Kathy Halenda to bring the best of two musical icons to RTP this weekend with ‘Somewhere Over the Rose’
Judy Garland and Bette Midler are synonymous with iconic entertainers from the last century. Kathy Halenda, a staple in live entertainment, is bridging the gap between the two with her new show, Somewhere Over the Rose.
A veteran performer who has been singing for 30+ years and has toured countless times in over 200 productions, Halenda’s latest gig is a cabaret that utilizes her talents for a one woman show in tribute of Garland and Midler. She recently spoke to GayRVA to talk about her career thus far and the upcoming shows this weekend.
“I have three one woman shows that I kind of began creating over the years out of need to do things between gigs, and people kept telling me I should do my own show,” she said. That part time hustle turned into a full on passion as the success of her first cabaret, Brassy Broads of Broadway. That show struck a chord with her and in turn “gave me the impetus I needed to really love this genre,” she said.
“I’ve always loved the intimacy of a small space with an audience right there and the fourth wall is completely gone.”
With a burgeoning career doing cabarets, Halenda went south to Florida to celebrate the life of famed Ukrainian-born American singer, comedian, actress, and radio personality Sophie Tucker in collaboration with Florida Studio Theatre. Florida Studio Theatre created and produced the show, Sophie Tucker: Last of the Red Hot Mommas, while Halenda performed and co-wrote. A wild success, the piece was chosen to go to Piccolo Spoleto Festival where she ended up performing it.
“It’s a beautiful piece about Sophie Tucker and we worked really hard on that,” she said.
Sophie Tucker’s success turned Halenda into a hot commodity with Richmond-area venues like Center Stage reaching out to put a show on here.
That call lead to the creation of a Garland and Midler show in 2010; Halenda performed what was then called Class and Brass to a well received response. When her connections in Florida heard about it, she sent the script and they told her they loved the idea but she might consider a new angle – combining both women’s stories into one intertwined performance.
Thus this weekend’s performance of Somewhere Over the Rose was born.
“I said ‘ok, let me go back to the drawing board on it’ and I just kind of took it all apart and then re-chunked it back together and rewrote something and made an arc where it combined the two women together showing their similarities,” she said. After a script overhaul, Somewhere Over the Rose debuted in 2014. “There are some similarities there and some freaky coincidences that link Judy Garland and Bette Midler together you don’t think about, people don’t know about.”
Although Garland and Midler are widely popular entertainers, Halenda is adamant about the show being an honest tribute to two performers she looks up to, “If you’re expecting an impersonator you’re not going to get that, it’s me paying tribute to them with the songs that are their popular songs but I don’t try in any way to copy their vocal style.”
The inspiration for the show stems from the esteem she holds them in. “I think these two women musically embody our quest and our need for love and my need for love as well so I think the message of both of these women is a journey about love,” she said. “Bette Midler, she embraced real people and I love her for that she really loved the rejected… and Judy Garland’s love for the gay audience, they both had huge gay audiences and they both openly acknowledge them.”
Halenda sees Garland as a trailblazer for embracing her gay audience at “a time where you didn’t do that, you know it was still very hush hush and she was very open about it and that impressed me.” She claims the show is relatable to the gay audience in that sense.
In regards to standout moments to expect, Halenda said you can expect some of the more popular songs, but also a number of surprises. With a bevy of songs to choose from, a task she said would have been impossible to do completely, she chose over 20 tracks to perform.
“The songs I think, do tell a story about them each song,” she said. Expect familiar works from the Halenda, but also expect the unexpected. “I goof around with the audience, you’ll never know what I do, where ill go, what I’ll say sometimes. Sometimes I have a script, but it changes nightly. I’m still re-writing!”
Halenda will perform Somewhere Over the Rose with Jose Simbulan in two shows this weekend at Richmond Triangle Players, May 20 at 8:00 P.M. and May 21 at 8:00 P.M. You can pick tickets up here.
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