It was 1960 when Debbie Reynolds made her Las Vegas nightclub debut at the Riviera Hotel. That same year, the Rat Pack formed, Jim Crow laws were tossed out and El Rancho went up in flames.
Fifty-four years later, Debbie Reynolds said farewell to the Strip and the showrooms in a weekend of performances (Nov. 7-9) at the South Point Casino. The veteran of everything—from a starring role in Singin’ in the Rain to a cameo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas—celebrated her retirement with her favorite people: Her fans in the audience and her family onstage.
But the first half of the show was just Debbie giving a clinic in old-school Vegas variety: a few songs, some patter, a dance step or two, a few impressions (her Mae West is spot-on) and a surplus of charisma. There were drums, piano, a cluster of lime-green palm trees and Debbie bedecked in 20 pounds of gold sequins slit to the thigh. “I just let the one leg stick out because everything else is shot,” she quipped. “I live in Beverly Hills and my boobs live in San Diego.”
Still, the lady is 82. Her phrasing was sharp, but the pipes aren’t as reliable as they once were. By the middle of the evening, Debbie’s bottomless well of energy was running low.
Then a voice was heard off-stage singing “I’ll Never Say No to You” from The Unsinkable Molly Brown (another of Reynolds’ classic films), and daughter Carrie Fisher emerged from the wings, black-clad, wearing sunglasses and ready to unleash a barrage of snark. The two joked about showbiz and family, particularly ex-husband/father Eddie Fisher and Carrie’s wild youth—“That was because of the blow, wasn’t it, dear?” “No, it was the LSD.”
They were joined by Debbie’s son/Carrie’s brother Todd Fisher and Carrie’s daughter, Billie Lourd. Debbie mentioned that Carrie and Billie had been working on Star Wars: Episode VII–The Force Awakens with “Harrison Ford… and the other boychik.” It was probably the most tepid applause ever evoked by mention of a Star Wars movie—say that to a room of fanboys with Princess Leia right there and the howling might cause permanent hearing loss.
Debbie urged Billie to sing. After some mother-daughter side-eye and “hold the mic up, dear,” Billie launched into “At Last” as her grandmother beamed. (Billie has grandma’s voice and mom’s wit, a winning combo.)
Old home movies were screened (and commented on) and old stories told. Then the whole Reynolds-Fisher family—down to the dog—joined together in a rendition of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
The evening had begun as the archetypical glitter-and-patter Vegas act, but it morphed into the equivalent of spending Thanksgiving with a hilarious and eccentric family, trying not to miss a thing as you pass the stuffing and decode the inside jokes.
At the close, Debbie returned to the stage solo to sing “my one hit.” As she crooned “Tammy,” her voice seemed stronger than it had at the beginning, the song more sincere than its saccharine tone. Audiences may have motivated Debbie Reynolds for almost 70 years, but her family gave her the fuel for one last performance.