If you ever wrapped your head in “fabulous towel hair” and came down the stairs of your parents' home pretending you were Dolly Levi returning to Harmonia Gardens, have I got a show for you.
Alan Palmer's “Fabulous Divas of Broadway” is primarily a tribute to the spirit of musical comedy that dwells in many of us. In a giddy and often hilarious 85 minutes, Palmer impersonates 32 of Broadway's greatest legends, complete with costume changes, wigs, and tongue placed firmly in cheek. Palmer himself says that this is not a drag show — he's never done drag before. Instead, it's a romp of impressions, the kind of show the word “madcap” was created for.
Interspersed among the 19 or so songs Palmer performs are funny and unusual stories about life backstage in his varied career. And while it's fun to hear dishy stuff about the idiosyncrasies of people like Betty Buckley, or watch Palmer do both girls from “Side Show,” the more fascinating story is Palmer's own – about a man who has balanced fatherhood, relationships, saving an ailing theater, and the ultimate risk, taking his show to Off-Broadway.
FABULOUS DIVAS OF BROADWAY
St. Luke's Theatre
308 W. 46th St.
Wed.-Sat. at 8:15 p.m.,
Wed, Sat & Sun at 2:15 p.m.;
Sun at 5:15 p.m.
$31.50 & $56.50; 212-239-6200
That story started with a boy obsessed with musical theater and who, like many of us, got early life lessons from original cast albums. Raised in a supportive family, Palmer's dad built him a mini-proscenium theater in their basement even though, Palmer says, neither of his parents had the theater bug.
Alan Palmer and the spirit of good ol' show biz in his life and work.
Through the various ups and downs, good shows and some not so good, Palmer ended up in Sherman Oaks, California running a theater. And like many small theaters, it was in financial difficulties, despite the success and sold-out runs of its productions. To save the theater, Palmer conceived a show called “Songs the Girls Sang,” which featured him doing the songs that women traditionally did. It was a sell-out and extended for five months, saving the theater in the process.
That's when the idea of bringing the show to New York began to percolate. Along the way, the costume idea was added, under the creative eye of Curtis Jerome, who also served as musical director and the deadpan accompanist for the show. It's hilarious when something new tickles Jerome, however, and Palmer said that cracking each other up is part of their shtick.
As Palmer explained, “Someone said that 46th Street would be the perfect place for the show, and then it all became a little like Judy Garland. 'I've got a barn, let's put on a show.' And we all started to have a great time and a great team.”
Bringing the show to New York, however, was not as simple as packing a trunk and hitting the road. Palmer and his partner of 18 years, Jim, had an established life in California, including two kids – a boy of 11 and a 21-month-old girl.
Palmer had taken time out from his career when the kids came into their lives to devote himself to being a parent, getting back to work only recently. So, in addition to committing to an open-ended run, with a strong pre-sale and enthusiastic audiences so far, Palmer is also negotiating moving his family to New York – a place where he said gratefully they're all eager to live.
If anyone can pull it off, Palmer can. His hey-kids-let's-put-on-a-show attitude and the infectious optimism that has guided his life and career so far, buttressed by his personal charm and clear-eyed pragmatism about show-biz, mean that whatever the outcome, it's going to be an adventure and like his show, never boring for a second.