2023 Capital Fringe Preview: Gilda: A Tribute to the Beloved Comedienne Gilda Radner

An homage to Gilda Radner's hilarious characters and the story of a brave woman who used humor and laughter to get through the struggles of a life cut short.

 By Blaise Azzara

Editor’s note: Tickets are now on sale for the 2023 Capital Fringe Festival (July 12 to 23), and DC Theater Arts has offered space to ten Fringe producers to describe their shows in their own words. Check back for more 2023 Capital Fringe previews!

Washington, DC, theatergoers will not want to miss a chance to experience the multiple-award-winning one-woman show Gilda: A Tribute to the Beloved Comedienne Gilda Rader, created and starring Kansas City, Missouri, actress Helena K. Cosentino. Cosentino had a successful run with this show pre-COVID, receiving such awards as Hamilton Fringe-Best of Venue, Hollywood Fringe Show with Most Heart, and Top 10 at Kansas City Fringe. She is excited to bring Gilda back into the limelight again, keeping the comedienne’s memory alive.

Gilda Radner was just 42 when she died of ovarian cancer in 1989. An original cast member of Saturday Night Live (1975–80), Radner developed memorably hilarious characters: Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litella, Lisa Looper, and the Barbara Walters parody Baba Wawa. In this show, Helena will pay homage to some of Gilda Radner’s infamous characters and quirky musical numbers. But she will also be telling a story about a brave woman who used humor and laughter to get through the struggles and cruelty of a life cut short, from being the fat kid growing up to becoming a young woman on top of her game struck with terminal cancer.

How did this show come together? Helena drew from many sources and has worked to create an arc and through-line in the production, relating stories and characters together in order to share Gilda with her audience. She researched, watched, and read all she could about Gilda. She picked out aspects of her story and life that needed to be told, and also those that pulled at her heartstrings. She studied Radner’s performances and then decided what she wanted to include in the show. She chose some pieces based on theme and others because she just loves them.

What inspired her to develop a piece around Radner’s career? “People like me, who grew up with her, miss her,” says Cosentino. “She died way too young, and she has been gone for more than 30 years. I want younger generations to know her. They usually just know the love of her life Gene Wilder. It is my hope to share my love for Gilda and to transport the audience back to a time when humor was innocent yet edgy and poignant. Gilda is a classic and timeless force. What I discovered in this process is that not only do I love her as a performer, but I also admire her strength, courage, and ability to laugh at herself and make fun of the fears and challenges she faced. If I can show my audience a glimpse of the spirit of Gilda, this show will have been a success. I love how Gilda Radner puts it, that performing is a way to send and receive love. I feel that way, also. I am so very grateful to have the opportunity to share her with an audience because of how I feel about Gilda, how moved I am to tell her story, and the vulnerability I feel when it is just me up there onstage.

“It has been a long-time dream of mine to honor and pay tribute to Gilda Radner Wilder. Ever since I was a little girl, I have been in love with Gilda. I grew up admiring her, laughing at her characters, and basically wanting to be her. As I worked on this project and learned more about her, my love has transcended far beyond the funny characters that I grew up loving to admiration for what she went through and how she used laughter to cope with life and death. It was a calling for me to do this and I have been blown away by the response. I have found people want to hear Gilda’s story and remember her. She was such an inspiration to others and still is. This may sound crazy, but I feel her presence. She has been a part of this process helping me along the way. I truly feel moved to continue to keep her memory alive with this show and teach younger generations about who she was and help those who are facing cancer in their lives.”

This is Cosentino’s passion project, and her goal is to donate her proceeds to Gilda’s Clubs and Cancer Support Communities throughout the country. She will be donating a portion of her proceeds from Capital Fringe to the local Cancer Support Community.



Running Time: 60 minutes.

Gilda: A Tribute to the Beloved Comedienne Gilda Radner plays July 15 through July 23, 2023, at Squirt – 1st Floor – 1050 Thomas Jefferson. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online.

The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.

SEE ALSO: 2023 Capital Fringe Festival to pop up in Georgetown and Dupont (news story, April 28, 2023)


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