Pia Zadora Makes Her L.A. Debut in ‘Pia Reloaded’: Concert Review
Bouncing back from brain trauma after an accident last fall, the controversial eighties performer delivers a spirited mix of Vegas, banter and Broadway.
Following her controversial Golden Globe win for Butterfly in 1982, Pia Zadora became the punchline of the decade. A New York Times reviewer likened her to Brigitte Bardot recycled through a kitchen compactor, and Johnny Carson once referred to her as “the next Rula Lenska!” No doubt about it, Zadora took her hits through the years, even though she had a promising career as a child actor, starring opposite stage legend Tallulah Bankhead at the age of 6, and a few years later joining the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof as the youngest daughter, Bielke.
As she grew into adulthood, her acting career sputtered until she met millionaire businessman, Meshulam Riklis, who was 30 years her senior. Following her Golden Globe win for Butterfly, a movie he financed that few had seen, rumors that he bought her the award effectively ended her acting career. So, Zadora concentrated on her singing career, with Riklis securing her the opening slot for Frank Sinatra. In the years that followed, she achieved some level of critical and commercial success singing standards.
Pia Reloaded is the title of her new show, which she joked might have been called Pia Zadora — Still Alive. It could be taken as a comment on her career longevity, but in a literal sense it brings to mind a horrible golf cart accident in 2014 that left her with three fractures in her ankle and bleeding in and around her brain.
Less than a year later, she took the stage without a limp at Hollywood’s Catalina Bar and Grill to make her Los Angeles debut. Wearing a gold-sequined Bob Mackie dress and carrying a rhinestone-encrusted microphone, Zadora launched into “But Alive” from the musical, Bye Bye Birdie, an upbeat tune that demonstrated both her infectious spirit and the limits of her vocal skills.
As the evening wore on, she eased into her set and managed noteworthy passages, particularlyLeonard Bernstein’s, “Some Other Time,” as well as the Gershwin classic, “Summertime,” where she employed inventive and unexpected phrasing to make the songs her own. Torch songs like theJudy Garland classic, “The Man That Got Away” and Kander and Ebb’s “New York, New York” gave her a chance to belt it out with brio, but while Zadora sings with plenty of heart, her belting is often breathy, and vague with vibrato.
The set list is fruited with numerous classics as well as a few obscure numbers. Combined, they form an unusual sort of showbiz curricula vitae, giving the candidate a chance to demonstrate a wide range of styles, from jazz to bossa nova to Broadway to opera. There’s even a “rock ‘n roll” number performed in hot pants and a biker jacket. Seeded throughout are pertinent career facts combining anecdotes, film clips (including her Golden Globe acceptance, as well as her nude layout in Ouimagazine), and some self-effacing humor. And hair tossing, she likes to toss her hair.
In short, Pia Reloaded is a bit of a bizarre evening, but in a good way. It features entertaining elements of camp and nostalgia, and the woman herself, who, at 62, embodies a mythological showbiz ethos of endurance and fortitude. Joining Zadora on stage is Vinnie Falcone, Sinatra’s bandleader from 1976 to 1980, and again in 1985-1986. His five-piece band, including bass, guitar, drum and himself on piano, combines for a lounge-like musical backdrop that fits easily with Zadora’s infectious personality. At worst, Pia Reloaded feels like a damn good night at a karaoke bar. At best, it’s like watching an old friend brazenly bounce back and lay it on the line. It’s hard not to cheer her on.