Since I moved to Las Vegas, I have had the greatest opportunity to become acquainted with the world-famous singer and theater performer, David de Alba. David is renowned for his female impersonations as a legendary ensemble member at San Francisco’s Finocchio Club; and even in retirement, David performs two shows a year here in Las Vegas to re-live the glory days from his past. I have had dinner with David many times, and last month, I asked if I could interview him and talk about his upcoming show, which is a tribute to Judy Garland.
SINGING AS JUDY
M: David, thank you for allowing me to talk with you about the history of your career and your impersonation of Judy Garland. I have seen many of your Las Vegas shows, and I always note how you sing so many of Judy’s numbers with great precision. How did you discover Judy’s music?
D: As a young teenager from Cuba, living in Chicago in the mid 60’s, I was introduced to Judy’s singing by two Irish ladies who owned a small grocery store near my house. They invited me to their apartment for tea and to listen to Judy’s Carnegie Hall record. I was so impressed that I collected every recording of Judy I could find. I joined the British Fan Club in the early 70’s, where I became acquainted with the late Sonny Gallagher—the American representative–who began publishing a quarterly newsletter “Beyond Rainbows” in the early 90’s, aided by Charles Triplett, his Club Secretary.
M: How did you learn to impersonate Judy?
D: When in high school, I was lead tenor in the glee club, and was performing as a male dancer in various productions. I was introduced to the art of impersonation by a well-known hairstylist in Chicago, since I was studying Cosmetology at the time. As a lark, he made me up for “The Artists & Models Ball” at the famous Aragon Ballroom. He remarked that I resembled Judy in make-up and should do an impersonation of her on the stage. I would be the only one doing an impression of her that night. My grandmother, María, made two replicas of Judy’s pantsuit outfits.
When I was performing then, I sang over her recordings, (not pantomime). I closed the show with ‘What Now My Love”. I received a standing ovation, which encouraged me to polish my act and continue working nightclubs in the area. I don’t say these things to promote my act, but to show the power of such an inspiration as Judy. I have always done my act as a loving tribute, and never in a “campy” way and always singing in my own voice.
This was a big thing I did then when I sang LIVE because most female impersonators in the Chicago area had to lip sync to recordings of famous female singers because they could not sing well in a femme-convincing voice as I was able to do.
I met Lorna Luft (Judy’s daughter) when she appeared at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, and visited with her after the show. I gave her a picture of me doing her mother in my act. She seemed impressed, and put it top of a nearby credenza. A few minutes later her musical conductor came in to discuss changes for the next show. When he saw the photo he said “I didn’t know you brought a picture of your mom on this tour”. She replied “This is not Momma, this is David, who does an impersonation of her”.
MEETING JUDY GARLAND IN PERSON
M: It must have been a huge thrill to meet Judy in person. Please share with us how that happened.
D: The first time I saw her up close was at the opening of “Gay Purree” in the State & Lake Theatre, (since, a victim of the wrecking ball). After the movie, the theatre manager announced through the loudspeakers that Judy was to appear on stage, but she was stuck in heavy traffic and would arrive soon. Her arrival was announced but the audience inside couldn’t see her until the doors opened and she walked from the back of the theatre to the stage in a pool of lavender light. She wore a sleek lavender gown, trimmed in feathers, adorned by a “diamond” broach, and crystal shoes with spike heels. Her hair was done in “the brush-up” style, which was popular in the 60’s, streaked in lavender to match the gown.
When she arrived on stage she apologized for being slightly hoarse. She had just come from a singing engagement at the Arie Crown Theatre. She joked about the fact that only her voice was used in the movie. She appeared as a cartoon feline called Mewsette. The fans applauded. As she took a bow her broach fell to the floor. As she leaned forward to pick it up she exclaimed, “I’ve lost a lot more things in my life . . .” More applause and she walked off the stage.
She walked on a red carpet to her limousine parked at the entrance and the audience followed her. Some fans followed the limo to the Ambassador East Hotel, which was her favorite place to stay in Chicago.
The second time I saw her, (singing ‘live’) was at the Arie Crown Theatre. Chris and Peter Allen were on the bill with her. For the first time, to everyone’s surprise, she opened with Sinatra’s version of “My Kind of Town”. She was dressed in the same gown she wore when she did a Cole Porter medley at the Academy Awards a month earlier in 1965. It was dusty blue, high neck, split up the front, trimmed on the sleeves with fur. After her performance, my mom and I went back stage to meet her. A group of the American Fan Club members were at the wrong exit, and we missed her. They asked us to join them in an open convertible to follow her limo. It was driven very fast through the streets of Chicago. When it looked like they had lost the pursuit, my mom and I asked to get out. We understand that they eventually caught up with her at the Ambassador Hotel and joined her for breakfast in the wee hours of the morning!
My next meeting was truly an “Encounter of the Third Kind”. I actually met and talked to her at the Chicago Opera House. My mom and I were seated in the center-left, and Judy entered the theatre from the rear doors on the right. Instead of appearing on stage from the wings, she created more drama by walking down the isle of screaming fans. She wore the gold paisley suit that she was to wear in the movie “Valley of the Dolls”. Joey and Lorna appeared with her on the bill this time. Lorna sang “Alfie” and Joey played solo drums. They all performed “Me and My Shadow” dancing and singing together with tap dancer John Bubbles later in the show. She also introduced a new song she had never done before, “How Insensitive”. After the show, we rushed to the back of the theatre and waited to see her. Sid Luft came out first and announced that Judy would not come out of her dressing room for a while because “she was sweating”. A young girl answered back “Stars don’t sweat, they perspire!”. (No comment from Sid). Joey and Lorna came out and were escorted the awaiting limo. Eventually Judy appeared, wearing a short off-white satin cocktail dress, trimmed with white feathers. She had on a dark tan foundation base on her face, and a deep wine/plum lipstick. Her eyes were done with brown eyeliner, no false lashes. Her hair still had some glitter left over from her stage makeup.
