“Miss Gulch Returns!” is a Dream They Dared to Dream at Bridge Street
I think it’s a great idea to imagine a drag performer taking on the character of Almira Gulch, the single woman of a certain age who gave us all a fright as children when she terrorized Dorothy and her “little dog too” in “The Wizard of Oz.” Sure, Judy Garland has been an object of drag portrayal for 50 years or more but why not the lonely old witch we can see standing in the corner nursing her double old fashioned with no cherry and extra bitters?
Fred Barton has done just that with his extremely funny “Miss Gulch Returns!” It turns out to be a great idea for Bridge Street Theatre to choose this solo cabaret to break their long pandemic stage silence with John Sowle designing and directing, Steven Patterson playing Miss Gulch and Tom Judson serving as pianist and music director. It ticks off a lot of boxes that the essential Bridge Street does so very well; it’s a literary adaptation of sorts, queer friendly, off-beat and graced by a bravura performance. Mr. Patterson has done one man shows of “Frankenstein,” “Shylock” and “The Epic of Gilgamesh” in the past and still manages to knock your eye out with this extraordinary lounge act.
Steven bounds onto the stage brilliantined and louche in a powder blue dinner jacket and introduces us to the gay bar where he will transform into Almira Gulch with a few deft moves. She has the hat she makes work, the schoolmarm dress and a red boa which when it lost a feather had Miss Gulch crying “I’m molting.” Props to Michelle Rogers on the perfect costumes which look, move and change flawlessly. Fred Barton has mined “The Wizard of Oz,” its mythology and the character’s back story and discovered myriad permutations starting with the performer’s desire to play her, “You’re the Woman I’d Want to Be.” There’s a tip of the hat to Glinda with “Give My Best to the Blonde,” a tribute to Judy that name checks many of her songs and a couple of biographical numbers “I’m a Bitch” and “Born on a Bike.”
Mr. Patterson is outstanding as Gulch and deserves enormous credit for his astonishing energy and verve playing this material but it is the intricacy and cleverness of the lyrics that frequently had me barking with laughter, nowhere more so than on what should be a classic “Pour Me a Man.” “Pour me a bulging bicep bastard/and watch me get plastered.” The song was immediately added to my Spotify playlist. At one point she deconstructs her rhymes “dubious,” “lugubrious’ and “Vesuvius.” I’m not sure Sondheim would approve but it’s very funny nevertheless.
Tom Judson is introduced as irreplaceable and I would add invaluable. The evening moves at a very brisk pace and I didn’t notice any hiccups at all with Steven in excellent voice throughout
The loneliness of a gay bar as experienced by someone unlucky in love is evoked by Miss Gulch and her alter ego and doesn’t feel too far removed from our confinement over the last year and a half. The show, its topic, intricate wordplay and obsessive fascination also strike me as a loner’s pursuit… like, I can imagine this piece being crafted for a year and a half and breaking out to strut its stuff after being quarantined. I’m thrilled to report that Bridge Street Theatre is back in business and their passionate performances they dare to dream are once again looking to transport you over the rainbow.