Becky and Bob get into the act at Marigny Theatre

Friday August 11, 06
by David Cuthbert, Times-Picayune Lagniappe

Becky and Bob get into the act at Marigny Theatre
Friday, August 11, 2006
By David Cuthbert
Theater writer

Things are looking up at the Marigny Theatre.

There's a grand piano onstage, real nightclub ambiance and full houses.

"The Sophie Tucker Show with Special Guest Jimmy Durante" evokes two stellar oddities who were entertainment giants for the better part of the 20th century. Tucker was a hefty woman with a powerful belt of a voice, along with risqué, assertive material and an intense drive to succeed. (When Steve Allen wrote a 1963 musical about her, the major song was "I'll Show 'Em All.")

Durante had a big nose, couldn't sing but insisted on trying, and became a star through sheer comic chutzpah. Both entertainers poked fun at themselves: Sophie's girth and take-charge manner with men; Durante's energy, ego and malaprops. What they shared was brash showmanship, with a dollop of sentiment.

In director George Patterson's enjoyable Tucker-Durante cabaret, we get their signature songs -- "Some of These Days," "I'm Doin' What I'm Doin for Love," "Inka-Dinka-Doo," "Umbriago," "You've Got to Start Off Each Day with a Song" -- a smattering of biography and little-known numbers that are the delight of the evening: "I've Got the Blues, But I'm Just Too Mean to Cry," the pre-Viagra "Vitamins, Hormones and Pills," "When Am I Getting the Mink, Mr. Fink?" and "Mama Goes Where Papa Goes, or Papa Don't Go Out Tonight."

We learn more about Tucker and her songwriters than we do about Durante, but a fascinating fact that should find its way into the show is that Durante wrote his most famous numbers. Even in the 1929 Gershwins-Gus Kahn musical "Show Girl," they allowed him to interpolate one of his own songs, "Everyone Knows I Can Do Without Broadway, But Can Broadway Do Without Me?" which is performed here.

Becky Allen, our own "Red-Hot Mama," is ideal casting for Tucker, suggesting rather than impersonating her. She gets the most out of her eye-rolling naughty numbers, and when the lights dim and she sings "My Yiddishe Momma," the lady is genuinely touching. Cecile Casey Covert has created her flamboyant, era-specific, beaded and feathered gowns and millinery.

Bob Edes Jr. does impersonate Durante, because that's what you have to do with such a distinctive personage still readily accessible in films and recordings. Edes has the outsized exasperation and every bit of comic shtick down, and he, too, gets a moving moment singing "As Time Goes By." Allen and Edes work well together and have great audience rapport. However, Edes' synthetic Durante schnozz looks a tad askew; maybe he might try just doing without it.

Jim Walpole is the talented, tireless pianist who pipes up with asides. And when the audience is invited to join in "Some of These Days," we need no urging.

This is a good-time, feel-good show.