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Adrienne Barbeau: The Naked Truth

About the author:
Adrienne Barbeau is not a modest woman, at least not since her nude off-Broadway debut in Stag Movie. Now Barbeau is back on the off-Broadway stage starring as Judy Garland in The Property Known as Garland. Barbeau's career began in 1968 when she joined the Broadway cast of Fiddler on the Roof as Hodel. She went on to earn a Tony nomination for her role as Rizzo in Grease in 1972. Barbeau's big screen credits include The Fog, Escape From New York, Swamp Thing, Cannonball Run, Back to School and Creepshow. Her small screen credits include Maude, the voice of Catwoman on Batman: The Animated Series, The Drew Carey Show, Lifetime's Shattered Hearts and HBO's Carnivale. Barbeau is ready to take on the stage again, but this time, she's fully clothed and recreating an icon.

I'm sitting in my dressing room at the Actors' Playhouse in Sheridan Square. They've just finished painting it for me, a deep, dark green with cream-colored accents. I have a Berber rug and antique wooden chairs and ornate iron hooks to hang my costumes on. My Judy Garland costumes: a bejeweled gold brocade pantsuit from The Valley of the Dolls, the red chiffon shirred jumpsuit with matching feather trimmed skirt Judy wore in her last concert, a blue silk robe and a full length mink.

And I'm thinking about the first off-Broadway play I did and the dressing room I had and the costumes I wore.

None.

It was a musical entitled Stag Movie, and I starred as an innocent young actress who gets cast in an X-rated film. I sang and danced my way through 13 numbers. In the nude. There was barely a costume in sight, which was just as well because I didn't have an antique chair or ornate iron hook to hang one on. I was grateful we had a bathroom.

It wasn't the job I'd dreamed about but it was a job I needed to do. It was a challenge I'd never been offered before--the opportunity to carry a show. The only other work I'd done in New York was in Fiddler on the Roof, where I'd played Tevye's daughter, Hodel. I'd joined the show in 1968--long after agents and producers and critics had stopped coming--and I'd stayed in it for two years. It was a dream job for a working actress but not a career move. I needed to create a role. I needed to get reviewed. I needed to do something that industry people would see.

They saw me all right. All of me. Upside down in a headstand on a raked bed with my unclothed breasts flapping against my chin. I was grateful I didn't have to tap.

I was a bit concerned about what my mother would say when I told her I'd be performing nude in an off-Broadway show. She was all in favor of my having a career, but she was my mother, after all. I called her before we started rehearsals.

"Off-Broadway, Adrienne?" she asked. "Won't you be taking a cut in salary?"

Well, yes, but that's not the reason we do these things, is it?

And now here I am, 25 years later, off-Broadway once again. The role of Judy Garland in The Property Known as Garland is a job I need to do--a challenge I've never been offered before. The audiences are loving it; they're standing up to applaud at the end. I keep my clothes on. I'm not singing or dancing, and I'm grateful I don't have to tap but this time it's also the job I've dreamed about.

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