Theatre West hosts “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen,” starring Kiki Ebsen, October 12–14.
Accompanied by four of Los Angeles’ premiere jazz musicians, Kiki shares the story of Buddy Ebsen’s seven-decade entertainment career through songs, poignant stories, and Dustin Ebsen’s media montage that details her father’s life.
Her acclaimed musical evening is now a full stage show, which debuts, appropriately, at Los Angeles’ oldest continually operating theatre. How Kiki, and her show, arrived here is what some might call a true “Hollywood story.”
Buddy died July 6, 2003. Kiki found an old trunk of her father’s memorabilia that had been in her parents’ attic for decades long after they both had passed away. Time and questions preoccupied Kiki and one day, this trunk of treasures which held scripts, photos and letters from her dad’s career starting back in the 20s all the way into 50s triggered her creative juices. Kiki was a singer-songwriter and her dad was from another era. He always wanted her to sing the Great American Songbook and she wanted to sing 70s rock and roll! After the discovery, she decided that her sixth record would be an all standards record dedicated to her dad with songs from his career, aptly named “Scarecrow Sessions.”
After two full years of research and reviewing items from her dad’s old trunk, she envisioned a full show with music, band and storytelling. And bang! A musical evening of jazz standards from “Scarecrow Sessions” was dubbed “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen.” Critics and audience acclaim followed closely with affirmation and enthusiasm for Kiki’s voice, her storytelling skills, and her stage presence. It was a show that had combined almost all her talents in one night of entertainment.
And yet there was one more element to add—dancing and finding a home in the theatre. That final element would be added following a gentle entrée into the solo jazz cabaret scene, where Kiki was embraced so quickly, she felt at home almost instantly. At a gathering of jazz performers who got together to produce evenings for charity, singer Cathy Segal-Garcia and producer Clifford Bell told Kiki that proceeds from their next performance would be designated for her Healing Equine Ranch. She had grown up riding horses with her dad and this shared love continues to this day. The Healing Equine Ranch is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that Kiki established in 2009, using rescued horses with the mission to educate, empower and enlighten people through the natural interaction with horses.
On that same stage the same night of the fundraiser, a very special guest appearance by actress Lee Meriwether reacquainted Kiki and Lee after not having crossed paths for many years. At the time, Lee had just completed a starring role in Marc Saltarelli’s film short, “Remember to Breathe.” Lee clearly remains involved in acting and public appearances.
Ever as lovely in voice and appearance, Lee spoke of her excitement and longtime involvement with Theatre West. Sharing the story of how Betty Garrett asked her “to take a song and turn it into a medley” again reminded the audience of how important Theatre West was in Lee’s life.
Through the course of her life, and this latest part of her story, there are many factors that impacted Kiki’s career choices from her earliest days. Her journey so far would find her life intersecting early, and later, with actress Lee Meriwether as they arrived at Theatre West by way of the Healing Equine Ranch.
So why Theatre West? It has been an artistic home for Lee Meriwether for over 55 years. Our Miss America 1955, Dr. Ann McGregor in Irwin Allen’s “The Time Tunnel,” Catwoman in the original “Batman” movie, Ruth Martin in “All My Children,” and more. In particular, she received national acclaim as Betty Jones, in CBS’ “Barnaby Jones,” starring Buddy Ebsen from 1973–1980. During her time on “Barnaby Jones,” Lee received two Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress in a Television Series—Drama in 1975 and 1976. Further, in 1977 she was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama Series. To this day, Lee speaks of the great love and respect she still has after working with Buddy those many years.
Earlier this year, Kiki was an invited to be one of the special guests at a beautiful tribute called “Love Letters to Lee Meriwether.” Clearly her family loved Lee and when Kiki discovered her history with Theatre West it resonated with her own experiences in her mother’s community theater in Orange County. Her parents utilized these stages to hone their craft with like-minded actors. After Kiki saw Theatre West, she thought it would be a lovely place to debut their new show to an enthusiastic and creative audience. She is especially thrilled that their Friday night show will benefit Theater West and all the great entertainment they present.
The Theatre West show ultimately began as a search by Kiki Ebsen, to find out more, whatever that might be, about the man she knew as “Dad.” The journey would require five years to come full circle to this theatre run in one of the best venues it could have. And, it seems something that was meant to be, as it comes full circle at last. As her dad Buddy used to say …”Nobody counts you out but yourself.” And no one is counting Kiki out! Far from it! She is dancing, singing and composing songs that will be remembered for years to come. And by the way…Lee is one of Kiki’s biggest fans!
“To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen” has three performances only Oct. 12 and 13 at 8 PM and Oct. 14 matinee at 2PM. Reservations can be made through the Theatre West ticketing line (323) 851-4839 or online at www.theatrewest.org.
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