R. Williams Talks To
Acclaimed Judy Garland Impersonator
The Fabulous Tommy Femia
Written and photographed by Wendy R. Williams
(See the review
I went to Don't
Tell Mama on a hot Saturday night in July to interview
Tommy Femia and also to see his show, Judy
Garland and Liza Minnelli Together Again.
Sidney Meyer, the booking agent for Don't Tell
Mama, had agreed to let me talk to Tommy while
he was getting dressed for the 11PM show. They
were doing NewYorkCool.com a huge favor because
the time just before a show is horrifically hectic.
Sidney Meyer in his den at
Don't Tell Mama
Don't Tell Mama
is a part of New York City's unique cabaret world.
All over the city there are small cabaret spaces
which present singers, comedians and small Off-Off-Broadway
shows. Mamas is the best known of these spaces
and with a Times Square location at 343 West 46th
Street, Mamas attracts a large crowd to both their
cabaret shows and their lively piano bar.
Don't Tell Mama | 343
West 46th Street
I met with Tommy in his
dressing room, where he was in the process of
changing himself from a guy into a fabulous gal.
This transformation process involves lots of
make up and lots of glitz. As Tommy says, a hundred
nuns lost their eye sight making his costumes.
Tommy Femia and his glitz
I asked Tommy why
Judy and he said he has loved Judy Garland ever
since he was a little boy and first saw her in
The Wizard of Oz. He followed her career
from then on and has been impersonating her for
the last twenty years. During that time he has
played Judy at Don't Tell Mama, Davenports in
Chicago, The Plush Room in San Francisco, Theater
Works in Sarasota and many more venues. Tommy
does not have a day job, he supports himself totally
by impersonating Judy. I asked him if it ever
got old and he said no it does not. He has done
extensive research into Judy's life and is always
finding new things he can use to keep his act
Garland era is the Judy of the early sixties television
shows. He likes that time because things appeared
simpler then, a quieter happier time for Judy.
We then talked about
how he transforms himself. Everything he uses can
be found over the counter at beauty supply stores.
The only additional make up item he uses is a Bob
Kelly make up kit. Tommy has the following items
in his bag: Max Factor Panstick #6, Spirit Gum
(to hold the make up that obliterate his own eyebrows),
false eyelashes, and various lip sticks and rouges.
Tommy does not shave his legs, arms or chest. He
uses double layers of hose and long gloves to hide
his body hair. I did not see how Tommy transformed
his body (girls need some privacy), but after seeing
him in the show, I can report that the girl was
wearing a 1960's style girdle and a merry widow
with her falsies.
Tommy also told
me that he never goes out as Judy. That he is not
a drag queen, but an actor who plays a part and
leads an ordinary life away from the stage. Well,
He also told me
that though he knows Liza Minelli and she has been
extremely kind to him, Liza has never seen his
show. He thinks it is because his show is heel
click too close to home.
Tommy then introduced
me to his musical director/pianist, David Maiocco
(see review below).
David Maiocco, trapped
in the bathroom by
the aggressive NewYorkCool.com camera
to invite guest artist to perform with him. The
night I was there Tommy was going to perform
with his "daughter", Christine Pedi
as Liza Minelli. Christine is a real girl and
does not need a couple of hours to transform,
so she arrived in her dressing room a half hour
before the show.
Christine Pedi as Liza
And then Tommy
was finally ready to go on, so he stuck a pose,
clicked his heels and flew on stage as Judy. And
as they said in The Wizard of Oz, "No
Dorothy, we are not in Kansas anymore."
Tommy just before he
walked on stage
You can see Tommy at 11PM
on Saturday nights at Don't Tell Mama. There
is a $20 cover and a 2 drink minimum. Reservations
can be made at at (212)757-0788. For more information: www.tommyfemia.com or www.donttellmama.com.
Cabaret Show Review by
Wendy R. Williams
There are some
shows in New York that are simply charming. They
have charming performers, perform in a charming
setting and attract audiences of charming people
who love the performers. Tommy Femia's show at
Don't Tell Mama, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli
Together Again, is one such show. There is
a reason this man has been playing Mamas for the
last twenty years.
Mr. Femia (Judy), with the talented help of Christine
Pedi's (Liza) great pipes, has created a wonderful
show, one that is both nostalgic and marvelously
whacky. It is a show where his 1960's version
of Judy Garland sixties shares the stage with
a present day Liza Minnelli. Mr. Femia and Ms.
Pedi sing both period songs and present day Broadway
favorites, the songs that Judy might have sung
had she lived and the songs that Liza could sing
now if she were performing. Here is a sampling
of their songs: "I Believe"; The Greatest
Love of All"; and "Life is a Cabaret."
The music is great and the show is very funny, filled with loads of self deprecating
wit. Both of the "ladies" exhibited amazing comic timing and had
me in stitches. Mr. Femia and Ms. Pedi also showed great love for their characters.
What could have been merely broad characterizations is instead a love fest
- a charming evening spent with two twentieth century icons and an audience
filled with their admirers.
There were many charming touches throughout the evening, but some were unexpected.
David Maiocco, the musical director, was amazing. Mr. Maiocco can really talk
to a piano, but he also has a wonderfully quiet stage presence, lending charm
to the evening while letting the spotlight fall only on the ladies. And at
the first table from stage left were Felix and Roy, long time fans, who attend
all of Tommy's shows. Felix brings a bell which he rings at the appropriate
times. The show would be worth seeing just to see Felix sitting at that first
table, an off-stage conductor quietly marking his time, waiting for his moment,
the moment when he finally gets to ring his bell. I loved it.