One-woman act teems with voices

On Friday, enter Bethany Owen's show at your own risk. She plans to change her garments — on stage.

Subscribing to the adage that clothes — and hair — make the girl, the Huntington Beach resident will swap dresses, shirts and trousers for her portrayal of Madonna, Patsy Cline, Marilyn Monroe, Shania Twain, Reba McEntire and other heavy hitters in "One Voice" at the Attic Community Theater in Santa Ana.

With her sewing machine in tow, the voice impressionist constructs versatile base garments and outfits suitable for fast removal and layering. Once under the spotlight, she turns to clothing racks, shrouded in darkness behind her, for costume changes that are choreographed down to the second.

During the 90-minute whirlwind show — garnished with comedy, dance, music and a colorful medley of wigs — Owen doesn't step into the wings even once. Her acts traditionally conclude with a dramatic rendition of "Over the Rainbow," performed by Owen as Judy Garland dressed as a tramp.

"In reality, there's only one very grainy piece of film from all her live performances [in which she does the song] this way and I got a glimpse of that," she said. "I was just blown away and I thought, 'This can't die on the vine. I have to recreate it.'"

Growing up, though, Owen had a different goal. She wanted to be a ballerina. The Edison High School graduate fondly remembers performing with flamenco dancer José Greco, the Atlanta Ballet and the Orange County Ballet Theater.

She was 17 when an illness, never properly diagnosed by doctors, damaged her immune system. Unable to recover her strength, she was forced to take bed rest and shelve her dreams. Not one to give up, however, Owen auditioned for a show band called Full Moon, which touts a dance-music formula. Though selected as the group's choreographer, Owen also was tasked with providing the voice of the Edith Bunker character from the popular 1970s sitcom "All in the Family."

What began as an experiment quickly became the most requested routine in the act, she recalled. Owen's solo career grew out of this exposure and took root at casinos and on cruise ships.

Three decades later, Owen's "girls" excite her, and if the character doesn't generate a rush from the audience, she will pick another.

"For me, there's nothing like performing to a live audience. It's an adrenaline rush, it's exciting, it's a great feeling," she said. "I can be on stage till the day I die, and if my audience is enjoying what I do, it will make me feel like I'm 15-years-old. That's probably what drove George Burns to do this till his last breath."

Owen has earned an ardent fan in Norma Jean, 46, a fellow actress and comedian who goes by her first name. When asked for her take on "the woman of 1001 voices and faces," the Newport Beach resident exclaimed, "What do I think? Where do I start?"

"I can tell you as someone that has the ability to do quite a few voice accents and impressions myself, I'm in complete awe of what she does," Norma Jean said about Owen. "The way she opens and closes the show is so memorable, and all the stuff in the middle is just a head-scratcher. I find myself sitting in the audience saying, 'How in the world does she do that?'"

Having completed South Coast Repertory's Acting Intensive Program in July, Norma Jean, a familiar face in the local scene, is looking forward to opening for Owen.

According to James Huffman, 54, co-owner of the Attic, "Bethany is the perfect combination of comedy and music that we think will really play well with our audience. We love local talent, and although she tours Tahoe, Vegas and other places, while she is home we are lucky enough to get her to appear at our venue."

Friday is an ideal opportunity for Huffman, of Costa Mesa, to move beyond YouTube snippets and watch Owen live as Barbra Streisand — his favorite one so far.

Owen said it hasn't been easy to achieve a career in a male-dominated field. Producers have suggested she "hang it up" because there's no room for her in the industry, she said. At other times, she is reminded that the exposure given to variety artists lags pitifully behind that enjoyed by dancers and singers.

The impressionist has lent her voice to shows by Dolly Parton and Bette Midler, and is also a two-time winner of the International Guild of Celebrity Impersonators and Tribute Artists' award for Best Female Voice Impressionist. Her imitation of Audrey Hepburn's voice greets gamblers at Breakfast at Tiffany's-themed slot machines nationwide.

An experience that warms her heart, even 18 years later, is her brush with Cher, who unexpectedly showed up at one of Owen's events in Los Angeles. Everyone attending knew the singer was in the audience, except Owen.

"People who had seen me in the past knew I was getting ready to play Cher's part," she said. "The room got so quiet, and I thought I was bombing because people are usually laughing their fannies off. Suddenly, Cher just started laughing and the whole room went electric."

After the curtain call, Owen was too star struck to approach the legendary singer and request an autograph.

"I watched her walk right by me," she recounted, chuckling. "But it was one of the best moments of my life."

If You Go

What: "One Voice" by Bethany Owen

Where: Attic Community Theater, 2995 West Segerstrom, Santa Ana

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday; doors open at 7 p.m.

Cost: $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and students

Information: or (714) 662-2525

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