The evening of family storytelling and operatic comedic cooking, which runs sporadic nights at The Rendezvous, is an odd one to describe. It’s also a lot of fun.
(Update 2/27/2020: Show dates are added periodically. Current show dates are 4/13 and 4/20. See info and updated dates here.)
Julie loved color and life. I looked like I was going to a funeral.
— Julia Child Prud’homme (“Little Julie”), recalling her great-aunt Julia Child (“Big Julie”)
From the start, the show feels different: from accompanist Mark Anders’ greeting to the audience — a folksy “Hi, I’m Mark” — at the top of the show; to Julia Child Prud’homme’s familiar style of storytelling, as if among old friends; to Anne Allgood’s outlandish destruction of the kitchen as she sings her way through a recipe for a butter-rich chocolate cake with gusto.
Described as An Evening with Julia Child, with Chocolate Gateau and Anecdotal Icing, it’s a catchy and accurate description but downplays the role that Prud’homme’s storytelling adds, both in content and tone. If the main event — Bon Appétit!: A Julia Child Operetta — represents the personality seen on TV, Prud’homme’s storytelling details the person off-screen. And it turns out they’re not too much different.
The whole Operetta slice (roughly 25 minutes) is basically Child singing through a recipe, in an exaggerated, comedic opera style. It takes a moment to warm to the act, which feels gimmicky at first — why is she opera-singing a cake recipe? But Allgood’s commitment to the comedy and the character quickly win you over. For me (along with much of the audience), the icebreaking moment comes as Julia acts out the virtues of the well-buttered pan — her love of butter is legendary — then flings it behind her with reckless abandon to move on to the next step.
Child is known for her exuberant, relatable, and messy style of cooking on screen. Allgood captures these moments beautifully: flinging kitchen implements, brandishing a larger-than-life whisk, racing herself with an electric mixer, inhaling batter off a spatula before plunging it back into the batter. They’re exaggerated by design, both familiar and very funny, a credit to both Allgood and director Jane Kaplan (also owner of The Rendezvous).
The Operetta, by composer and pianist Lee Hoiby, has been around for decades and has performed periodically around the country since then. And yet it seems tailor-made for this presentation. Allgood’s commitment to the comedy, exuberance, and abandon — as well as her lovely voice, which is purposely exaggerated for comedic effect — is what sells it.
But Prud’homme — grand-niece and storyteller — is quite the actor herself. Principally, Prud’homme is simply acting as herself, telling a story. But when she goes into Julia mode, you can hear that distinctive voice, its over the top personality (“that’s just wonderful dear!”), and its sincere concern for those dear to her (on the impetus for writing her last book: “I want people to know about [husband] Paul”).
Prud’homme’s stories lend the aura of personal attachment. They also color in the TV persona. In one whirlwind day in the life of Julia Child, the original celebrity chef blows into Seattle, makes omelettes with an audience member on the Today show, signs books and compliments a fan’s gift to her of a homemade sausage maker at Sur La Table, and dines for hours at a feast at Ray’s. They hint at her off-screen sense of humor: her car had a giant soup ladle welded to the antenna, so she could find it in a parking lot; her Valentine’s Day card out to the family featured a photo of her and her husband in a bathtub, with the line “Wish you were here.” And they illustrate the journey from one unexpected meal in France (the famous sole meunière) to her lifetime love affair with French cooking.
Prud’homme’s stories come before and after the Operetta, and it’s a fitting arrangement. The Operetta portrays the personality all could see on TV. The stories frame the person.
And it’s all washed down with a slice of rich chocolate cake, prepared from Child’s own recipe, for each audience member. Can’t ask for a sweeter ending than that.
Bon Appétit!: A Julia Child Operetta plays 10/3, 10/7, 10/13, and 11/10, and future dates TBA, at The Rendezvous Jewelbox Theater in Belltown. Tickets $28 ($32 with fees), available here. Accessibility notes: restrooms are gendered and multi-stall; theatre may be accessed by wheelchair, but some common areas are not. (Update 12/26: restrooms are now gender-neutral.)
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.