BEA ARTHUR ON BROADWAY: JUST BETWEEN FRIENDS with Arthur and pianist Billy Goldenberg. Presented by TaurPro Entertainment at the Winter Garden (189 Yonge). Runs to December 8, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $35-$69.50. 416-872-5555. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
as a name-dropping, song-filled journey through one American performer's career on stage and TV, Bea Arthur On Broadway: Just Between Friends (exactly how is Toronto Broadway? And who said anything about being friends?) works just fine.The basso-voiced Arthur's best known for her 20-odd years in the sitcoms Maude and The Golden Girls (not to mention those odd Shopper's Drug Mart commercials).
But as she proves throughout her 90-minute show, her heart belongs to musical Broadway.
If the first tier of brassy, slightly androgynous Broadway belters consists of Ethel Merman and Angela Lansbury, Arthur occupies the second tier with more limited singers like Elaine Stritch and Dorothy Loudon, dames whose personalities are stronger than their vocal resources.
The limits of her range are evident here. Most songs are kicked to life by dramatic instincts and phrasing. Others are brought off through sheer willpower.
The best bits come from shows Arthur's performed in. Her rendition of a scene from The Threepenny Opera, preceded by a warm anecdote about Lotte Lenya, is haunting. Other highlights are drawn from shows she wishes she'd performed in, like Gypsy and Ballroom.
Between songs (nicely accompanied by pianist Billy Goldenberg), Arthur proves she knows how to spin out a story. The subjects of her anecdotes and one-liners range from Jerome Robbins and Tony Curtis to Pia Zadora, who joined her in the original Broadway cast of Fiddler On The Roof.
Theatrically, the show isn't much, an entertaining Books-on-Tape version of a memoir. But it's all made stronger by Arthur's unmatched ability to deliver a deadpan line and drop-dead stare.