Comic actress’ alter ego takes the stage in Santa Rosa for New Year’s Eve performance
Over the course of her career in show business, “Broadway Legend” Barbara Dixon has done and seen it all.
Dresses ripping on stage! Butt-doubling for Jennifer Beals in “Flashdance!” Auditioning for a lead role in “Frozen on Ice!“
Of course, none of these experiences have happened in real life. That’s because Dixon herself is totally fictitious, the alter ego of actor Leah Sprecher, who created the character in 2010 to satirize the autobiographical song-and-dance cabarets of singers such as Liza Minnelli and Barbara Streisand.
Sprecher has spent the last decade building a following for Dixon, with regular appearances in Los Angeles as Dixon before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Over the last nine months, the diva has kept fans entertained through her social media. Now Sprecher will don her gray wig and bring her best Dixon impressions to an online New Year’s Eve performance for Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse on Dec. 31.
The hourlong event is dubbed “Jazztacular,” and Sprecher has produced it specifically for the 6th Street Playhouse audience. The actor will do two shows — one for New York City’s New Year celebration starting at 8 p.m. PST and another for California’s New Year celebration starting at 11 p.m.
Tickets for the show are free, though donations, to benefit 6th Street Playhouse, are welcome and encouraged. Those who reserve tickets will get a link for the show via email.
For Sprecher, 39, the performance marks a virtual return to Sonoma County, a place dear to her. Back in 2011, she was one of the founding members of Transcendence Theatre Company, which performs outdoor shows every summer under the stars at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.
Sprecher also has performed with The Groundlings, an improv and sketch comedy troupe in Los Angeles.
Today, especially with live theater on hiatus all over the country, Sprecher is all about Dixon. Sprecher debuted the character during her time with The Groundlings and said Dixon represents the roles that always have appealed to her in theater.
“Growing up, what I gravitated toward was the older woman role; I always loved those parts more than ingénues,” Sprecher said. “At some point, I was like, ‘Might as well start playing that person now and not have to wait until I’m old enough to play those roles.’ Barbara grew from that. Really, she is an homage to these women in theater who played these parts that I love.”
What can audiences expect from next week’s show? Without giving away too many of the gags, it’s safe to say there’ll be lots of biting commentary about how horrible 2020 has been.
Also on the agenda are stories about Dixon’s career and life and inappropriate show business anecdotes. The show is “rated” PG-13, something parents may want to keep in mind.
Because “Jazztacular” is rooted in musical theater, Sprecher — er, Dixon — also will sing a variety of ditties, including a spin on the holiday classic, “(Everybody’s Waiting For) The Man with the Bag.” She also sings a version of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
Originally, Sprecher was planning to come to Santa Rosa from her home in Los Angeles and film the show on stage at the 6th Street Playhouse. Unfortunately, recent statewide shelter-in-place orders made that impossible. So Sprecher and her husband (and co-writer) Bradley Stevens did what they do best: They improvised, and they set out to film the show from their house.
Anne Clark, managing director of the 6th Street Playhouse, said that while she wishes Sprecher could perform locally, she’s excited for the vibe that comes with Dixon captured on her “home” turf.
“I like to think of it as an intimate evening with Barbara Dixon at home,” said Clark, who was Sprecher’s roommate at the University of California Los Angeles in the 2000s and still considers the actor the funniest person she knows. “I’m sure it will be a hilarious night.”
One thing is certain: Converting live theater to a virtual environment can be tough.
Katie Kelley, a Petaluma actor who performed in Left Edge Theatre’s “Small Mouth Sounds” on Zoom this spring, said the format has several one-of-a-kind challenges that can be difficult to overcome.
“Not having an audience is challenging because they are also part of the show,” Kelley said. “We (actors) feed off their energy, and it’s this beautiful give-and-take relationship. In Zoom, you have to rely on your own skills, your own toolbox and just hope that the audience is there with you and following the story as best they can.”
Sprecher, speaking on behalf of Dixon, said she’s not worried.
Because she has recorded so much material as Dixon already, Sprecher is confident she can rise above any potential awkwardness and deliver a night of humor and wackiness to those in need of an escape from the relentlessness of 2020.
“(Barbara) is not always (politically correct) but does what she does with joy,” Sprecher quipped. “It’s a delight to watch.”