By Martha Wade Steketee
“Small but mighty,” our host Ken Prescott named us, the stalwart and engaged members of a recent evening audience at the Dorothy Dale Kloss and Ken Prescott cabaret evening “Two for the Show.” Our crowd included a number of first-timers to their routines, some of their professional colleagues from years past, a family member, and two long-term fans who traveled to the engagement from different ends of the country. We got to know each other as the show went on as we were greeted and surveyed from the stage with the “who’s here from Chicago” kind of inquiry. Prescott provided conventional cabaret patter to weave solos and duets together, and to provide unconventional cover for rarer cabaret events – four or five Kloss costume changes behind a screen just off stage. We end up wanting more of Kloss (fewer changes, more stories) and a bit less of Prescott’s covering vamp stories (so he becomes for me the “plus one”). The show is worth the ride to be exposed to Kloss’s charms.
Kloss is class and sparkle personified. She wears with elegance her 92 years and the title Oldest Still Performing Showgirl she won in 2009 at age 85 after stints as a USO entertainer in World War II, and tours with the Eddy Duchin Orchestra and selling War Bonds – “a wonderful time for show business,” she noted with a nostalgic smile. We learn that she grew up in Chicago and started in a neighborhood dancing school – “we all started in those neighborhood dancing schools.” At age 13 she instructed a 10-year-old Bob Fosse, whose eventual genius, she admits, was not yet apparent. And she’s never stopped working.
Prescott wears his 70 years a little less lightly and carries a load of creaky slightly off-color jokes and primarily family-friendly patter developed during his career on Broadway (two chorus gigs in the 1980s), tours, revues and several years choreographing shows for Andy Williams and the Lennon Sisters in Branson, Missouri. His dialogue plays as though he has long been accustomed to being the youngster in the room, learning from the wise ones for most of his career (e.g. his stories seeing Ruby Keeler in the 1971 revival of No, No Nanette, and his experience as a replacement in 1980 revival of 42nd Street). Kloss all too often plays straight man for his practiced jokes and we yearn to hear more stories directly from her about Ann Miller and Eleanor Powell and Vera Ellen and others she mentions from her eight-decade career.
Kloss and Prescott met during the long-running Palm Springs Follies that played for 23 years. All the showgirls were over the age of 55, Kloss noted, while she started with the show at 71 and stayed for many years. Prescott overlapped with her stint for the last year or so and they decided to tour together. There is a charming camaraderie between the two troupers – he assisted her up and down and around and kept a careful eye out of a troublesome edge or corner that could cause problems. She is enchanting dancing solo or in his arms, moving with the grace of a woman decades younger than her years.
Pre-recorded musical accompaniment was started up at Prescott’s cheery request before each tune – “we’re ready for the next one” he’d call to the man in the sound booth stage right – for solo song stylings by Prescott or duets involving both, or for solo or duo dances on a tiny portable dance floor folded and unfolded as needed on the tiny stage.
Two Harry Warren and Mark Gordon tunes start the show and set the WWII context: “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (1941) and “You’ll Never Know” (1944). Two Irving Berlin tunes soon followed as lovely duets for the team: “It Only Happens When I Dance with You” used in the 1948 film Easter Parade in a dance between Fred Astaire-Ann Miller (which they mention) and a later poignant vocal performance by Judy Garland (which they do not) and “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” performed by Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen in 1954 film White Christmas.
Between these tunes and others, in between other costume changes for Kloss while Prescott delivers another solo, the amusing “Aba Daba Honeymoon” (Arthur Fields / Walter Donovan) performed by Debbie Reynolds and Carlton Carpenter in the 1950 film Two Weeks With Love. Again we hear lists of people Dorothy met (e.g. Jackie Coogan and Kay Ballard and Kaye Starr and Donald O’Connor) but not the stories. Before frustration sets in, however, the final costume into a be-sparkled red, white, and blue tap skirt and sailor cap ushers in a final smashing tap performance by Kloss to the traditional tune “Yankee Doodle Dandy” made famous by George M. Cohan.
Kloss enchanted one last time. While there may have been a few too many jokes, the lovely beaming visage and life history of Kloss warmed the room whenever we caught glimpses. And good news: she has a 2013 memoir entitled I’m Not in Kansas Anymore! Love, Dorothy that might well include more of those show biz stories I wanted to hear.
Two for the Show took place Friday, August 19 at 7 pm and Saturday, August 20th at 4pm Metropolitan Room (34 West 22nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues). Tel: 212.206.0440.