As I drove along Cahuenga Boulevard looking for Theatre West, I thought I had possibly passed it. Then I spotted a huge painting of Judy Garland on the side of a building. That must be it! I found it so I turned around and parked across the street. I hurried and found a seat inside the medium (but perfect) sized theatre which was filled with Kiki Ebsen fans.
The staging was immediately interesting. Two very tall screens were on both sides of the stage. The musicians were at the back, center stage, Kiki Ebsen was sitting on a chair looking through a large trunk, She takes something out of the trunk and goes to the weathered looking piano on stage. She sings “Missing You.” The two extra large screens show her Dad, looking young, movie star handsome as she sings so tenderly. She goes back to the chair and continues to look in the trunk. “I liked pop/rock, Dad liked the Classics. Dad was a song and dance man.” She continues to look in the trunk, finds the songbook to “The Wizard of Oz.” She vowed to record those songs some day.
Dad was born in 1908, and he was 12 when his family relocated to Florida and his father opened a dance studio. He had a hankering for New York so he wentthere and lived in a cold-water flat while he looked for work. He and his sister Vilma got a few roles. The large screen shows Eleanor Powell singing “Easy to Love” as Buddy dances on the screen. Then Kiki sings “Easy to Love” as the band backs her. The audience is enjoying it all.
Time moves on and Buddy and his family are on their way to Hollywood. Buddy worked at the Hollywood Center Studio where “The Beverly Hillbillies” was filmed. I probably saw every single episode on TV. It was one of my favorites. Kiki sang “Comes Love” with a Latin feel for a fine rendition. Kiki told the story about her Dad’s experience with The Wizard of Oz film. Buddy had been hired to play The Tin Man. He had been dusted with aluminum powder, real aluminum and it affected him severely.
When he said, “I can’t breathe,” he was rushed to a hospital. It took a long time for him to heal, so Ray Bolger was given the role. Finally Buddy was able to get back to work. Kiki then sang a nifty version of “If I Only Had a Brain.” I’m absolutely bewitched by all the activity on stage and so is the rest of the audience. This multi-media creation is working perfectly!
The Ebsen family moved from Balboa Island to a ranch nestled in the Santa Monica mountain range. There were 6 girls in the family and one boy, Dustin, who is also responsible for this production. Buddy Ebsen starred in the movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” playing husband to Audrey Hepburn. Pianist Jeff Colella backs Kiki on a gorgeous version of “Moon River.” That was surely a magical film. The other musicians were so good all evening, they made the evening complete: Kendall Kay-drums, Kim Richmond-woodwinds, Granville “Danny” Young-bass. Ebsen was moving around the stage, singing and talking as the scenes changed on the tall screens. Buddy Ebsen also starred in “Barnaby Jones” and “The Legend of Davy Crockett” on TV. “St. Louis Blues” was another highlight as Kiki got into a very Bluesy, jazzy mood. The band jumped in and they all produced a hearty, funky music for a rendition that was powerful! The audience whooped with delight.
Another great clip was shown of Buddy dancing with Shirley Temple to “At The Codfish Ball.” The tall lanky Buddy tap dancing with the little girl, both nailing the complicated choreography. They made it look like easy fun. This show was so interesting because it was nostalgic, historic, totally entertaining. The audience was whooping and applauding all the magic that was happening on stage. With exquisite, soft accompaniment Kiki sang a heartbreaking, beautiful “Over The Rainbow.” It moved me so much, I was reminded of my own father and how he helped me every day he was alive.
Kiki Ebsen created something so memorable, so powerful with all kinds of life lessons. She took the audience on an unforgettable journey. The musicians were wonderful, the stage setting itself was excellent. After the show Kiki came back on stage and answered questions from the audience. It was almost like we couldn’t get enough. We wanted to hear more about Kiki’s dad and her life as well. She has a CD out that includes most of the material she sang on stage. Find out more at www.kikiebsen.com
Finally, this theatre worked great for this show. I looked at the material I picked up on my way out and there are some productions that I’m interested in seeing. Theater West is just off the Hollywood freeway, the parking is easy and it’s only $5.oo. There are people who are working hard to bring new talent in, to explore all facets of life. They’re also going to have some shows that would interest jazz fans too. Plus comedians who will teach us a thing or two about life! We encourage everyone to check out Theatre West soon.
www.theatrewest.org…..3333 Cahuenga Blvd.West Los Angeles 90068 (323) 851-7977
Thank you to Garry Kluger for the photographs.
By Myrna Daniels