As any fan of Female Illusion knows, Finocchio's of San Francisco is the most famous Female Impersonation club of all time. In 62 years of existence, many great stars of FI have performed on the Finocchio stage: Harvey Lee, Walter Hart, Likar, Jackie Starr, Lucian, Carroll Wallace, Lori Shannon, Lavern Cummings, and David de Alba. David was a mainstay at Finocchio's from the early 1970's to the mid 1980's.
Ken: David, you have many on stage personas. Could you talk a little about them?
David: Judy, Liza, and my own character creation, Boy-Chic, where I sing in both English and Spanish. My forte' is Judy and Boy-Chic.
Ken: Your collection of Garland memorabilia is remarkable! What do you consider the "jewels" of your collection?
David: A pair of Judy's shoes, worn in her last movie, "I Could Go On Singing", and a number of her musical arrangements, hand written by Mort Lindsey.
Ken: We understand your interest in Garland has caught the attention of the Las Vegas Media.
David: I was interviewed about my collection, and demonstrated part of my act on a local TV show, "Out Here". After it was aired, I received offers to perform in Las Vegas nightclubs and a charity event.
Ken: Lets go back to your days at Finocchio's. How hard was it to join the cast?
David: The first thing Eve Finocchio asked at the door was, "Let me see your legs". After that you had to pass an audition, even if you had an established reputation. Selection of the chorus line was based more on appearance than talent. Some of the talented chorus members doubled as "acts". I was hired as an "act", and never performed in the chorus.
Ken: What was the best part of your run at Finocchio's?
David: Performing for large audiences with people from all over the world, including many celebrities and Hollywood personalities. Also, working with orchestra leader Bill Bullard, who wrote many of my arrangements.
Ken: David, you have the ability to sing in an outstanding femme voice. Does this come naturally, or through voice training?
David: I sing in the upper part of my natural range. I don't sing falsetto. I did have some formal vocal training in San Francisco by the late James Thomason Bergner.
Ken: Frequently, celebrities are in the Finocchio audience. As a performer did you find this intimidating?
David: To the contrary, I found it an inspiration. One night the "Colonel" of "Kentucky Fried Chicken" was in the audience, dressed in his trademark white suit. I announced that I had his famous "finger-lick'in chicken" for lunch, and didn't get my "free" strawberry pie. (a current promotion at the time) He stood up and told me, "Next time you're in my neighborhood I'll see that you get one!!!". I was thrilled to perform for such stars as Richard Chamberlain, Sergio Franchi, Robert Wagner, Alexis Smith, and Tongolele.
Ken: Today, Finocchio's has three shows a night, but only three nights a week. Is Finocchio's popularity slipping?
David: When I was there we did four different shows, six nights a week. We were all required to sing "live" with the house band. Now I understand the band is out, and everyone pantomimes to recordings.
Ken: At Finocchio's, how often did you have to rehearse and freshen up the show?
David: The acts were expected to change their material on a regular basis. We had to pay for our own arrangements and hire a pianist if necessary to rehearse a new number. New material was launched in the fourth show (last show of the night) when the audience was smaller and more tolerant of mistakes.
Ken: On an old Finocchio Club program they credit a costume designer. Did the club provide you with all required costumes and accessories?
David: The chorus line, "Eve-ettes" were. The "acts" were required to furnish their own wardrobe. The exception was the finale, where the entire cast performed, and costumes were provided by the club.
Ken: Finocchio's has been noted for its "family atmosphere". Are you still in touch with any of the cast and staff?
David: Finocchio's has always been "family owned and operated", but the working atmosphere was nothing like a family relationship. On the other hand, I worked with a lot of wonderful people, and loyal Taurus that I am,...I keep in touch with the ones that I can and are still living. (Carroll Wallace! Are you still out there?)
Ken: Now lets talk about your professional life,..."after Finocchio's". We know many are curious about any projects and recent appearances.
David: Shortly after my run at Finocchio's I was offered the "Judy" spot in the Los Angeles based "La Cage", scheduled to open in San Francisco. I had just sold my home in Santa Cruz, CA and was in process of moving to New Mexico. Turning them down was one of the most difficult things I've had to do in my career. Since that time I've remained active in the TV and nightclub entertainment field. Most recently I performed for a Las Vegas TV station and recorded a similar performance in Spanish for an International Network, Univision, on the show "Fuera de Serie". ("Out of the Ordinary").
Ken: You have a popular WEB page with an impressive bio and resume'. Could we get an overview of your WEB site?
David: It was fun putting together in one place, scraps of my life and career. The Index page gives an overview of my "female impressionist" act, with links to details like: Bio Highlights, Resume, Judy Garland Encounters, and Celebrity Scrapbook & Links. The URL of my page is david-de-alba.com. Check it out and e-mail me at email@example.com with your comments, or just to say Hi.
Ken: David, as an actor who specializes in female illusion, what advice would you give to someone just breaking into the "biz"?
David: Watch and learn from the best, like Jim Bailey, Craig Russell, Lavern Cummings, etc. Don't be discouraged at first or be fooled by false praise inspired by ulterior motives. If you know in your heart "you have it",...keep trying. If you never get famous, at least get noticed.
I have had the thrill of seeing David de Alba at Finocchio's a couple of times, and in preparation for this article I had the opportunity to see a video of David doing his impression of Judy Garland. David's "Judy" is absolutely incredible. Even though the presentation was on video, you could really feel the magic of David's performance. David's talent, his banter with the audience, and their adulation for him created an evening that was truly "electric"! David had the fans totally wrapped around his finger, very much the way Judy Garland used to do, and in a way, through David, still does.
Ken Spaulding is a member of TG Forum who loves to talk about female impersonation as a performance art, comparing FI memorabilia, clubs & performers, past and present.
Copyright 1998 © Ken Spaulding
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