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A CurtainUp Review
The Blonde in the Thunderbird

Suzanne Somers
Suzanne Somers
(Photo: Paul Parks)
For anyone in the habit of attending rock concerts or tapings of television shows, The Blonde in the Thunderbird, a new solo play on Broadway with a surprising amount of music, would seem like very familiar territory. Surrounding and almost dwarfing Suzanne Somers, the only person on stage, are two huge video monitors. The larger-than-life live images of her projected upon the screens are always in close up. These vast screens unfortunately often upstage the actual performer who has been directed as if she's principally there for the camera, and that the theatre audience is present merely to enhance the "live" ambience of a to-be-aired video.

Ms. Somers, a most personable iconic figure of not only sitcom television, but also the Home Shopping Network and even popular publishing, is in charge here. Her mission apparently is to retell her life in yet another medium, having already done so frequently with therapeutic and financial success both on the air and between the pages of several best-selling books.

Ms. Somers proves to be especially engaging as she recalls the highs and lows of her event-filled life. She even is an appealing singer in delivering the grab bag assortment of songs that Mitzie and Ken Welch, her more-than-competent mentors and collaborators, have assigned her. However, this ersatz play with songs only late in its performance only briefly transcends its television pedigree to become a genuinely theatrical product. Such a wonderful moment occurs when Ms. Somers interacts with a cart of assorted products from the HSN that she has been associated with as a merchandiser. She wheels onstage a rolling kiosk displaying food, clothing, jewelry, and goodness-knows-what-else, giving her a fine opportunity to really take the stage, and for the audience to briefly get away from its constant battle of focus with the unavoidable onstage video monitors. But with her ebullient interaction with this cornucopia of props, particularly when Ms. S places her patented "Thigh Master" between her knees and her face in a wide grin of cheery self-deprecation, I finally was able to focus on the actual performer rather than her oversized video images to either side.

Longtime fans of Ms. Somers will be familiar with not only her very high-profile several years on the ABC-TV comedy Three's Company but also with her subsequent assorted adventures in broadcasting, writing, and Las Vegas performing palaces. Her books, as well as her broadcast interviews, amply have described her turbulent early life featuring a supremely dysfunctional family headed by a brutally alcoholic father, a teenage marriage that ended almost before it started, and other traumatic events. These crises are related in this presentation more as melodrama than for a clear message, although there is considerable ironic power in the star's closing remark that she is grateful for her father's alcoholism.

The production is mostly brisk although, owing to the repetitive nature of much of its autobiographical content, it would be much better if shorter by at least 20 minutes. Mr. and Ms. Welch have written some fine special material in the form of musical connectives but their directorial and script choices too often disappoint, particularly in the inclusion of a few well-known but inappropriate theater songs for Ms Somers to sing ("Take Back Your Mink" from Guys and Dolls" If I Only Had A Brain" from The Wizard of Oz). Such attachments fail to fit the occasion in tone or detail. In contrast, a much older song with more vaudevillian roots, "If You Knew Susie," works very well as a background for the first of the projected photo albums that are shared in this often homespun evening.

The best part is the evidence hidden to many for years (and often still hidden even here in the misfired planning of the television show presentation style of this production) that Ms. Somers is a genuine musical talent who can easily hold the stage and sell a song without convention hall size video screens. Maybe this Blonde will be a natural stepping stone. Think about that other pert blonde sitcom phenom recently landed on Broadway, Christine Applegate when she needs a replacement in the current Sweet Charity revival. Ms. Somers, even at the 58 years she wears with pride and announces to cheers soon after her extremely sexy but tastefully-dressed entrance, might give that classic musical a deserved shot in the arm when she finishes her current engagement at summer's end.


Written and directed by Mitzie and Ken Welch
Performed and conceived by Suzanne Somers
Scenic and Lighting Design: Roger Ball
Sound Design: Robert Ludwig
Music Direction: Doug Walter
Running Time: 95 minutes (no intermission)
Brooks Atkinson Theatre at 246 West 47th Street, 212-307-4100
From 7/08/05 to 9/03/05; opening 7/17/05.
Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8:00; Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 2:00
Tickets: $70 to $90.
Viewed at July 14, 2005 press preview by Brad Bradley
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