Heart of the City Archives

Local favorites Spencer Day and Connie Champagne sing for the holidays.

Garland, Champagne and the light of Day
by Hank Donat

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all." Oscar Wilde

Midway into a beer and bull session with Connie Champagne I get the impression that the singer-actress has no idea just what a treasure she is to San Francisco. "My CDs are in the bargain bins or on Ebay," she says, as if half the gay men in the City don't have at least two of them in permanent rotation.

Champagne appears through this Saturday at the Plush Room in "Judy Garland, Being Alive," her most recent one-woman show as the late legendary entertainer. "This time I'm doing songs that Judy never sang, but should have," says Champagne, "She really should have lived to sing Wig in a Box from Hedwig and the Angry Inch."

We are joined by local-guy-made-good Spencer Day, the Star Search finalist, at Wild Oscar's in the Mission. Day, a rising talent who was plucked from open mic nights only a couple of years ago, exudes a warmth like the rising sun.

Champagne met Day at Burning Man in 2002. Day remembers, "You were over in your camp singing Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody as Judy and I was blown away." Champagne returns the compliment, telling me that Day is "seriously one of the most talented people I've ever met in this or any town."

Her many incarnations as Garland date back to Champagne's work with ACT and a turn in an early production of "Christmas with the Crawfords." My personal favorite had Champagne as Neely O'Hara in the stage version of Valley of the Dolls at the Broadway Theatre in the City in 1994. The character in the Jacqueline Suzanne novel was based on Garland.

In the stage version, Champagne successfully hooked a long necklace around both of her breasts in the middle of the Andre Previn number "It's Impossible," just as Patty Duke had done in the 1967 film. It is a delicious moment in a role that's all camp. "In the Los Angeles production they glued the beads to the actress's sweater," Champagne says. Since 1994, Champagne has taken her Garland act, "an extended characterization," across the country.

Together, Champagne and I wonder how young people, particularly performers, manage to make it on their own in the City at a time when it's simply too expensive for many to survive. "Roommates," says Day. Champagne says, "When I came here 25 years ago, I picked up an ad at the Art Institute and found an apartment for $135 a month, with two or three revolving roommates."

Day and Champagne are scheduled to perform at the annual Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation benefit concert, "Help is on the Way," at the Herbst Theatre on December 5. Other local favorites Sharon McNight, Paula West, Weslia Whitfield, The Kinsey Sicks, Latoya London, and members of the San Francisco Ballet are also slated to appear.

Champagne appears at Bimbo's in North Beach on New Year's Eve. Day, a wunderkind who writes his own songs, heads to Australia for a performance on World AIDS Day, December 1. He is awaiting the release of his first CD, "Introducing Spencer Day," and is putting the final touches on a new musical, "Someday, Love." Visit conniechampagne.com and spencerday.com for further information.

Earlier this month, Assemblyman Mark Leno presented Supervisor Tom Ammiano with a merit award on behalf of the organization Music in Schools Today. MuST's ninth annual Celebrity Waiter Benefit Luncheon at the Ana Mandara restaurant on Beach Street included such "stars on staff" as Nob Hill Gazette editor Lois Lehrman, KRON-TV and the Examiner's Jan Wahl, newsies Tom Vacar, Lloyd LaCuesta, and Tori Campbell, author Dennis McNally, Smuin Ballet founder Michael Smuin, and yours truly, Heart of the City.

For me it was an opportunity not only to support music in schools, but to redeem my reputation as the worst waiter in history of San Francisco. My youthful misadventures as a server at the restaurant at Saks Fifth Avenue are a Union Square legend. "What kind of wine will you be wearing today?" I am happy to report that not a drop of chardonnay, merlot, or fume blanc, was spilled on my behalf at Ana Mandara.

MuST raised more than $30,000 to provide musical instruments for kids. Among the guests entertained by Bob Sarlotte, Weslia Whitfield and Mike Greensill, and Manuel Romero were Anne Marie Fowler, Dale Posner, Delia Fleishhacker, Phil Bilodeau of Grgich Hills Cellars, Chuck and Donna Huggins of See's Candies, Betty Hume, Rick Swig, and Mary and Terry Vogt.

Memo to Ashlee Simpson: The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents its 26th annual "Sing-It-Yourself Messiah" at Davies Symphony Hall on Monday, December 6. Visit the conservatory's web site at www.sfcm.edu for further information.

Have a happy Thanksgiving. I will be practicing a rare and favorite San Francisco holiday ritual. What's that, you ask? Calling a cab and watching six of them appear under your window in five minutes.

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