The fans were asked to form two lines facing each other, reception style, to make it easier for her to greet them. When she finally was standing in front of me and my mom Tila, she asked “And who is this lovely lady?” My mom replied, “I am his mother”. Judy said, looking at me, “I wish I had a mother like yours” in a child-like voice. My mother said, “My son adores you! Will you give him a kiss?” Judy then hugged me and kissed me on the right cheek. Before she could move on, I said to her “I do a take-off of you on stage” to which she replied, “Do you like me that much!” I wish I could see your act, but I am leaving Chicago to continue my tour”.
(Can you imagine how mad I was years later at myself for not bringing a camera to catch that moment, or to ask for an autograph!). I followed her to the street and saw her enter the back of the limo where Joey and Lorna were waiting. She kissed them several times. I can still remember that her skin was so pale and translucent like porcelain. The Limo pulled away, and that was the last time I ever saw her.
M: David, you started working at the Finocchio Club in San Francisco in 1970 as part of the largest female impersonation show. (You re-lived the Finocchio’s story in your last Las Vegas show.) Please tell us how you worked your Judy Garland impersonation into your act.
D: In the early 70’s I moved to San Francisco and joined the cast at the Finocchio Club. At that time all singers were required to sing ‘live’ with the house band. I added Liza Minnelli and my own international character creation, Boy-Chic to my act.
I was honored to have had the late Charles Blair visit and see me on stage. He was involved with the British Judy Garland Club, and was working for Shepperton Studios at the time “I Could Go On Singing” was being filmed. One evening, at another club, he stepped on stage to give a special introduction to my Judy act.
One of the club owners–the now late Eve Finocchio–insisted on me being myself on-stage, and that’s when my ‘Boy-Chic International’ act was created. But from time to time she allowed me to do impersonations of Judy, and then later on–when Liza became more famous due to her movie ‘Cabaret’—I then brought my Liza act to the Finocchio Club stage. By the way, I was only allowed to do a three singing numbers because I was part of a revue, but outside Finocchio’s I was able to do a full solo act as Judy in a concert format. That was so much fun.
THE JUDY GARLAND MUSEUM:
M: I understand that you have the largest private museum collection of Judy Garland memorabilia. Please tell us a few things about your collection.
D: Oh yes! My Judy Garland Museum contains many of the musical arrangements that Mr. Mort Linsey created for Judy. In my show, I do my best to be totally consistent with those arrangements. I have a pair of Judy’s shoes she wore in her last movie filmed in England, “I Could Go On Singing”.
I began collecting rare posters and lobby cards from her movies and concerts. In the mid-90’s I was fortunate to acquire 12 large Judy Garland scrapbooks from the estate of Eileen Steere, a devoted Garland fan, with newspaper clipping from 1938 to 1969, programs and pictures from most of her performances and many rare original photos.
I always sought after many rare vintage lobby cards and posters where her movies had been shown, and I even have many OZ related items. One of my most cherished artifacts is a sequined top jacket worn by Judy for her CBS TV Series. I have a personal photo of Judy’s she had at her home along with a cancelled check she signed.
M: David, I have seen many of your shows, and I am sure this one will be just as grand! Please tell us about the show theater and how to get tickets.
D: Sure! The show will be at the MIGV Cultural Arts Center inside the Boulevard Mall in Las Vegas. The show starts at 3:30 PM on Sunday the 12th of March. This is the same theater where I performed last August in my historical showing of the story of The Finocchio Club.
M: Here is the text from the playbill of the show:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~”We Love You Judy!” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“David de Alba’s LIVE Tribute to Judy Garland”.
Finocchio Club’s Legendary actor, singer-impressionist David de Alba steps one more time unto the stage in 2017, breathing life, drama, and humor to his LIVE tribute to Judy Garland.
Mr. de Alba will sing many songs associated with Miss Garland, narrate some funny anecdotes that Judy herself told during her many 1960’s TV appearances along with some personal anecdotes upon meeting Garland.
This is a show that any Garland fan should not miss and to the younger generation that only knows Judy as Dorothy Gale of Kansas, this is your opportunity to see Judy later on as an adult through the eyes of David de Alba.
Mr. de Alba has been written about in seven books and has been given some fine awards….he is truly a ‘Class Act!’ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
“We Love You Judy!” ”David de Alba’s LIVE Tribute to Judy Garland.”
MVIG Cultural Arts Center Inside The Boulevard Mall 3528 S. Maryland Parkway Las Vegas, Nevada 89169 Sunday, March 12th, 2017 at 3:30 pm. Ticket price (all seats): $20.00
For more information call: Ixela Gutierrez at 702-339-0948 (& leave message) Or e-mail David de Alba at firstname.lastname@example.org
M: David, thanks so much for your time. I can’t wait to see the show! And I hope everybody can come see you as Judy. It’s been a great pleasure talking with you! See you at the show!
Michelle Popkov is a frequent seminar presenter at major transgender conferences and events both in the US and the UK.
Links to David de Alba’s past performances:
David as Judy (2013):
David’s personal presentation:
[I have other photos upon request.]
Contact me: FlexibleFlyr2001@aol.com
If you enjoyed this interview of David de Alba, you might also enjoy an earlier interview by UC Berkeley in April, 2005.