By Andrew Poretz . . .
Quinn Lemley’s updated and evolving Rita Hayworth – The Heat Is On! A Life in Concert played to a packed house at Don’t Tell Mama tonight. Lemley inhabits the star who was born Margarita Carmen Cansino and eventually became the bottle flame-haired Rita Hayworth. The show takes a linear, autobiographical approach to Hayworth’s story from the perspective of the star, looking from “beyond,” at her stardom and troubled life in a series of stories and monologues, interspersed with song and dance. Backed by an excellent jazz quartet, and with the clever device of a silky faux wardrobe for Rita to change costumes between numbers, The Heat is On! is a terrific vehicle for Lemley and a delightful evening of entertainment. Lemley has performed this show in various iterations for over a quarter of a century. It is not dramatically different than it was when we reviewed the show in October. Some arrangements were changed, and there was more emotional wallop. At one point, Rita welled up in tears, a stunning moment. In a later, vulnerable scene, her memories “slipping away like water on a stone,” Lemley conveyed the tragic pathos Rita endured while alive. Our October review can be found at https://www.theaterpizzazz.com/rita-hayworth-the-heat-is-on-a-life-in-concert.
Afterwards, I spoke with Carter Inskeep, who wrote and directed the show, about the evolution of the script from the time Carter met Quinn and started researching Rita Hayworth. This interview has been condensed.
“I read this story of Rita Hayworth’s life and it was incredible. We first did the show with only songs that Rita Hayworth sang in her movies. And it went over well. Then when Paul [Horton, Quinn’s manager and husband] came into the picture. He said, ‘You know, you’re limiting yourself, because she should be able to sing anything from the American Songbook that would have influenced her in her life, so she can relate to “Old Black Magic” with Orson Welles.’ So that opened all of that up.
We’ve done the show on and off for 25 years, and it ran a long time … Quinn came back to me and said, ‘I really have a fond spot for the show, I would love to do it again.’ And I said, there’s a possibility that we could really sharpen it a lot more and make it talk to the audience of the ‘Me Too’ generation, with all of what was going on in Hollywood, knowing that happening now and seeing the reaction to it, looking back on it is just day-to-day life in Hollywood at that time. And also, you need Rita Hayworth in this show as an ‘old soul,’ in, let’s say, Purgatory, wherever she is, looking back at her life. It helps that Quinn is now no longer 25! She can relate to that old soul, and she’s had that. When we first did this, I couldn’t get her to say ‘F— it!’ Now it’s okay, and it is true that that is part of Rita’s lore. They say she had a mouth like a sailor. And she hung out with the technicians, not with the stars. She was kind of like the gypsy pretending to be the princess. And that’s how the whole idea of it worked; sure, it’s great to get into show business and become famous, but don’t lose who you are. And that’s the lesson that she learns – on the night that you’re here, Rita happens to realize that it’s not about who the villain was, but who the hero was. And that was that little gypsy girl who got knocked down and got up, and you can see the difference.”
As to what’s different since our last review: “We’ve just been working on cleaning and polishing and looking at –you do rehearsals, and Quinn can do a different line reading of something and say, ‘Oh, you know what? That’s great. Think about it as this…’ For example, the story about being locked in the dressing room by her father and eventually abused by him starts out with, ‘What can I say?’ And the other day, it came out as ‘How do I tell you this?’ And that’s great, because it’s not just, ‘How do I tell you this?’, but ‘How do I have the courage to say it? And to say it in a way that’s not offensive. I’m not going to draw you a picture, you know what I’m talking about, and let’s move on.’
We are working on ‘Zip,’ which I think will have new choreography. It’s a good number – but it’s the last big number of the show. It’s the eleventh-hour number. I’m not expecting a standing ovation … but I want to rock the roof with it. I’ve been scrubbing the internet trying to find strippers, and watching strippers, and we’re going to do a full-on mime of a stripper, that is consistent with strip tease, and then run that dialogue, just as an undercurrent going under it. So hopefully it will truly light up the room.”
The hit show has been extended again, with performances scheduled for March 24, April 20, May 23, and June 23, 2022.
Rita Hayworth – The Heat Is On! A Life in Concert (February 24, 2022)
Written and Directed by Carter Inskeep
Musical director/pianist: Tom Wilson
Bass: Perrin Grace
Sax: David Milazzo
Drums: Patrick Carmichael
Gowns by Wendall Goings
Shoes by Michael Troy Brown
Don’t Tell Mama 343 West 46th Street NYC
Photos: Andrew Poretz