Film Review: Kaye Ballard – The Show Goes On

STUDIO: Abramorama | DIRECTOR: Dan Wingate
SPECS: NR | 90 min. | Documentary | 1.78:1 widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie 

Who knew?

Kaye Ballard -The Show Goes On is a celebration of the life of Kaye Ballard. To those not too familiar with Ms. Ballard’s career, this seems like a nice idea that should last, say, maybe 30 minutes?

But as the film goes on, the more impressive the life and career of Kaye Ballard becomes. As you’ll see over 90 minutes, Ballard is a talented spark plug—performing on stage, on TV, in the movies and in recordings over a span of seven decades.

Ballard, who passed away in January 2019 at the age of 93, recounts the story of her life with a feature-length interview that’s adorned with photos, archival footage and testimonials from a wide range of friends and admirers that include Joy Behar, Carol Burnett, Michael Feinstein, Red Reed, Peter Marshall, Ann-Margret and Woody Allen. Sadly, interviewees Jerry Stiller, Hal Prince and Carol Channing are no longer with us, having passed away since the film was completed.

We track the life of Ballard, born Catherine Gloria  Balotta in Cleveland, Ohio, whose love for show biz dates back to her impersonating movie stars while working as an usher in a movie theater and continuing by heading to Los Angeles, where she sings and plays tuba at age 16 with comic bandleader Spike Jones and his City Slickers. After seeing Annie Get Your Gun onstage, Ballard tells of how she decided she wanted to be a performer, speaking fondly about her earliest gigs with Ray Bolger and her friendships with Marlon Brando, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson and Maureen Stapleton. She has no problem discussing how she and Phil Silvers didn’t get along while performing in the musical Top Banana, recalling a play in which Andy Warhol designed her costume that looked like “Reynolds Wrap” and lamenting about not getting to play “Momma Rose” in Gypsy on Broadway.

Kaye Ballard -The Show Goes On is done in a straightforward fashion, but this works to its benefit because Ballard’s life is such a kaleidoscope of show business that the material is enough to impress.  Like Victor Borge or Danny Kaye, Ballard was an expert at poking fun at music, but she was also taken seriously as a singer  with her strong voice and wide-ranging style that encompassed Fanny Brice, Rogers and Hammerstein, selections from the Great American Songbook, Gilbert & Sullivan, Kander and Ebb and Stephen Sondheim. She also made scores of appearances on TV talk shows, proved adept at sketch comedy, co-starred with Eve Arden on the Desi Arnaz-directed TV show The Mothers-in-Law in the 1960s and was a regular in The Doris Day Show in the 1970s.

Entertainment enthusiasts will have a field day with Kaye Ballard – The Show Goes On, a fine and affecting overview of the life of a hard-working woman of incredible talent and passion whose career may have flown under the radar for many.

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.