Friday, September 13, 2019

To Dad with Love A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen by Kiki Ebsen and Dustin Ebsen

Kiki Ebsen (on screen L - R Buddy Ebsen, Judy Garland, and Ray Bolger

By Joe Straw

I have pictures of my daughters all over my study. The snapshots are of times remembered and hopes for the future.  After my divorce, I see less of my girls but think about them all the time. I hope it is mutual. Family – Narrator

The last time I saw Buddy Ebsen was back in the 1980’s, after a performance of Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson starring Ebsen’s daughter Bonnie Ebsen. (The Pilot Theatre in Hollywood?) I had known Bonnie for some time as we happily studied with the same acting teacher.

Deep in thought about the performance, hands in my pockets, head down, I found myself behind Buddy and his date as we moved east on Theatre Row until a photographer stopped him to take pictures. I stepped behind the cameraman, watched him take a few shots and then moved on into the night.  

Sometime later, I was invited to a dinner party in San Marino with Bonnie as one of the guests.

The conversation at the dining table was polite, mostly about the work, but rarely about family. I don’t remember Bonnie ever mentioning her father Buddy, her sister Kiki, or her brother Dustin. While the evening was lovely, sadly it was a lost opportunity to talk about family, everyone’s family.  

The last time I saw Bonnie was in West Hollywood. We exchanged pleasantries and spoke for a few minutes until she casually mentioned that she just given birth a few weeks earlier.  She was looking fit, and hadn’t lost a step. And, to this day, I still wondered why having the baby was not the first thing she shared in our conversation. Family – Narrator.

To Dad with Love A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen written by Kiki and Dustin Ebsen, starring Kiki Ebsen, and produced by Kiki Ebsen and Steve Wallace for StKi, LLC, through September 22, 2019 is now playing at Theatre West in Los Angeles.

Sometimes, one wants to go to theatre to enjoy the night, the performance, and to accept the performance in whatever shape or form the players have to offer.

To Dad with Love A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen is a wonderful tribute to the man.  But in hindsight, it is much more. Exceptionally directed by S.E. Feinberg, this tribute is an emotional experience and an extraordinary night of theatre.

Kiki Ebsen’s lovely vocals and piano playing are backed by Jeff Colella (piano), Kendall Kay (drums), Kim Richmond (woodwinds) and Granville “Danny” Young (bass). All are incomparable and play into Kiki’s beautiful, sultry, jazzy voice, blending song and story in one glorious night.  Most of the songs she sang are on the CD, The Scarecrow Sessions, and all are beautifully sung.

(Samplings of her songs can be heard here - )

This is, without a doubt, a show you should not miss.  Go for the music, go for the history, or go for the tap dancing.  Take your pick because it is all a powerful night of theatre.  

Steve Wallace’s set design resembles someone’s ranch style home from the saddle far stage right to the piano layered with books, a chest languishes center stage, and stage left offers small sculptured horses on a side table.  

Here are a couple of thoughts for S.E. Feinberg, the director.  First, he is someone I have known as a writer and director since the late seventies, more specifically in 1980, and his creative spirit is alive and well in this production.  

Kiki enters the stage quite unexpectedly and moves toward the chest. Inside are the events of Buddy’s life, photos, scripts, wardrobe, and other accouterments that make up an entertainer’s life, the life’s important moments – of surrender and achievements – that concedes you to the past of her august impressions.

But, the opening, while adequate, could be strengthened. To move center stage and to open the chest necessitates another level of creative spirit – the reason to open the chest – and the need to speak to the audience.

Also, time and place are critical in the opening moments.  Is this the first discovery of the chest after her mother’s death? Is the chest now at the ranch or in Kiki’s current home? 

Whatever happens in the opening moments must be clear to give us a definitive idea of the why this is happening on this night.

Kiki Ebsen and Gregory Gast

The tap dance sequence with Gregory Gast (cast member, choreographer) was both exceptional and emotional.  The moment – the touching of the fingers – brings the father and daughter full circle.  It is in this moment where heart and memories merge, where shadows come to life and end in song.  And it is in the dance where two longing beings connect just, one, more, time.

Kiki, at times, extemporaneously moves away from the book and expresses sincere thoughts, which was wonderfully appealing as was the entire night. We get to know a little more about Buddy, and his relationship with Shirley Temple and Ronald Reagan, his conservative leanings, and the long horse ride back home.

Behind the set are screens used for projecting photos and videos.  Dustin Ebsen wonderfully created the multi-media and special effects for the night.

The Sound Design was by Steve Wallace and was pitch perfect.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Ernest McDaniel – Lighting Design/Stage Manager
Steve Moyer PR – Publicity
Dawn Lee Wakefield/TCV Media – Social Media

All in all, it is rare that one gets to see this much talent in this type of venue and every single bit of it worked.  

Run! Run! Run!  And take your daughter for a lovely night of bonding.

Theatre West
3333 Cahuenga Boulevard West
Los Angeles, CA  90068
Theatre West Box Office at 323-851-7977

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