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Billie Holiday wore a fox stole that still had the heads on it. Lady Gaga learned to play on a stand-up piano. And Madonna? Awful handwriting.

Just a few of the revelations at the “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power” exhibit, which just opened at Seattle’s EMP Museum.

The exhibit, organized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, feels like you’re winding through a vast walk-in closet. It’s more clothes and shoes than actual instruments, and it is a little slim on oral histories and performance videos.

“At some point, you won’t have to have shows like this,” acknowledged EMP senior curator Jacob McMurray. “But it shows you how much women have progressed in society.”

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The instruments that are there pack a wallop: Mother Maybelle Carter’s Gibson L5 custom guitar from 1964 (along with her bowling shirt); Chrissie Hynde’s blue Telecaster (and her red leather jacket from the cover of the Pretenders’ debut album). Meg White’s peppermint-candy-themed drum. (Loved that.)

There’s Joni Mitchell’s notebook, Madonna’s to-do list and a 1964 telegram from Dusty Springfield to Brenda Lee, wishing her luck.

But even though “Women Who Rock” features 71 artists and 250 artifacts that took four semitrucks to get here, you can’t help but see what — and who — didn’t make it to Seattle. (That list could go on and on, depending on who is walking through).

“This is the reality of doing a museum exhibit,” McMurray said. “You just can’t include everything.”

EMP did host a kickoff concert with The Bad EMPressions, made up of Kathy Valentinefrom The Go-Go’s, Patty Schemelfrom Hole, Donita Sparksfrom L7, Kim Shattuckfrom The Muffs, and special guests Annabella Lwin, Star Anna, Shelby Earland Choklate.

That’s more like it.

Tears, smiles

It’s not the “Surviving with Style” luncheon for Gilda’s Club if you’re not smiling and crying at the same time.

Who wouldn’t, at the sight of 4-year-old cancer survivor Sunni Johnson wandering down the runway clasping flowers and 8-year-old fighter Sophia Thompsontaking her turn, while emcee Steve Raibletold the crowd about her fish named Sushi?

Over lunch, Gilda’s Club executive director Anna Gottliebcited some statistics that were tough to swallow: Washington state will see 38,000 new cancer diagnoses this year — and we’re leading the country in ovarian cancer.

“We are not a luxury,” Gottlieb said of Gilda’s Club, and the support it provides cancer survivors and their families. “We are a necessity.”

So is the chocolate lovingly donated by Seattle Chocolates CEO Jean Thompson, who received the Corporate Visionary Award. She keeps Gilda’s Club stocked and put a bar at every seat at the luncheon.

Runway highlights included Spike O’Nell, of “The Bob Rivers Show,” a survivor of testicular cancer who strutted in an outfit by rock-star designer Carole McClellan; and Kathryn Degginger, a mother, lawyer and wife of Bellevue Councilmember Grant Degginger. She walked down the runway in a gown designed by J
ustin Zachary Bartylwhile her two sons, Danny and David, cheered her on.

University of Washington program director
Yvette Moysaid having something designed for her by Elizabeth Robertswas restorative, to say the least.

“I feel pretty in it,” she said, of her jacket and skirt combination. “And after you’ve had cancer, you don’t look pretty. It takes a while to become alive again. It takes a long time to come back.”

Preview party

“This is kind of a change for us,” Jake Groshongsaid from the stage of the Moore Theatre the other night. “We used to have a little theater in the basement of a noodle house.”

Well, noodles no more. The Balagan Theatre, which Groshong founded, has teamed up with the Seattle Theater Group and will be performing some of its upcoming season at the Moore — which is why the Balagan held a free season preview party there the other night.

Along with performances from some its upcoming shows, Groshong and new artistic director Louis Hobson called in some old friends to christen the stage, Balagan-style.

So there was Jerick Hoffer (a Balagan basement veteran who is off to New York to perform “The Vaudevillians” with partner Richard Andriessen
) performing as his alter-ego, Jinkx Monsoon, the latest winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

She did her own sequel to Ibsen’s masterpiece “A Doll’s House,” calling it “A Doll’s House II: Electric Bugaloo,” and acted out a hilariously gutsy version of the disco classic, “I Will Survive,” then came back to do “The Origins of Love” from “Spring Awakening,” which Hoffer performed at the Balagan.

Hobson did a stunning version of “Bring Him Home” from “Les Miserables” (coming to the Balagan this season!) before introducing his “Next to Normal” co-star and Tony Award-winner Alice Ripley. (She will be performing in “Carrie” at the Balagan.)

Ripley sang her signature “Next to Normal” song, “I Miss the Mountains” before picking up a guitar and performing the “Tommy Suite” from “Tommy,” her first Broadway show in 1991.

“It’s taken me this long to learn ‘Pinball Wizard’ on the guitar,” she cracked, then invited the crowd to “drink wine in the streets” afterward.

“Isn’t that what you do here?”

Well, the word “balagan” means “Chaos; crazy, beautiful chaos,” Groshong said. “Then we do get it together and it’s beautiful.”

Celebrating Martha

Martha E. Harris has been gone to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for eight months now, but Madison Park still mourns the woman who wasn’t just a florist but a force.

On Monday at 11 a.m., the neighborhood will “Celebrate Martha!” by dedicating a garden to her in Triangle Park. Bing’s will host a wine reception after, and certain neighborhood businesses (look for the ones with white and green balloons) will donate part of the day’s proceeds to Martha E. Harris Fund for cancer research at the Swedish Medical Center Foundation.

Cactus is also serving a “Martharita,” which will also benefit the foundation. I couldn’t track down what’s in it, but I bet it will put a bloom on you.

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

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