In the annals of Broadway lore, the late James Kirkwood’s “Legends!” is considered to be, well, legendary.
Well, yeah, but not in a good way, necessarily.
It’s not that Kirkwood didn’t have a good rep. He was co-author of the book “A Chorus Line,” for which he received a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize, not to mention several well received novels, including one called “P.S. Your Cat Is Dead.”
But “Legends!”, in which two aging female stars and divas are being coaxed to star together in a new play by a rabid producer type, is not a very good play because it doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be. It first turned up in 1986 as a vehicle for two legendary Broadway stars, Carol Channing (“Hello Dolly”) and Mary Martin (“South Pacific”) of very different gifts and temperaments and flopped out of town without making it to Broadway.
In more recent times it turned up as a vehicle for Joan Collins and Linda Evans, who fought like cats on television’s “Dynasty,” and again did not travel far and wide.
Looking at the Studio Theatre’s current production of “Legends,” conceived by legendary drag artist Lypsinka (aka John Epperson), who stars in the lead role alongside James Lucesne, you wonder why they didn’t do this in the first place 24 years ago.
I mean, this “Legends!”, if not legendary, is a hoot. And now we more or less know what it was meant to be: a barn-burner for two divas playing two divas. Who better than two men who know really know how to get attention with dresses, high heels, lots of hair and makeup?
Somehow, “Legends,” which could look awkward with Martin and Channing and silly with Collins and Evans, now looks, moves and acts like great entertainment.
The old play has changed a bit. The women are two movie stars who could be Taylor, could be Davis, could be Crawford or Turner, but it never goes quite so crazy as to turn into “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”, although there’s a thought.
It’s bawdy, sure. There’s the male stripper, the black maid named Aretha, who makes racist jokes at the expense of the girls, there’s hash-laced cookies and a producer-agent who gets completely whacked out, played like a crazed cat by Tom Story.
Mostly, there’s Lecesne, who could be doing a sendup on Joan Collins by way of Liz Taylor, playing the famously slatternly Silvia Glenn as if he had just escaped being cast as the matron of the Kardashian clan.
Mostly, there’s Epperson/Lypsinka, a performing original if there ever was one, who did whatever nipping and tucking on the “Legends!” book that’s occurred. But he always brings something unique to every woman he ever becomes on stage, a kind of almost menacing wisdom that ends up being both affecting and really funny. This was most evident in “The Passion of the Crawford.” Here, but it’s softened some, it’s become a little more self-conscious and knowing, and, as always, wonderfully weird and glamorous.
“Legends!” runs at the Studio Theatre through July 4.