I’m Not Famous: A Musical Journey with Barbara Minkus
Reviewed by Paul Birchall
Santa Monica Playhouse/The Other Place
Through July 22
In the overburdened genre of solo shows, perhaps the rarest and most appealing is the performance by the larger-than-life celebrity showcasing his or her talents in a small or intimate theater. For instance, Julia Migenes, the world-class opera singer, performs at the Odyssey every few years or so — and Ian McClellan was known back in the 90s for his touring productions of Shakespeare.
Now we have luscious songstress Barbara Minkus (back in the 70s, she sang on the Danny Kaye Show and starred in Funny Girl in its early national tour) offering a small music-filled tour of her life story. Minkus is now a grandmother, and divides her time between singing, her career as a therapist, and her grandchildren. During this sweet, rather gentle show, she treats us like guests in her home, but with songs. It’s an engaging tour-de-force, though perhaps a tad minimally plotted.
Putting her musical chops first, Minkus starts out with a charming rendition of “Get Happy” before unspooling her life story. Rather diminutive and thin, she looks nothing like you’d expect — and indeed, the transformation from her younger, more zaftig self is quite striking. Her book is a little light, perhaps intentionally, so as to keep glamour first and foremost — but she hits some poignant thematic notes, as when she describes how she was teased much of her life for being overweight, and was burdened with a running stream of abuse when she was a child.
Fortunately, in her struggle to overcome her emotional pain, Minkus discovered her talent for song, honing her skills in bars before hitting Off-Broadway and then the big time. At intervals, she entertains us with flawless renditions (impeccably accompanied by Ron Barnett) of “The Man that Got Away” and other show tunes.
Admittedly, this is rather old school stuff, targeting a senior demographic that is likely to recall the Danny Kaye Show and Love American Style. And while Minkus is undeniably personable, the show, modestly staged by director Susan Morgenstern, is probably better suited for a cocktail lounge or piano bar, where the audience might have the chance to swig down a few appletinis.
Still, the singing is wonderful — and there are genuinely moving moments, as when Minkus watches (with us) her younger self performing on TV. She’s certainly a charming songstress, and as a portrait of a true survivor, the show is delightful, though its dramatic heft is modest at best.
Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 Fourth Street, Santa Monica; Sat., 7 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through July 22. (310) 394-9779 x 1 or http://santamonicaplayhouse.com/im_not_famous.html. Running time: 85 minutes.
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