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'Dear Diary' Tells a Hollywood Story


It's a sad confirmation of the vicissitudes of Hollywood that a powerhouse performer like Donna Elaine Miller can remain a relative unknown.

Like many actors before her, Miller turns to the solo format to show off her plentiful talents. As the director, composer and performer of "Dear Diary," an autobiographical one-woman show produced by the Ascending Artists Stage Company at Grove Theater Center Burbank, she has ample opportunity to do just that.

Skillfully accompanied by pianist Tommy Reeves, Miller traces her personal fortunes, from her unloved childhood with an emotionally distant father, to her arrival in Hollywood in search of stardom, to her cruel disappointments on the singles scene. A happy marriage punctuates the autobiographical progression, with a jubilant song of self-affirmation ending the show.

Musical offerings range from hilarious novelty numbers ("What I Wouldn't Do for a Shoe") to sultry torch songs ("Home Alone"). Miller is an obviously talented composer with a honey-smooth voice and an embracing warmth that projects beyond the footlights.

However, the autobiographical one-person show is an iffy medium, one that presupposes some extraordinary circumstances in the life, or in the telling.

By that standard, Miller's life story seems a tad generic to excite general interest. At times, "Diary" plays more like a glorified cabaret set than an autonomous piece of theater. The transitional segments are weak; Miller's laborious path toward self-enlightenment smacks ever so faintly of narcissism; and the continuing emphasis on her troubled relationship with her father seems oddly impersonal.

Structural shortcomings aside, Miller is a dynamite entertainer whose keen wit is on ample display. Her short poem, "Fade to Black," about the travails of a middle-class African American actor in an industry dominated by "ebonic" stereotypes, is as playful as it is trenchant--a wicked combination.


"Dear Diary," Grove Theater Center Burbank, 1100 W. Clark Ave., Burbank. Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 p.m. Ends Sunday. $20. (818) 761-6452. Running time: 2 hours.

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