Synopsis: From big bands to Broadway, radio to recordings and television to the big screen, Kaye Ballard did it all in a career that spanned eight decades.
Stars: Kaye Ballard, Joy Behar, Carol Burnett, Ann-Margret, Woody Allen, Michael Feinstein, Rex Reed, Jerry Stiller, Carol Channing, Harold Prince
Director: Dan Wingate
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: As more and more documentaries are finding their own independent distribution, it has opened the door to a whole new world of people and topics that audiences might not have gotten a full report on before. Used to be you had to wait for a boutique studio to throw a decent amount of money to obtain, market, and release a movie to a tiny art-house theater for a week in advance of the hard to find DVD copy at your local library. Now, you can just fire up your search engine and locate in-depth examinations on any number of subjects…hooray!
Though I’m a Broadway fan, I must admit that I wasn’t as well-versed in the long career of Kaye Ballard as I should have been. So, being offered the chance to screen Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On!, the love letter documentary to Ballard’s contributions to the world of stage, screen, and music, was a no-brainer. I never would have guessed that I’d come away thinking “Is there anyone Kaye Ballard didn’t know in the business?” but here I am, 90 minutes later wondering why Ballard never became the breakout star that her talent had her keenly positioned to be.
Through an extensive and impressive array of rarely seen clips and interviews with dozens and dozens of familiar faces including Ballard herself, director Dan Wingate charts the singer-actress as she arrives in NYC from Cincinnati, OH and starts to make a name in the business. Touring in the vaudeville circuit led to Broadway parts which led to TV and supporting movie roles and through it all her talent for comedy and big belting singing knocked everyone’s socks off. As Wingate presents it and as others tell it, Ballard seemed to be loved by all and, better yet, respected by everyone she came in contact with.
What this is missing, sadly, is a look at the woman behind all of that. We’re more than an hour into the film before Ballard talks about her parents and life growing up…and it seems to be a sensitive subject for her. There’s also not a lot about her personal life away from the spotlight and what filled her cup when she didn’t perform. It’s clear to the viewer that Wingate was acting as a bit of a proxy for Ballard herself, making this more of a one-woman show with established talking points than a true deep dive into the full picture of Ballard’s life. If that’s the case, that’s totally within her right…but it would have been nice to learn more about her than her celebrity.
That being said, the anecdotes offered up by Ballard and the host of celebrity interviews are priceless and informative. While hearing stories from Carol Channing, Jerry Stiller, or Harold Price are worthwhile seeing that all have since passed away, nothing beats Ballard recounting her own memories as she travels down the yellow brick road of her memories. She’s wistful but never sad, truthful but never gossipy, funny but never mean…I would have loved to see her in person because numerous people mention how rip-roaring hilarious she was live. Sadly, Ballard passed away in early 2019 so that ship has sailed…but Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On! is a great consolation prize.