Looped lands at the Hippodrome Theatre as a co-production between Broadway Across America and Tony Cacciotti, Ann Cady Scott, and The Tallulah Organization in association with The Pasadena Playhouse. Written by Matthew Lombardo and Directed by Rob Ruggiero, Looped whips up an outrageous showdown between acting legend Tallulah Bankhead and a reserved Sound Editor, Danny Miller. This hilarious showdown proves to be one wild ride.
Based on a true story, this one afternoon in the recording studio trying to correctly loop one last line of dialogue brings a tremendous amount of laughter tempered with cold harsh reality for the audience to enjoy and absorb as the washed-out star in her intoxicated state tries continually to get the line right.
Costume Designer Michael Gilliam sets the moods for the business of Hollywood circa 1965 with the crisp cleanly pressed suit for Danny Miller. But Gilliam takes us to a forgotten world with the arrival of Tallulah Bankhead. Covered from head to toe in an elegant fur befitting of a movie star in her prime, Gilliam crafts the look of luxury and elegance for the show’s star. He furthers her star-studded appearance with a decadent evening gown made of a rich navy shinny satin that cascades down her body and fits her figure, complete with a sparkling diamond broach right at her bust line. This magic ensemble speaks volumes of her hay-day having passed her by and adds a tragic beauty to the character.
Director Rob Ruggiero brings the world of the recording studio to life. Keeping Steve (Matthew Montelongo) the sound technician above it all in the second story recording booth really lets the drama unfurl between Tallulah and the Sound Editor. Montelongo has a sharp sense of his deadpan humor, the character’s biggest problem being that the mustard he wants for his sandwich is downstairs instead of up in the booth with him. The keen timing of his unique brand of comedy adds an extra layer of hilarity to the funnier moments of the production and it adds a third perspective, however subtle and limited, to the events of the afternoon. And his occasionally peanut-gallery style comments heighten the experience tenfold.
Danny Miller (Brian Hutchinson) the uptight, conservative man of little patience is a driving factor throughout the production but especially for the second act. Hutchinson maintains his cool at first, letting only mild undertones of frustration and exasperation escape into his voice when initially encountering the star, but as the play progresses she gets the better of him and those subtle undertones become quickly exacerbated and more readily noticeable. It doesn’t take much to rattle his cage and when he gets frustrated, Hutchinson quickly turns on a defensive routine, hints of which are portrayed in his closed off physicality.
But the whole of Hutchinson’s character is not just a stuffy agitated man. While it isn’t until the second act that we feel a drastic shift in his character, when it finally arrives it is well worth the wait. Hutchinson breaks down into a vulnerable person, showing his character has an honest humanity about him. This is such a sharp contrast to his previous persona, and it’s shocking. The way he confides in and confesses to Tallulah Bankhead (Stefanie Powers), if at first a bit hesitantly, is touching and heartfelt, adding beauty and grace to his existence.
It’s the awkward relationship that builds between the two in these moments of confession that drive the whole second act. They’ve actually kicked Steve out of the studio so that they, in her words, can get to know one another better. And while at first it’s all biting and insults, as they break down, this marvelous similarity blossoms between them and they become relatable, not just to each other but to the audience as well. This is a rather drastic change compared to the first act where they spend the whole time barbing and sniping at one another; Hutchinson growing more frustrated by the moment, and Powers growing more hysterically hilarious every time it frustrates him. Watching her attempt the ‘looping’ is like watching archived footage of a gag-reel or an outtake reel; an uproarious good time for everyone, well, except the film editor.
Stefanie Powers is a dynamic force to be reckoned with upon the stage. Her characterization of Tallulah Bankhead does the legendary actress a great deal of justice. For while a great deal of it is all fun and games with a healthy dose of riotous laughter there is a darker side to her portrayal; the comedy always being shrouded by the dark mists of her crumbling reality. Her physical portrayal of Bankhead is sensational, tempering the languid fluid physicality like when she slips into the recording chair or slides in and out of her fur coat against the stumbling moments where she’s deliciously disgraceful; the drunkenness and the suaveness all rolled up into one entity.
Powers has a mastery of the true Hollywood Diva; storming the sound studio as if the clock ticked solely for her. Her mannerisms, gestures, even her speech patterns craft the persona of a true star, often waxing nostalgic about her hay-day, not quite realizing it has slowly slipped past her. And when that recognition does surface there is a bitter reality that arises in her voice; an actualization of a lost life, which she quickly tries to diffuse with one of her off-the-wall jokes. Powers’ ability to switch from lament to laughter on a dime is a true asset to her performance, making for a stunning show.
Life is a joke at least for those of us who have a sense of humor in our pockets and Powers has a pocket full of it. Pulling perfect punch-lines with impeccable comic timing, Powers is an uproarious performer who will keep you in stitches during the funny moments of the show. But for as much as she kept me laughing, she also moved me to tears with her harrowing confessions that were deeply heartfelt, raw, and moving. Powers is a versatile actor with a world of emotional knowledge on display. Her phenomenal performance gives all the credit due to the phenomenal star she portrays.
Looped will take you for one heck of a loop, so be sure to pop by before it unravels to the end of the reel.
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.
Looped plays through March 17, 2013 at Hippodrome Theatre at The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center – 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 547-7328, or purchase them online.