The Tony Awards are this Sunday, and I recently saw two one-woman shows that were both fantastic.
The shows are both based on famous women known for their work in traditionally male roles. Holland Taylor wrote and stars in Ann, based on the larger-than-life former Texas governor Ann Richards, and Bette Midler returns to Broadway for the first time in 30 years in I'll Eat You Last about uber-agent Sue Mengers.
When I think of the distinctive look of Ann Richards, I do not think of Holland Taylor, best known to most people for her portrayal of Jon Cryer and Charlie Sheen's mother in Two and Half Men. But once she gets onstage in the makeup and the wig, I thought I was looking at Ann Richards herself.
The first act of the show has Richards giving a commencement speech and telling her life story. Taylor has the mannerisms and the Texas accent down pat, and the first act is the stronger one in my opinion. We learn that she adored her daddy, but got her toughness from her mama. They didn't have much money, and when her daddy went to San Diego during WWII, she and her mama moved there too.
It was in San Diego that the young Ann saw diversity; she went to school with Mexicans, Asians, black children, people she didn't see in her part of Texas. It was here that she learned the compassion for others that informed her political career.
The second act takes place in the Texas governor's office, where we hear but don't see her secretary, voiced by the brilliant Julie White. Taylor is constantly on the phone with her friend President Clinton, her speechwriter, other staff members and her adult children. Hearing her arrange a family vacation had me chuckling, as I realized even with her busy job, it's always up to Mom to organize the family stuff.
Richard is nominated for a Tony for her performance, and she should be a contender. She brings this vibrant, tough, witty woman to life in this truly all-American story.
Midler is an entertainment icon, and I thought it might be difficult for audiences to see her onstage as a character different from her Divine Miss M persona we are used to. I need't have worried. From the moment we see her seated on her couch in her vibrant turquoise kaftan on the gorgeous set in I'll Eat You Last, she simply is Sue Mengers.
The story takes place on the day that Mengers finds out that her friend and biggest client, Barbra Streisand had fired her. She is waiting by her ever-present phone for a call from Barbra and as she waits, she unspools how she got here.
Mengers was a German immigrant who came to America with her parents. She lived with her parents near Utica, New York and didn't speak English. When her father died, she and her mother moved to New York City, and Mengers fell in love with the movies.
She decided that she wanted to be in that industry, but knew she wasn't pretty enough to be an actress. After getting a job as a secretary at the William Morris Agency, she learned all she could about being an agent.
Mengers climbed the ropes and became the first super-agent. She had many major clients, most of the big names in the 1970s (Ryan O'Neal, Gene Hackman, Candice Bergen, Cher), and she drops them all in this show.
There are many great stories in this show, and we watch as Mengers tries to steal Sissy Spacek from another agent over the phone. Midler is just fantastic in this show, and she talks so fast, I can't imagine how many pages of script she had to memorize.
Mengers was a woman who 'leaned-in' to her career, long before that term was popular. Her career was everything to her, and when it was over, when the business changed, she was left with just hosting her fabulous and infamous dinner parties, where the food, booze, pot and gossip flowed freely.
I'll Eat You Last is hilarious, full of gut-busting lines and when it is over, you feel like you were seated next to Mengers at one of her parties.
Bothe Mengers and Richards embody what is great about America- if you set a goal, work hard toward that goal and don't let anyone stop you, you can be whatever you want to be. Young women should see these great shows if only to learn that.
Both of these shows are worth the price of a full-priced ticket, but you can get discount tickets for Ann.
The Ann website is here.
I'll Eat You Last 's website is here.
You can see Bette Midler on CBS Sunday Morning below.