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Atlanta Icon Performs Musical Review

2009 June 27

Thirty one years later, and Libby Whittemore is still as good as the last time I saw her in 1978 at The Harlequin Dinner Theater.

Playing at Actor’s Express through Sunday, Whittemore shares the stage with her longtime singing partner, Lisa Paige, and her musical arranger, Robert Strickland.

For their first set Friday evening, backed by a trio—upright bass, piano and drums—the singers performed hits from the ’60s and ’70s, “Happy Days-Get Happy,” the Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand duet, as well as tunes by the Pointer Sisters, Bette Midler, Carole King, and Nancy Sinatra.

For the second set, Whittemore performed as Connie Sue Day, “the 31st Lady of Country Music,” the character she created in the original production of “Della’s Diner.” With mile-high flaming red hair, wearing a simulated diamond tiara, blue jeans, black cowboy boots and a yellow tight-fitting cowboy shirt with fringe, Connie Sue wooed the audience with her jokes and country tunes, which she either cooed softly, or belted in a Broadway, sultry, or bluesy way.

While I’ve never been a fan of country music (eh-und ah hay-it much uv it), for me, listening to Whittemore is a pleasure no matter what she’s singing. It’s not just the lyrics but her heart that tells stories, while the feeling rumbles and trills from her soul to her voice. The sound is beautiful.

A guitarist and violinist joined the trio as Connie Sue sang the praises of “Wynona” (Judd) and performed three of her tunes, as well as those by Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Hank Williams, and some standards like “Walkin’ in Memphis,” and “Rocky Top.” Sitting on a stool to the side, Paige sang backup while Connie Sue ruled center stage, reminiscing about her earlier life in Louisiana, her move to Nashville, and her depression over her dying career, which lasted for quite sometime until her girlfriends took her to Memphis and helped her shake the blues. Connie Sue said that Memphis trip made her realize it’s not about making it as a star, as she had always dreamed she would, it’s about singing the tunes and loving the music, and that’s all that really matters. Connie Sue and Libby Whittemore have a lot in common.

Whittemore performed as the lead at all the old Atlanta dinner theaters in the ’70s, including the Manhattan Yellow Pages and The Midnight Sun (where I saw my favorite performer, Sid Caesar, in “Last of the Red Hot Lovers”). But since those theaters closed in the ’80s, as did her old standby in the ’90s where she could always get a gig, Gene and Gabe’s, she’s had to look for other work. She worked at Blockbuster’s before opening her own eponymous club, Libby’s Cabaret, which shuttered nearly three years ago. Since then, Whittemore has been singing only occasionally, usually at private parties. Actor’s Express has opened its doors to her and her fans, and she will perform again there in December. She may not have the fame she once held, but her talent remains.

Libby Whittemore performs at Actor’s Express through June 28.

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