A Tuneful Tribute to “A Man Named Jed…”

By Ernest Kearney — Nowadays most people, — particularly those generations born after the epoch when high school courses were given on the proper use of the slide rule and Johnson & Johnson Band-Aids®  still came packaged with that handy little red “tear string” — will look at you dimly at the mention of the name Buddy Ebsen.

Ah, but when asked about Jed Clampett, they’ll likely break out into a joyous rendition of:

Come and listen to my story about a man named Jed 
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed, 
And then one day he was shootin’ at some food, 
And up through the ground come a bubblin’ crude. 

Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.

For the hillbilly sage Jed Clampett (1962-1971), the milk guzzling PI Barnaby Jones (1973-1980), and to a lesser extent Davy Crockett’s (1953-1954) basset hound loyal sidekick Georgie Russell, Ebsen has certainly earned himself a place at the table in television’s Valhalla.

The title of Kiki Ebsen’s guest production currently at Theatre West makes pretty clear what to expect:

To Dad With Love – A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen

The youngest daughter of Ebsen she and her older brother would run amok at CBS where the Beverly Hillbillies was shot; mainly playing with whatever “critter” was scheduled for an appearance with the animal loving Ely May (Donna Douglas).

But of her father, who was fifty at the time of her birth, and his early career she knew little.

It wasn’t until finding an old trunk full of letters, photos and vintage New York playbills that she learned of his start on the vaudeville circuit and details of his Broadway career and involvement with the MGM of Louis B. Mayer.

The show uses the conceit of Ebsen finding her father’s trunk of memories as the foundation for her sentimental and sincere one-woman show.

As directed by S.E. Feinberg, the show opens sluggishly and wastes too much time on long moments of dead air with Ebsen doing her upmost to channel the persona of a Margaret Keane waif.

However, despite the looseness of the staging and the occasional rambling by Ebsen the show succeeds in being both engaging and very entertaining.

Ebsen relates her father’s beginnings as a Broadway hoofer, and employs clips from his early films Captain January (1936) where he goes toe to toe with the high kicking Shirley Temple to his 1961 portrayal of Doc Golightly the estranged husband of Audrey Hepburn’s much younger character.

While these portions of the show will delight any film junkies in the audience Ebsen will have them on the edge of their seats when she starts to recount the older Ebsen’s casting and ultimate removal from the role of the Tin Man in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s The Wizard of Oz.

The tale of his involvement with the Judy Garland classic and falling victim to the toxicity of the aluminum dust used in the role’s makeup is the stuff of Hollywood legend.

Ebsen herself enjoyed a solid career as a singer touring with Al Jarreau, Christopher Cross and Tracy Chapmen. In 2012 she released her sixth CD entitled Scarecrow Sessions, a collection of jazz classics and Hollywood musical standards as a tribute to the life and career of her father.

Displaying an exquisite set of pipes, and accompanied by an on-stage quartet, Ebsen layers selected tunes from the album to accent the production’s progression to very good effect.

Stretching the show, which already whimpers for tightening, to a second act should probably be reconsidered, and a bit more history of her father’s adventures during Broadway’s heyday and the Golden Age of Hollywood wouldn’t hurt either.

But as it stands, one would be hard pressed to totter out of Theatre West grumbling about either the show or Ebsen’s performance.

In the final analysis, the show is successful due to Ebsen’s own talents as a performer and the emotional sincerity of her respect and love for her father that is a constant presence on the stage.

I hope she knows dad would be proud.


(NOTE: Featured in Main Image (l to r) Buddy Ebsen, Kiki Ebsen – Photo by Cliff Lipson)


By Popular Demand

To Dad With Love – A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen

has been extended

thru

September 29th

at

Theatre West

3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West,
Los Angeles, CA 90068

For Tickets and Additional Information Go To

http://theatrewest.org/

Contact Information

Main Office: (323) 851-4839
Box Office: (323) 851-7977
Storybook Box Office: (818) 761-2203


 

Written by

An award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note who has hoisted glasses with Orson Welles, been arrested on three continents and once beat up Charlie Manson. His first play, "Among the Vipers" was a semi-finalist in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition and was featured in the Carnegie-Mellon Showcase of New Plays. It was produced at the NPT Theater in Ashland, Oregon and Los Angeles’ celebrated Odyssey Ensemble Theatre. His following play, “The Little Boy Who Loved Monsters” was produced at The Hollywood Actors Theater, where he earned praise from the Los Angeles Times for his “…inordinately creative writing.” The play went on to numerous other productions including Berlin’s The Black Theatre under the direction of Rainer Fassbinder who wrote in his program notes of Kearney, “He is a skilled playwright, but more importantly he is a dangerous one.” Ernest Kearney has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist, three times, in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His work has been performed by Michael Dunn, Sandra Tsing Loh, Jack Colvin and Billy Bob Thornton, and to date, either as playwright or director, he has upwards of a hundred and thirty productions under his belt, including a few at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater as puppeteer. After a wild and misspent youth, which lasted well into middle age, Kearney has settled down and is focusing on his writing, as well as living happily ever after with his lovely wife Marlene. Ernest’s stage reviews and social essays can be found at TheTVolution.com and workingauthor.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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