Bringing Out the Baby

You're going out there a nobody, but you're coming back a star -- or at least a scale actor.

Seven talented locals have roles in Theatre Under the Stars' What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, a premiere of the big Broadway-style musical based on the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford psycho-horror flick.

"It's definitely a black comedy," says TUTS founder and head honcho Frank Young. "But it's also a huge musical with '50s-style songs." Featuring two-time Tony Award nominee Millicent Martin (Mrs. Moon on Frasier) as former vaudeville star Jane, and Leslie Denniston as MGM musical has-been Blanche, the production chronicles the sad life of these sisters with a sinister twist. It also showcases local actors like Joanne Bonasso as a younger Baby Jane, and Francie Mendenhall in a dual role.

"It is the most fantastic feeling in the world to be in this production," says Mendenhall, who portrays a vaudeville memory in a sepia costume in Act I and a Hollywood gossip columnist in Act II. The talented Jerome Sirlin's digital projections interweave the action between the aging sisters' home and their past glory days (where most of the big musical numbers transpire).

Mendenhall has a long history in theater. A Houston native, she's worked on stage and the small screen, most infamously as one of Dean Martin's Golddiggers on his TV show. As for the role of Hollywood muckraker Bonnie Dunbar, Mendenhall is dedicating her performance to longtime friend Maxine Mesinger. "Although Miss Moonlight was much nicer than Bonnie," she says. "Bonnie is more of a Louella Parsons figure."

Baby Jane is directed by David Taylor with lyrics by Hal Hackady and music by Lee Pockriss (Catch a Falling Star and Johnny Angel). Young is counting on this production to follow in Jekyll & Hyde's footsteps by heading to the Great White Way -- hopefully in time for next year's Tonys.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Marene Gustin