Little is one of the "stars" on hand for "Starfest: The Stars Salute Public Television," a variety showcase filmed at Las Vegas' Tropicana Hotel in 1983 and aired nationwide on PBS as part of that year's pledge drive. It's one of those oddities that should have gotten lost forever but survives thanks to the miracle that is home video.
Little (for those too young to recognize the name: he was at one time the world's top comic impressionist) pops by every now and then to do his take on Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan, Jack Benny, and Johnny Carson. Watching him now, I realize:
1. His Bogart is pretty bad. Take away his trenchcoat and hat, and I wouldn't have even known what celeb he was impersonating.
2. While his Reagan and Stewart shticks come from mocking mannerisms (Stewart stammers! Reagan does, too!), his Benny and Carson bits are pretty much just him stealing material from the guys he's doing, only not being as good at it. If I want to see Jack Benny's penny pincher routine, I'll track down some Jack Benny.
3. Even in 1983, this material is seriously dated. I mean, Jack Benny jokes? Really? In the Reagan years?
Anyway. Little is mercifully kept to a minimum here, although the other time fillers aren't much of an improvement. Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley are our hosts through a stage show celebrating "some of the great practitioners of the variety arts." On stage, we get Patti LuPone, Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows, opera star Roberta Peters, and - wait for itů - mime duo Shields & Yarnell. And because that is not enough, we also get The Starfest Dancers!
It's kinda like watching twenty years of tacky Academy Awards telecast filler squeezed into a ninety minute program.
Naturally, the show's watchability varies greatly, depending on who's performing. LuPone delivers a few top notch numbers, including a rousing, moving rendition of "Don't Cry For Me, Argentina," and Kiley's no-nonsense take on "The Impossible Dream" earns the program a few points.
But that's about all the show has going for it. The mime stuff is unbearable, as are the dance numbers. Kiley's monologue from "Cats" borders on embarrassment in its seriousness. And the decision to let Peters do a medley of classic Gershwin tunes - tunes that need a jazz vocalist, not a proper opera singer - is a grand mistake, practically sterilizing the Gershwin sound. (And oh, how the producers of this show love their medleys. Me, I believe medleys to be pure evil in music form.)
The only value "Starfest" has is as a time capsule of sorts. It's a thick slice of 80s cheese served up unaltered, right down to the wacka-jawacka guitar riffs in the opening titles. Head for cover.
"Starfest" is presented in all its full frame (1.33:1) broadcast glory, as soft and as blah as it looked when it first aired over two decades ago.
The Dolby 2.0 stereo soundtrack is just as unimpressive.
If you want to see, say, Patti LuPone, chances are you can find dozens of discs out there with her, and none of them will have Shields & Yarnell on it. Unless you're desperate to laugh at a bygone era, there's nothing to do but to Skip It.