ONSTAGE411 (fake voice- it’s a website for Heaven’s sake): Hey Maddalena, could you run up to see a preview of “Banjo Eyes With Mascara” at the Whitefire Theater in Sherman Oaks tonight if we give you free tickets? It’s about Eddie Cantor’s granddaug-
MADDALENA: Who cares what it’s about, I’m on it! Thanks!
THE CAST/THE PLAYWRIGHT: A one woman show starring and written by Amanda Gari, Eddie Cantor’s granddaughter. Daughter of Robert Gari, struggling actor turned artist whose painting of Judy Garland ended up on everything back in the 60s and Eddie’s daughter, Janet, 50s housewife/mother on steroids. Amanda, a lifelong Judy Garland impersonator and cabaret singer, longed for the better part of seven decades to be a musical theater star. Petit, vivacious, and a force of a gorgeous blonde who looks half her age.
THE PRODUCTION: Three-piece Andy Howe band off to the side accompanying her on the deep musical theater cuts she chose; from Irving Berlin to Sondheim and everyone in between, plus two clever parodies she wrote herself of two Berlin numbers. A big screen with her home movies to move the story along, so adorable and so necessary! A microphone stand and a coat rack with her small costume change into Judy Garland impersonation. Her dad told her she looked like Judy when she was little and even dressed her up like her one time. She took this to heart for years, hence the career as a Judy impersonator. A confident, clever cover when her mic box fell down her pants and her ear mic kept falling off.
THE PLOT: Amanda’s life told via anecdotes, singing and old home movie clips about her famous but eccentrically artistic family, her life as a former wife in New Orleans (funny parody of Berlin’s Louisiana Purchase from the play of the same name), and a mother and cabaret lounge singer. The parody she wrote for her mother to Irving’s “The Hostess With The Mostes” from “Call Me Madam” was super. The play emphasis was on her longing to be a musical theatre star and finally making peace with the fact she’ll never be one. Decent voice but no range or depth to it, hence the playbill credits that include a starring role in a college play, a few stints in regional theater, cabaret shows as Judy Garland impersonator and small TV/music video parts over the years. Mostly entertaining but some uneven parts that falter and make you clock watch a few times, like during the Judy impersonation. Not good for an 80 minutes stint, but easily overcome too.
THE THEATER: Impressive pedigree. Whitefire has been in business for 40 years and stayed afloat for the past two years live streaming 150 solo performance plays. Decent seating and concession that sells real booze like Maker’s Mark. Interesting how they cast multiple plays at the same time, but only for one night each week per play. Parking is good with the added bonus of valet at a terrific looking wine bar next door called Augustin.
MY TAKE: The play was delightful! Amanda was delightful. My favorite song of the night had to be “All the Good Men Are Gay” from “The Gay 90s- The Musical”, the anthem of all ladies looking for love in musical theater! Singing was just OK but understandable in context. To write a piece of musical theater about her failure in musical theater, probably due to said singing limitations, was just plain brave and creative as hell. It was only a second night preview, so bugs are to be expected, but that never detracts from the play for me. It was well worth another schlep up the 405 freeway and Uncle Kenny who I dragged at the last minute, since he at least remembered who Eddie Cantor was, thought so too! It’s playing only on Friday nights through October. Go see it. Sometimes grinning is just as nice as guffawing.