Joan Rivers A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress
It's hard to imagine, looking at publicity material and the front cover of the programme for this show, that Joan Rivers could possibly be 75. When she appears on stage however, the tell tale signs are a little more obvious but not overly so. Ms Rivers is still energetically youthful and sprightly in her delivery, her sense of humour and timing are as razor sharp as ever and she demonstrates quite readily that she's lost none of her ability to take what life throws at her and come out the other end laughing.
The basic story for this show is simple enough, though it enables Ms Rivers to get in some tough talking about famous people she has known as well as the company executive types she's found herself on the wrong side of.
It all starts with Joan back stage at the Oscars. She's been downgraded to the number 2 dressing room, her make up artist of 30 years has gone missing, and her side-kick producer is only an assitant. To top it all, the size of her cheese board is about as humble as you could imagine - and this, apparently, is how one judges status in the glittering world of showbiz!
Breaking the tradition of the fourth wall, Ms Rivers spends a good deal of her time addressing the audience directly, many of whom are from those groups who relish her performances, gay men in particular. But there seemed to be a very wide range of people among the audience, and all seemed hooked on River's infectious style.
There are layers in the show which are not entirely humorous. After all, this is Joan Rivers giving us the lowdown on the world of entertainment, and a picture of some of the personalities she has known. In reference to Barbara Streisand, she says: "There's no I in team, but there sure is in Streisand!" And she discusses meeting a veteran Mae West who required special conditions in order to be entertained. Later, she describes Ms West's funeral which had only a handful of people present, in spite of the fact that an entire studio owed its continued existence to Ms West's celebrity.
Ms Rivers also touches on the more personal - her husbands death, her disastrous foray into film directing, her beginnings in show business and being fired and having to start her career all over again at the age of 56. Having never been a real fan of Joan Rivers, I found her candour both genuinely refreshing and at times particularly touching. In contrast with the serious elements, there are also plenty of laughs to be had from Ms River's observations on a wide range of subjects including sex among the over 60s.
It's not often that I see a show where every single member of the audience gets to their feet at the end, even at press nights which are often thronged with supporters and friends. Here though, everyone rose to applaud a star with true grit, determination and a real sense of fun. I certainly hope that she goes on fulfilling her declared ambition by performing for the rest of her life. On this showing, she can keep audiences well-entertained for many years to come. Thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining in equal measure, and in a very real sense, inspirational.
Originally published on