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Comedy | Music





Release Date:

20 January 1976 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Shirley MacLaine: Tanz ist mein Leben  »

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Laser beams and drag queens
4 April 2006 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

I found this musical special hugely enjoyable, even though I'd previously had some bad experiences with Shirley MacLaine when I worked on the production crew of her ill-fated sitcom 'Shirley's World'. Ms MacLaine is a dynamically talented performer who has paid her dues over and over; I just wish that she didn't have a penchant for making ludicrous public statements about religion, reincarnation and politics.

'Gypsy in My Soul' is this special's title, and in this case 'Gypsy' refers not to Romanies but to the Broadway 'gypsies', the chorus dancers who go from one musical to the next, seldom attaining stardom yet usually displaying far more dancing talent than the stars whom they support. (Shirley MacLaine, who began as a chorus dancer, is also the only Broadway star who has been privileged to wear the 'gypsy robe', traditionally given to the most experienced chorus dancer in a Broadway musical.)

The opening number here is the title song, which Shirley performs with panache, energy and some dazzling high kicks ... which become literally dazzling when she's joined by Laservision. This gimmick doesn't quite work here; basically, a row of parallel lines -- each one a different colour -- are laser-beamed into midair alongside Shirley, and the lines interact as if they're dancing with her. Unfortunately, the bright red line -- the one with the most conspicuous colour -- is slightly out of focus, so it looks fuzzier than the others. I did like the finale of the number, in which Shirley pretends to kick each laser beam out of her way.

Later in this special, Shirley dances with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a bunch of drag queens who are also talented ballet dancers, their gimmick being that they dance (mostly) female roles en-pointe. (For the pas de deux, one of them will temporarily don male costume.) I can enjoy drag humour, but I just don't get the point of the 'Trocks'. I don't find them funny, and indeed (to their credit) they don't seem to be trying to PARODY ballet. They seem to be performing it fairly earnestly, using male bodies to inhabit roles traditionally played by female dancers. Still, I don't see the point. I'd lot rather see some graceful ballerinas doing these roles, rather than some transvestites. The male body's centre of gravity being much higher than the female's, there's simply no way that these men can handle pointe roles with female proficiency. The Trocks aren't quite good enough to be a straightforward ballet turn, and their material isn't kinky enough to appeal to anyone expecting to see a conventional drag act.

At the end of the special, along comes Lucille Ball, wearing a riding habit that she seems to have borrowed from the fox hunt in 'Mame'. Lucy offers some memories of her days as a struggling actress in New York, including her method of cadging free coffee and free meals at theatre restaurants. I'm no fan of Lucille Ball, and I don't see much point to her presence here. It's true that Ball, like MacLaine, started at the bottom and eventually reached stardom through hard work, but Ball's struggling years as a Broadway wanna-be -- unlike MacLaine's -- led absolutely nowhere, and Ball became a star only after quitting New York for Hollywood, playing dozens of bit roles in obscure films (and dancing in Sam Goldwyn's chorus line) while she gradually learnt her craft.

Refreshingly, Lucille Ball is quite self-deprecating here ... or at least she pretends to be. When she makes her entrance, she pretends to stumble. Later, she confides to MacLaine that she HAD to become a star, because she couldn't sing, couldn't dance and couldn't act. (I'll agree with her on that part.) This entire special is well-staged and enjoyable, the Trockaderos supplying the only longueurs. I'll rate this show 7 out of 10.

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