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'Spotlight on Mae West'

The brassy and flam-boyant Mae West was once quoted saying, "If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning."

An actress, singer and sex symbol of the early 20th century, West was recognized for her clever humor and bawdy double-entendres, as well as for her strong personality as a liberated woman.

"She never showed any skin, used swear words or mentioned any body parts," says Gwen Overland, who stars as West in Camelot Theatre's "Spotlight on Mae West." "She knew how to not say anything and get the full message across."

The show previews Thursday, Sept. 16, and runs at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 26.

Overland wrote the script for the production, which will feature some narration, a short biography, 18 songs sung and popularized by West, as well as two snippets from West's appearances on "The Chesterfield Supper Club," an NBC music-radio show hosted by Perry Como.

Of the 18 songs featured in the spotlight, West wrote "Put off Till Tomorrow" and "That's All, Brother, That's All." Other scores featured include "Come Up and See Me Sometime," "My Old Flame" and "They Call Me Sister Honky Tonk."

"She could sing anything that had a vaudeville comic twist," says Overland.

West's music demonstrated her impeccable timing and musicianship and her marked Brooklyn accent, says Overland.

West was born in 1893 to John Patrick West, a boxer turned detective, and Matilda Doelger, a corset model. In youth, she was a vaudeville performer before appearing on Broadway in 1911. Later, she began writing her own risqué plays, including "Sex," a notorious production critics hated and the box office loved. She also penned "The Drag," "The Wicked Age," "Pleasure Man," "The Constant Sinner" and "Diamond Lil."

In 1932, West made her film debut in "Night After Night," starring George Raft. She starred in several films in the 1930s and early '40s, including "She Done Him Wrong" and "I'm No Angel," both starring Cary Grant, as well as "My Little Chickadee" with W.C. Fields.

"She broke into a business primarily dominated by men and was very successful in it," says Overland.

In the third chapter of her career, West was a nightclub performer and appeared as a guest performer on radio and television. In 1978, at the age of 85, West starred in her final film, "Sextette."

"I'm just amazed that she could have an 80-year career and keep the same image and, at the same time, re-invent herself," says Overland. "She kept the audience curious, which is kind of provocative in itself."

Camelot veteran Bob Jackson Miner stars as Perry Como and the narrator. Musical direction is by Mark Reppert, Camelot's resident musical director. Accompanying Overland are Kevin Piquette on trumpet, Reppert on keyboards, Peter Spring on woodwinds and Steve Sutfin on drums.

At Camelot, Overland appeared in "Cabaret" and directed "Moon Over Buffalo."

Tickets cost $14 for the preview, $18 for other performances. See www.camelottheatre.org or call 541-535-5250.

Gwen Overland stars as Mae West in Camelot Theatre's 'Spotlight on Mae West.' - Photo courtesy of Camelot Theatre