Here I sit, all breathless and giddy (as you were on-stage), almost as short and adorable, wondering how I can praise your immense theatrical gifts enough in one scant review. You bring to mind an interview, years ago, with a big-lipped British rock star who rejected my idea of a book on his life, proclaiming that "biographies are for dead people." He had a point. In fact, until I witnessed your recent triumph at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, the whole tribute concept fell into the same category - for the dead or dying, or at least the very talented.
But you've set me straight. Jagger was wrong.
First, though, if I may be so bold as to point out one small pet critique. Although you changed the title of your "musical journey" from Pia Zadora: Too Short to Be a Munchkin to Pia Zadora: Too Short To Be A Rockette!, I think the first choice is better because you're soooo cute, Pia - cute enough for Toto to lick. You're as slim as a nymph, even after birthing two precious offspring - bless their little eighteen-karat Swatches - and, by God, you should be proud of your sultry, Bardot-like figure. Your hair harks back to the blond-elf species, and when, midway through the show, it's piled gloriously atop your head (so glamorous!), with wispy strands falling this way and that, the puffy nest on top looks just like a baby chick. So precious, I initially felt like roaring - but your unwavering, dimply smile stopped me. Consciously projecting an almost legendary humility, you shooed the audience away from clapping, from paying due homage to your grand presence.
As for the revue-show-whatever, I hardly know where to start. See, normally I would have avoided a sentence like that, but you and your writers (Buz Kohan and Bruce Vilanch - who specialize in contributions like the Emmy Awards and a Donny-and-Marie special) seem to crave such tried-and-true turns of phrase. After a night full of "wearing my heart on my sleeve," "gosh," and "poured out my hopes and dreams," I dreamed of drowning you in even more coy cliches than your many admirers do through the course of these festivities. Come on, Pia, stop giggling - you love it!
Truly, the show contained many a gem. By singing "The Rose," made famous by another short person (as you pointed out) - Bette Midler - and "The Man Who Got Away," in a tribute to Judy Garland, you showed the world how a song delivered with sharps and flats abounding - and the lead in a different key than the background singers - can still be recognizable. This also helped emphasize the genius of Garland and Midler. How sweet a gesture, from one performer to another. Who says show business megastars are competitive?
With a small chorus of singers/dancers - picked to be much taller and a little less talented - you launched a tribute to the late Michael Bennett, creator of A Chorus Line, possibly giving him a chance to find a better position in his grave. This particular segment dragged just a tad but showed how brilliant the original work was, particularly with Bennett's basic formula reworked to exclude his bad habits - especially that darn need to make sense and create dramatic action.
Your peaks climbed higher and higher. One little CocoWalk leisure-wear outfit, designed by Ret Turner, fit right into the scene and made some glittery-gowned women feel richer than you. Not satisfied to just sing and dance with great effort - and with no aid whatsoever from natural gifts - you brought on a host of "dear friends" through video sets mounted on both sides of the stage. How heartwarming to hear Burgess Meredith (who discovered you), Marvin Hamlisch (who wrote music you sang), Frank Sinatra, George Burns, Bea Arthur, and Milton Berle (all of whom share your wonderful sense of humor) describe that potent Pia magic. All the while, you just stood to the side, shaking your mop-top at the screen, your natural modesty shaken time and time again.
But none of this compared to your starstruck mother, Saturnina Schipani, video-praising how breathtaking you looked in your little babushka in Fiddler on the Roof. And just when I thought my heart could take no more, the pia de resistance appeared - your seven-year-old daughter, Kady, cute as a buttton, following in your footsteps, shrieking out "I'm the Greatest Star" from Funny Girl. As you said, it must run in the genes (or is that jeans?). Then your even-tinier son Kristopher popped up on-screen and told everyone how brilliant Mom is, after explaining his ambition to be a "worker" like Dad. So neatly planned out: Kady's last name is Zadora, Kris's is Riklis. A little singer/dancer/ham for you, a wheeling-dealing magnate for him.
When Tommy Lasorda called you "The Pete Rose of Entertainment," it may have been a little harsh, but you struck back with a rendition of "Great Things Come in Small Packages." Drowning out the competent band with their classic Vegas arrangements (under the direction of Vincent Falcone), you ascended the stairs and kept on belting, a true star thumbing caution and good taste at the heavens.
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Thanks so much for the memories, little one. Here I thought you exemplified megalomania fueled by money, a pouty troll with limited abilities but oodles of influence. And I thought it impossible for someone who's been on-stage since the age of six (opposite Tallulah Bankhead in Midgie Purvis, no less), who's taken years and mucho bucks of singing and dancing lessons, to prove conclusively - in less than two hours - that there is something concrete called talent.
Stupid me. Pumpkin, keep belting out those sharp notes, pounding on that floor with every wee dance step, even if you almost fall off the set once a while, as you did the other night. Keep dragging Kady on the road, as your mother did for you. In this time of hunger and hate, the world needs good humor, generosity, and modesty.
Bless you, Pia. May you stand forever short.