Jim Bailey | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Every singer has to pay attention to myriad details--from vocal technique and band arrangements to between-song chitchat, from gesture and deportment to costumes and cosmetics. These concerns are of special importance to Jim Bailey, who for some 25 years has made a career of impersonating the likes of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Peggy Lee. Forget any notions of drag-queen mimicry or mockery: Bailey's an extraordinary musical actor whose convincing illusions depend as much on his phenomenal singing as on his uncannily accurate re-creation of his subjects' stage presence. He has his ladies' look down pat, but more important he has their sound. His Garland is a perfect replication of the legend in her 1960s comeback concerts--actually a little better than the original, since Bailey preserves Judy's uniquely dynamic yet intimate style minus her pitch problems. The results are a little scary--is Bailey imitating Judy or channeling her?--but absolutely glorious for lovers of classic Broadway and Hollywood pop. Likewise, Bailey captures the interpretive stylishness and charmingly self-deprecating comedy of Streisand's early career, before she began to smother in sloppy self-indulgence. (Too bad it was Barbra, not Bailey, who sang at the Clinton inaugural gala.) Bailey's engagement this weekend (rescheduled after his July performances were canceled) is his first here in about a decade. He appears as Garland on Saturday and Streisand on Sunday. The event, a benefit for the Windy City Performing Arts concert organization, also features gifted pianist Jay Brownfield and wacky musical comic Lori Noelle. Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 7 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 4049242, 559-1212, or 472-0449.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Richard Armas.

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