June has been a hectic, yet fruitful month for a lot of freelancers, myself included. It turns out there is some truth to the idea a freelancer’s life runs on a cycle of feast or famine.
In addition to freelancing duties, I’ve also been a bit of a social butterfly this month, with a calendar full of places to be and things to do. From volunteering for the Indianapolis PrideFest to mingling at Metromix Indy’s 2011 Tweetup, I feel like I haven’t sat still long enough to complain about how I don’t have time to sit still.
Thankfully, I did take the time to sit still long enough to enjoy Tiffanie Bridges' new one-woman show Is That Your Reel Hair? at the IndyFringe theatre last Saturday night. I attended the annual IndyFringe festival in 2010, but I never had an opportunity to catch any of the performances at the playhouse itself. So I’m grateful not only for the chance to check out this wonderful venue, but to have Bridges’ play serve as my introduction.
And what an introduction it was! I tend to be hard on one-woman/one-man shows. For me, the gold standard was set by John Lequizamo in 1998 with Freak. Even though Leguizamo doesn’t sing, his ability to keep the audience captivated from start to finish borders on inspiring with a hint of crazy. Bridges’ Is That Your Reel Hair? certainly showcases her special brand of crazy while never sacrificing her desire to turn hair-related lemons into lemonade. Which, of course, is inspiring.
The play begins with a stage mirroring an actor’s dressing room and an offstage voice yelling: “Thirty minutes to showtime, Ms. Bridges. Thirty minutes to showtime.” Out springs the spirited Ms. Bridges in house shoes, dressing gown and stocking cap. She walks over to her vanity, sits down and starts primping for her grand entrance. Seemingly wrapped up in the fabulous-ness of it all, Bridges turns and breaks the hallowed fourth wall.
From there, the audience is treated to a journey of how Bridges began her flirtation with the world of wigs. Reminiscent of India.Arie’s tale in “I Am Not My Hair,” we learn that Bridges suffered an unfortunate hair mishap during junior high that left her with a TWA. That’s a “teeny weeny afro” for those unfamiliar with the Natural Hair Movement lingo.
Traumatized, but determined, she shares how her undeniable desire to perform coupled with her fascination with great divas with even greater hair helped her find her voice. The first grande dame of the evening was the one and only Barbara. Donning a Babs-circa-1969 wig, Bridges launches into “The Way We Were.”
I was raised by a consummate Streisand fan, so I’m a harsh critic when it comes to singers covering Babs. With that in mind, I can say Bridges not only delivers a fitting rendition of the classic, but she also manages to make the song her own. Showing off her vocal talents early tells us that Bridges is no lightweight when it comes to the stage, the song or the spotlight. And she’s just getting warmed up.
Bridges continues to show off what God gave her with songs by the inspiring, innovative and, sometimes, fierce ladies of song. We’re treated to Diana Ross, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Cher, Queen Latifah, Chaka Khan, Beyonce, and the unforgettable Willow Smith. And with each song, Bridges delivers a small intro, a hilarious, but often appropriate dance routine, and a new wig.
I have to admit that it takes a lot of skill to get me to like Cher’s last big hit "Believe". It took me years to shake that song from my psyche. And when the musical intro began, I wanted to sink down in my chair and cover my ears. Yet Bridges manages to take this much loathed number and not only sing it better than Madame Cher, but also make you laugh as she constantly licks her lip (Cher-style), pulls the wig strands from her mouth, and dances with wide-eyed trance-like amazement at the songs hypnotic chorus. Kudos, Ms. Bridges. Kudos.
Early in the show, it becomes clear that the production works best with an eager audience willing to participate and relax into their role. Bridges encourages the crowd to sing along, clap, and stand up and get into it! Some audience members are into participating more than others, but it’s nice to see some keep the energy going. I happily joined in the clapping, as well as discovering that I knew all the words to Diana Ross’s “Coming Out.” Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” on the other hand is a different story.
My favorite number of the evening belonged to Bridges’ take on Motormouth Maybelle’s “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” from the Tony-award winning musical Hairspray. She cites Queen Latifah’s film version of the character as inspiration, but I'd say Bridges’ vocals have more in common with Broadway’s Mary Bond Davis. Davis -- like Bridges -- simply carries more volume, energy and vivacity than Latifah’s interpretation. And Bridges never feels over the top. Not an easy feat at all. Someone stage a local production of Hairspray quick because this is the part she was born to play!
If I could find fault with this one-woman show, it would be that it’s a little short. I would suggest lengthening the play by about 20 minutes. I know that’s a lot to ask for a one-person musical involving a couple costume changes, singing and a bit of dancing. However, the play clocks in under an hour, and that’s including the evening’s late start.
Bridges was gracious enough to share how this is her first one-woman show and it is a work in progress. And since she’s open to ideas, I would like to hear a little more detail about her journey to becoming comfortable with her natural hair texture. I love the songs and quick changes, but I wish there were more meat to the narrative. I'd love to see her one-woman show grow to not only entertain, but reveal the fascinating and sometimes difficult journey I know natural hair transitioning can be.
Speaking of which, if she ever chooses to add one or two more ditties, I can think of a couple worthy of Bridges' voice. I'd like to hear what she could do to a bit of Gladys Knight or Bette Midler. Although, I suppose they’re not really known for their fearsome and fabulous coifs.
Overall, Is That Your Reel Hair? is a delight. Bridges is charming, silly and talented beyond all reason. IndyFringe offers a wonderful venue in which all the production’s talent is laid bare. There’s no glitz or glamour. You won’t find a 30-person stage crew or complicated, revolving sets. No. At IndyFringe, what you see is what you get. And thankfully, Bridges is a sight to see.
If you’re interested in catching the last two performances of Is That Your Reel Hair?, you can buy tickets online or at the door for tonight and Saturday’s show. Doors open at 7pm; the curtain rises at 8pm. But just in case you can’t make it, there are also plans brewing for a number of Indianapolis performances this summer in conjunction with IndyParks. So be on the lookout for those dates as well.