By Ed Blair
She was the quintessential “girl next door” — sweet, wholesome and unassuming. She was pretty and perky, had a dazzling smile and looked great in a cute summer dress. In short, she was the ideal, all-American girl every guy wanted to take home to meet his parents.
For many, Debbie Reynolds fit the classic romantic fantasy perfectly, whether she was dancing as an 18-year-old with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), rollicking in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” (1964), for which she received an Oscar nomination, or crooning her chart-topping 1957 hit “Tammy.”
Reynolds’ daughter, Carrie Fisher, earned her star as another type of princess in her iconic role in the “Star Wars” series. Their relationship, and their coinciding deaths, were headline material that generated wide media attention, and the sometimes contentious interactions between mother and daughter will be a featured in “The Debbie Reynolds Story,” a musical theater tribute being presented at The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center from May 6 to June 15.
The center has hosted a number of shows orchestrated by St. George Productions, which has brought to life the biographies of stars such as Bob Hope, Patti Page, Mickey Rooney and, most recently, Mary Martin and Dinah Shore. As in the past, presentations will be followed by a luncheon catered by Fratelli’s Italian Eatery and includes tea and dessert.
In a format familiar to audiences who continue to enjoy his live musical theater tributes, director/writer/producer Sal St. George’s latest offering details the life of Debbie Reynolds and her on-again-off-again relationship with her daughter, Carrie Fisher.
Setting the show’s time line, St. George explained, “The year is 1977. Debbie has recently completed ‘Irene’ on Broadway, as well her one-woman show, and is touring with ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’” Reynolds had received a Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for her role in “Irene,” and teenager Carrie Fisher had appeared on stage with her early during the musical’s run. “Carrie, now 20, is still in England promoting ‘Star Wars,’” St. George continued. “Although she is not [portrayed] in our show, Carrie’s relationship with her mother will be a major topic of discussion.”
Indeed, that relationship has been scrutinized and commented upon in the media since the deaths of the two stars became headline stories in December of 2016. Reynolds’ kaleidoscopic career and rags-to-riches road to stardom contrasted sharply with Fisher’s experiences.
Paris Pryor, the actress who portrays Reynolds in The WMHO production, paid tribute to the late star’s achievements, pointing out that, “Although her death is still fresh in our minds, I hope our presentation will be a positive reflection on her rich legacy.”
St. George noted that Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart and Rosemary Clooney lived in the same neighborhood as Reynolds, and his production features actress Jordyn Morgan, who portrays Clooney. “It is an honor,” said Morgan, “to be re-creating the life of such a remarkable musical artist. Our production is a salute to two of Hollywood’s greatest icons.”
The Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s Educational & Cultural Center, located at 97P Main St. in Stony Brook Village will present “The Debbie Reynolds Story” on May 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 17, 18, 20, 21, 24 (sold out), 25 and 31; June 1, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, 14 and 15. Performances are at 11:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. on Sundays). Admission is $48 adults; seniors (60 and over) and children under 15, $45; and groups of 20 or more $40. Advance reservations are required by calling 631-689-5888.
Created by Ward Melville in 1939 as The Ward Melville Community Fund, The WMHO is a not-for-profit organization founded to maintain and enhance historical and sensitive environmental properties and to develop and foster community enrichment through cultural and educational experiences. To learn more about The WMHO, call 631-751-2244 or visit the website at www.wmho.org.