Hedda Hopper revealed

 

RECOMMENDED

‘Hedda! A Musical Conversation’ is a very entertaining one-woman show at the Athenaeum Theatre starring Jillann Gabrielle as legendary Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

Written by Gabrielle with book and lyrics by Michael Termine and music by with Howard Pfeifer, ‘Hedda’ is a one-act play that takes place from the mid 1940s through the late 1950s in Hedda Hopper’s living room.

Jillian Gabrielle is Hedda Hopper. Photo by Paradise Playhouse
Jillann Gabrielle is Hedda Hopper. Photo by Paradise Playhouse

Tasteful furniture, a rolling cart of favorite drinks , clothing racks with  dozens of the hats she was famous for wearing and that prime necessity for a gossip columnist, a phone, set the scene for a fun 90 minute peek into the life Hedda Hopper.

Gabrielle’s performance as Hedda is superb as she walks and sings the audience through a life that went from Quaker upbringing to bit MGM player and then famed columnist.

Lively phone conversations and clever  songs such as as “Hedda! Queen of Hollywood,” “Off the Record” (there’s audience participation), “Elizabeth, “Hats!” and ‘Don’t Drink the Punch” reveal much of her story.

Among the many things that makes this play interesting there is her interaction with the audience. When the phone or doorbell rings, she looks out at the crowd and says, “I’ll be right back.”

And when the audience hears her say, “Hello, Elizabeth” or “Joan,” or “Marlene” and others, everyone knows who’s there.

Hedda had an amazing effect on not only the motion picture industry, but on politics, as well. Her song “I’m Political” describes her conservative values and moral views as her columns go after Charlie Chaplin and other Communist sympathizers.

She also had famous heated discussions with many of Hollywood’s elite including the Elizabeth Taylor/Eddie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds trio.

Her column had a readership of over 30 million, and it set the stage for many types of columns today.

DETAILS: ‘Hedda! A Musical Conversation’ is at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, through March 17, 2018.  Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information, call 773-935-6835 or visit AthenaeumTheatre.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit TheatreInChicago.

 

Bette Davis is back for another bow

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

When I was a youngster, I would often hear my parents mention their favorite movie star, Bette Davis.  Decades later, I gravitated toward old films and I, too, became a huge Davis fan.

Jessica Sherr does 'Bette Davis Ain't for Sissies' at the Athenaeum Theatre. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sherr
Jessica Sherr does ‘Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies’ at the Athenaeum Theatre. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sherr

As I watched ‘Dark Victory, ‘Now, Voyager,’ and her many other movies—some of them numerous times—I found myself reciting a few of her lines along with her. I thought I knew almost everything about Ms. Davis until I recently saw the captivating play ‘Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies’ currently at The Athenaeum Theatre.

The one-woman show, written and performed by Jessica Sherr, is a fascinating look at Davis’s life and career. It only took a few seconds to actually feel that the actress and playwright on stage was the real Bette Davis.

Jessica Sherr not only resembles the actress in her early thirties but her voice, expressive eyes and mannerisms emulate Davis.  And the one-act play’s staging and set design are such that allow Sherr to change costumes while she continues talking to the audience, never missing a beat.

Often in just a sentence or two, Sherr takes the audience through various stages of Davis’s life, beginning with her relationship with her parents, especially her mother whom Bette called “Ruth” after her father left them when she was ten years old.

Sherr then touches on Davis’ career beginning when on stage in New York.  Not being a blonde and no taller than five-foot three, she fondly reminisces about her earlier years by commenting, “They don’t care what you look like!”

Invited by an agent who saw Davis on stage, she left New York and traveled to Hollywood to begin life as a movie star. Even though she became known as a Hollywood “hometown girl,” she still missed New York and has said, “I hate California—it’s so damn sunny it makes me sick!”

This show is for anyone who wants a closer look at Bette Davis – the ten-time Academy Award nominee and two-time Academy Award Best Actress winner for her roles in ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Jezebel.’

Along with a closer view of her career, you’ll learn about Davis’s marriages, her relationships, her Hollywood friends, the others she avoided and how she stood up for what she wanted, plus how it eventually turned out.  And there’ll be many laughs along the way.

Details: ‘Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies” is at the Athenaeum Theatre,  2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. A last minute extension now continues the show through July 9, 2017. For tickets more information visit AthenaeumTheatre  or call 773-935-6875.

-Francine Pappadis Friedman