At one point in Legends, Joan Collins’s character says to Linda Evans, “You are one brave, beautiful bitch.”
Two legendary celebrities, one legendary play, one legendary playwright — a recipe for success? Yes and no. I thoroughly enjoyed watching two beloved stars grace the stage of the Royal Alexandra Theatre trying to bring a tired old comedy to life; I have the binocular bruises to prove it. Joan Collins and Linda Evans are like expert surgeons hacking away at a lifeless cadaver. For two full hours their energy never falters. Their acting skills, however, are put to the test by a silly, mismanaged script — and they kind of win and they kind of lose.
Collins has the upper hand; her dialogue is delivered with more fluidity and stage panache than Evans’. Evans shines in certain scenes, and makes the most of a very tricky “comic” speech where she is asked to deliver the “retarded girl” monologue from her character’s Oscar-winning performance. Direction by John Bowab renders this priceless, deliciously tasteless moment awkward. Evans kneels on a pillow earnestly playing the mentally challenged character to the hilt. The camp humour of this moment might have been better served with more dark comic physicality and less dry thespianism.
The same can be said for much of the play’s circular, dizzying blocking.
James Kirkwood, the Tony award- and Pulitzer prize-winning collaborator for the book of A Chorus Line, seems to have — perhaps unintentionally — written a campy comedy for two fabulous drag queens. A Charles Busch or a Lypsinka might be able to transcend the clunky humour of Legends. Yet there are times when the dialogue moves into extremely serious moments that even an expert drag queen could find daunting. When Evans relates her character’s struggle with breast cancer the script is so laced with shallow romantic sentimentality that it is hard to feel any sympathy. It’s like that moment in A Chorus Line when one of the characters says, “I dug right down to the bottom of my heart… and I felt nothing.”
Broadway legend Mary Martin, originating Evan’s role in the first production in the late 1980s, withdrew from the show when the breast cancer speech was cut. Her offstage battles with costar Carol Channing provided Kirkwood with ample material for his book Diary Of A Mad Playwright, an hilarious account of the ill-fated inaugural Legends tour.
A black maid (Tonye Patano), a black male stripper (Will Holman), a white producer (Joe Farrell) and a white cop (Ethan Matthews), although extremely effective in their very questionable parts, seem trapped in a musical comedy without any music (except for the strip show!) and not enough comedy. All in all it is a very uneven yet strangely entertaining evening as one presses their binoculars into their eye sockets and settles for a glimpse of exaggerated elegance trapped ina clumsy and clichéd little script.
Ultimately, for some of us, Remington’s might have doubled the fun for half the price. Nevertheless, performances by two of the 20th-century’s most brave and beautiful “bitches” is a priceless event not to be missed.