Unsinkable Debbie

Unsinkable Debbie

There has always seemed to be a clash between the old screen image of Debbie, and what the woman is truly like.

Reynolds, who became a star with the 1951 musical classic Singin’ In The Rain, was the screen’s favourite sweetheart for her roles in such light fare as Tammy, Two Weeks With Love, The Singing Nun and her Oscar-nominated role as The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

But away from the cameras, on TV talk shows and in her concert performances, the real Debbie Reynolds has always shone strongly -“ a quick-witted, sexy, saucy dame, who loves a good one-liner as much as a strong double entendre.

That’s the woman who is talking with the Star from her home in Los Angeles as she prepares for her shows at the Opera House on 10 and 11 August.

This Debbie Reynolds is much more in line with her screen image over the past 10 years, particularly as the acidic Bobbi Adler on Will & Grace or as the gutsy showbiz survivor in the movie Connie And Carla.

There is a cheeky sense of irreverent fun to her conversation as Reynolds talks about the show she is bringing to Australia, her first tour to our shores in more than 20 years.

And the 73-year-old is particularly excited about the addition of Dame Edna Everage and Paris Hilton to the gallery of star impersonations she does in her act.

I am putting Dame Edna in as I think he/ she is such a scream, she says. I am never sure if the accent is Australian or English as she goes up and down in the tone of her voice. It is a little crazy.

While the Edna impersonation sounds endearing, she has something a little fiercer in mind for Paris Hilton.

Actually, I am doing Zsa Zsa Gabor with Paris Hilton, as Zsa Zsa is her grand aunt. So it is a conversation between the two, which I am sure is going to be fun.

Cher, Barbra Streisand, Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn also make appearances. The rest of the show is a showcase of the songs and clips from Reynolds’s old movies, a Garland medley, a selection of Sondheim songs and anecdotes about a life in the Hollywood spotlight.

With a large part of her act based around her take on other stars, it comes as little surprise when Reynolds reveals she loved working with the drag queens in Connie and Carla.

I love drag -“ I think it is so much fun, she says. It is camp and kicky, and anything that can make people laugh and feel good, I like.

She tells of seeing a Debbie Reynolds drag act once in Las Vegas, and was flattered by the impersonation. They made it very funny. They did Singin’ In The Rain in raincoats, and then there was a red dress and red wig for Molly Brown.

It is a compliment. It means you are enough fun and different enough and it gave people something they liked. It means you are worth remembering.

The movie Postcards From The Edge also reveals another side of her life, based on the semi-autobiographical book by Reynolds’s daughter Carrie Fisher, with Shirley MacLaine playing an old musical screen queen who battles with a daughter living in her shadow.

One of the more memorable scenes in the film is when two gushing gay fans stop MacLaine’s character. As they walk away, the star explains to her daughter why she stopped to talk: Darling, you know how the queens have always loved me.

Reynolds admits that scene is based on truth. Oh yes, it is. I have always said to her [Fisher] that I am a member of the Queen’s Court. They have always loved me as I am their friend, and always have been. I think we make good comrades.

Reynolds shows no signs of bringing the curtain down on her 50-plus years in show business any time soon.

After Australia, she has more dates to play in the US, two movies to complete and is showcasing her extensive collection of Hollywood memorabilia with next year’s opening of the Motion Picture Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, near Dolly Parton’s famed Dollywood.

That town will have two Ds now -“ Debbie and Dolly. Actually, she’s a triple-D and I am a double-D, so they will really have five Ds.

Debbie Reynolds plays at the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House on 10 and 11 August. Bookings on 9250 7777.

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