In 1973, John Springer, a publicity agent to many movie stars and celebrities, conducted a public interview with Joan Crawford in New York City’s The Town Hall. This historical event is the inspiration for the acclaimed lip-synching artiste Lypsinka’s show, which was originally presented in 2005. (Lypsinka is the alter ego of the performer John Epperson.)
“Ladies and Gentlemen! Miss Joan Crawford!” announces the host. Embodying old-time Hollywood glamour, Mr. Epperson regally enters, wearing an elegant black gown with a bejeweled collar, voluminous crimson wrap, strawberry blonde updo, ruby bracelets, and diamond rings, to the sound of recorded and live audience applause. Then he and the host sit down on puffy white chairs, with black and white hanging dots in the background, a bottle of Pepsi on the table, and proceed to meticulously lip synch to the actual 1973 interview that included the host’s questions and those from the audience read from index cards. Off to the side are illustrative slides of Crawford and her career that are projected onto a large screen.
With perpetually quivering lips, wide eyes and fluttering lashes, florid dramatic gestures and intense stares, the elaborately made up Mr. Epperson, visually recreates the aged Crawford to perfection. Her reported fondness for vodka is apparent in her often slurred and spacey responses. Epperson uses these speech patterns and often contemplative pauses to mine even more humor and depth with his physical virtuosity.
Interspersed with the comprehensive interview are asides recreating clips of cheery 1940’s radio interviews with her and her adopted children in attendance. “Most of the children’s Christmas presents are donated to needy children…”
In a dark gray suit and wearing thick eyeglasses Steve Cuiffo (alternating with Scott Wittman) wonderfully portrays the various interviewers. He physically and facially conveys the unctuousness of these star worshipping cheerleaders and is a prodigious foil for Epperson. He even gets to briefly lip-synch to Christina and Christopher as children to great comic effect.
The show’s prologue, the “Joan Crawford Mega Mix” by Dan-O-Rama, is a frenetically edited compilation of expected Joan Crawford film clips, and the finale is a hyperbolic mash up of staccato sound clips with Epperson archly lip-synching to them with frantic movements. For an added postmodern dimension, there are even bits of Mommie Dearest, with Faye Dunaway thundering.
Director Kevin Malony has adeptly melded all of the top-notch technical elements in evidence into a superbly realized, immersive, surreal vision. Epperson created the detailed soundtrack that was skillfully engineered by Alex Noyes and realized by Matt Berman’s sound design. Mark Simpson with Jeremy Owens did the striking lighting.
The colorful set design by Jim Boutin with Adelaide’s very well selected furniture greatly contributes to the realistic period look of the show. Costume designer Ramona Ponce and Robert Sorrell’s jewelry artfully duplicates Golden Age Hollywood glamour with flamboyant flourishes.
Mr. Epperson’s commanding talent, and unique sensibility, combined with the totality of the accomplished production, makes The Passion of The Crawford, an hallucinatory spectacle that faithfully and affectionately pays tribute to the screen icon.
To commemorate the third decade of appearing as his creation, Mr. Epperson is performing this show in repertory with two others as Lypsinka! The Trilogy. John Epperson: Show Trash, is a New York City premiere of an autobiographical work where he is in street clothes as himself.
There is also Lypsinka! The Boxed Set, a glorious retrospective of his greatest routines. It is the creative collaboration of many of those involved with The Passion of The Crawford, with the addition of costume designer Bryant Hoven and wig designer Gerard Kelly.
This includes his dazzling phone call sequence. Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, and Faye Dunaway (“She’s my sister!” “She’s my daughter!”) are among the campy gallery of female stars who are fiercely recreated during a lengthy series of loudly ringing phone calls punctuated by dramatic blackouts with Bernard Herrmann’s Hitchcock movie music. There are also bits of Tallulah Bankhead, Judy Garland, Patty Duke from Valley of The Dolls, and Agnes Moorehead.
He also does “Halloween,” from Applause and a nightmarishly fragmented “Rose’s Turn,” from Gypsy. “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” in a version by drunken nightclub singer, is hysterical. Among the many other eclectic divas represented are Kay Stevens, Polly Bergen, Gisele MacKenzie, Gloria Swanson and Phyllis Diller.
A lengthy recreation of bawdy cult singer Frances Faye’s provocative original song, “Frances and Her Friends,” with lyrics such as “I know a guy named Willy, Willy goes with Tilly, Tilly goes with Milly, What a ball…” sung to a syncopated beat, is a tour de force.
The Passion of The Crawford (performed in repertory through January 3rd, 2015)
The Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.lypsinka.com
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission