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Category Archives: David Rooney

My Theatrical Marathon

With all the talk of the London Marathon during the month of April, I decided in my own way to do a little marathon of my own, except mine was a Theatrical Marathon, in which I saw 9 shows in 11 days. Starting with:

1. Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard” at the Coliseum Theatre.

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 Glenn Close in “Sunset Boulevard” at the Coliseum Theatre.

She was the main reason that I decided on the Marathon, and to say that she lived up to all the expectations that I had is an understatement. Her performance was brilliant. To my mind she was as good as Gloria Swanson who appeared in the original noir classic in 1950. In fact, Close was even better because apart from being a brilliant actress, she sang, and how she sang! Receiving rapturous applause and ovation after ovation. When I read that the production was to be semi-staged (and I had already bought my ticket), I thought, ‘semi-staged’ Ugh! What is semi-staged? Is it going to be like in concert? How wrong I was! Lonny Price’s brilliant production was spectacular and moody and very creepy, with metal staircases, walkways, and gantry’s covering the whole stage and the most gigantic chandelier ever to grace a London stage.

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Glenn Close as Norma Desmond

The English National Opera Orchestra of 48 musicians were placed across the whole back area of the stage in front of an ever changing cyclorama, and it had to be the most amazing sound that I have ever heard in a musical, something you would only hear at the Royal Albert Hall, and on top of that I had Glenn Close, the Glenn Close. The theatre was packed, that was 2359 people, and you could hear a pin drop. As the story unfolded it was as though I was watching it for the first time, which is some feat considering I have lived with “Sunset Boulevard” since 1950 and Ray Jackson had a complete collection of stills from the original film. I knew the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, but I had not seen the musical. I don’t know why, but I never got round to it. There were many who considered the Lonny Price production the best. I have no comparison, but I know that I had seen the best and if I didn’t see another show it wouldn’t matter. I came out of the theatre on a cloud of euphoria, only to find the traffic in St. Martins Lane at a standstill. There were crowds of people on the pavements and in the road all waiting for Kit Harrington, “Game of Thrones”, to come out of the Stage Door of the Duke of York Theatre opposite the Coliseum Theatre, where he was in previews of “Dr. Faustus”. (I thought that’s number 5 on my marathon list, something to look forward to). But really what were the crowds doing there? I didn’t know that he took his kit off in “Dr. Faustus”.They should all have been lined up at the Coliseum Stage Door waiting to applaud Glenn Close for her triumphant performance in Sunset Boulevard. But as they say that’s Show Business! I knew that I really couldn’t expect too much from the other 8 shows, after all I had just been lucky enough to see the best. You could not top “Sunset Boulevard”.

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Glenn Close and the Coliseum Theatre.

Since writing this Blog, I have found this great review by Johnny Fox which to my joy really confirms all that I have said about this production, and Glenn Close. But also adds a few extra points.

05 April 2016 | On Stage, Theatre & Arts | By: Johnny Fox Review:

Glenn Close Is Blinding In Sunset Boulevard  at the London Coliseum ★★★★★

The night after Imelda Staunton picked up her Olivier award for best actress in a musical in Gypsy, her successor is a rock solid certainty. With such tumultuous reception at the Coliseum, there is no doubt that Glenn Close must win for Sunset Boulevard in which, like Staunton, she plays a deluded and flawed tragic hero of the entertainment business.

That Close is a movie star with a memorable back catalogue playing a silent movie star whose back catalogue has been eclipsed is just the surrealist cherry on her richly iced cake.

Stephen Sondheim began a musical of Sunset Boulevard and it’s fortunate he abandoned it because it’s doubtful he would have orchestrated it with the swimmingly sensual depth of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s homage to the film music by which he’d been enthralled when young, and which may prove his epitaph as the woven, silken fabric of his best work.

The score is the centrepiece of this stripped-down staging in the Grade/Linnet production at the Coliseum, the only residual feature of the ENO company (once its magnificent chorus had been hired then stood down as ‘unsuitable’ to play the ensemble) is the ferociously excellent 48-piece orchestra upstage and centre.

Even if you’re completely familiar with this music, you have never heard it played better. Not only does Michael Reed restrain the tempi and coax the strings to cinematic heights when following the car chase or tenderly underscoring Close’s solos, there’s enough dirty brass to power a Cuban nightclub in support of the upbeat numbers.

Few productions have excited as much anticipatory comment on social media, and even though former Normas Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige are still singing forcibly and chewing scenery at approximately the same age, speculation was rife whether Close would be up to the vocal demands 20 years after she won the Tony.

She is perhaps fortunate that Lloyd Webber sites ‘With One Look’ so early in the proceedings: once she’d hurdled that, confidently staring down the audience with its final crescendo, she was home free.

There’s a break in her range that more experienced singers could have transitioned better, but then they wouldn’t have acted the part with more intelligence.

Close has a wonderful way of undercutting the climax of a set-piece song by almost throwing away the next line. It’s winning.

This Norma is less imperious, often playful or skittish, which sets her up for a credible loosening of her grip on reality. Some of her mood-swings are too crude, but the additional years of experience have given Close an observant perspective on ageing and delusion which she fully transmits to the audience.

You could wish they’d make Norma’s age more accurate. She’s 50. It’s in the script. Gloria Swanson was 50 when she made the film. It’s almost grotesque of the book writer and lyricist to repeatedly suggest she’s ‘ancient’ or beyond the age of sexuality because the pathos is not in her decrepitude but in her elegant reclusive withdrawal, a dethroned queen: in Close’s aching interpretation, a Wallis Simpson of the silver screen. ‬

The original London and Broadway productions both lost money because of the high initial costs including an elaborate rococo mansion set with a realistic swimming pool and gilded staircase on lifts. Here, the grand luxe is represented only by a cluster of chandeliers and the deconstruction makes you focus more on both the strengths of the 1950 Billy Wilder movie and its flawed but fascinating characters, and the weaknesses of the stage book. It enhances the ‘big’ songs and exposes the feebler comic chorus numbers for tailors and beauticians. Clever.

The search for a suitable leading man and foil to play Joe Gillis must have been tough. Someone not so starry as to steal the limelight from Close, and competent enough to carry the dramatic narrative. Not Barrowman, then. Michael Xavier, rescued from old-before-his-time roles like Captain von Trapp is an amazement and a delight. At the curtain call, the audience were on their feet for him before Close even made her bows. His elegant fluidity even as a down-at-heel and slightly desperate writer is so attractive, and he sings conversationally and with feeling, like an effortless charm.

Fully clothed, he is every inch the leading man, and stripped to skimpy Speedos emerging from the orchestra pit ‘pool’ at the top of act two with a washboard stomach and balconied pectorals, he’s hot too. Don’t be late back from the bar.

I’m also including a great write-up from Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s, of Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard.

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Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis and Glenn Close as Norma Desmond, at the London Coliseum, April 2016. Photograph: Richard Hubert Smith

For all the endless dashing around for the newest, edgiest thing sometimes you just have to see the greats do the classics. We watch this eccentric, old silent movie star seduce and manipulate a younger man to feed her fading dreams and also watch him exploit her neediness. God, it’s exciting, dark, sexy and hilarious. Glenn’s first song is called Surrender; she all but floats down the stairs, with an ache in her heart and you can almost feel it in your own. She plays the naivety of a child with the gravitas of a goddess. In the final moments, I turned to look down the aisle to see rows upon rows of wet cheeks and shining eyes. We all left the theatre knowing we’d just shared something very special.

 

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Watch GLENN CLOSE on YOU TUBE.

Glenn Close Preparing for the role Sunset Boulevard at ENO – YouTube

2. “Mrs. Henderson Presents” at the Noel Coward Theatre.

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I should have known after seeing the brilliant “Sunset Boulevard” that I was going from the sublime to the ridiculous. I only wanted to see this show because of my past history. I owned with my partner Ray Jackson the ‘Casino de Paris Striptease Club’ in Denman Street, W.1., the adjoining street to the Windmill Theatre, and it was during the run and the demise of the Windmill. For me they were such happy days, with such wonderful memories. This show did nothing to change my opinion of what the Windmill was and stood for. The corruption with the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, it was all there in the show. The Windmill was tacky, and it came across in the production, perhaps it was meant to show that. But striptease and nudity was my business, and I have to say that at the Casino de Paris we did it with finesse and class

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The obligatory Fan Dance.

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 Jamie Foreman as Arthur (The Comic)

The cast of Mrs. Henderson Presents were good in their own way, and they did the best of what was expected of them, but story-wise there was so much that was missed out, and the music? Forgettable! Maybe I am biased, (I am, I really am!), but when they cast an actor in the role of a comic (which is a breed unto itself) it doesn’t work. The continuity and plot was put into this poor guys’ hands and it really needed a seasoned comic to be able to handle it, and manipulate the audience. But the poor bugger he did his best. Enough said! The sooner I forget about it the better.

3. Sheridan Smith in “Funny Girl” at the Savoy Theatre.

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I was so pleased to be able to get a seat, they were like gold dust, so my expectations were high. Let me first say that I consider Sheridan Smith a brilliantly multi-talented actress whose portrayal of Cilla Black in the TV mini series was superb, and also she sings beautifully, but does she look Jewish? Never in a million years! I blame the miscasting of this lovely actress, on the producers and the director and choreographer.

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Sheridan Smith as Fanny Brice

They made her look and act like an American Hilda Baker, and as for her love interest (it was Cynthia, “She knows you know!”), he was so tall that when they embraced she came up to just below his chest. Which could have been interesting, if it wasn’t “Funny Girl”! “Let My People Come” or “Hair”, yes! But not “Funny Girl”. And he sounded like Vincent Price! So there I am watching “Funny Girl” with a Hilda Baker with an American accent and (Cynthia) Vincent Price. I think that the choreographer must have watched every film and TV that Hilda Baker made, because he gave poor Sheridan Smith all her moves. Didn’t anyone tell them that Fanny Brice, although she could be gross and funny, she had class. And the clothes they gave her! Ugh! The sort of clothes that I imagine Hilda Baker would have chosen. Having to wear them was enough for anyone to take to drink!

11-Funny-Girl-Sheridan-Smith(Cynthia) Darius Campbell, (Hilda Baker) Sheridan Smith, (Mrs.Brice) Marilyn Cutts.

An open letter to Sheridan Smith:

Dear Sheridan Smith,
Write it off as a bad experience. They need you, more than you need them.
You are a truly beautiful, talented and brilliant actress.
Blame the Director, Producers and Choreographer, who trying to ride on the back of your
extraordinary current success, mistakenly cast you into “Funny Girl”
By the way, if they ever decide to make a Musical on the life of Hilda Baker you
Would be a dead ringer!
Yours sincerely,
Eric Lindsay

Behind the Scenes: Funny Girl Fit-Up (Savoy Theatre) – YouTube

That’s 3 down 6 more to go.

4. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at the Lyttelton Theatre.

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This is the first time that I have been to this theatre and what a beautiful modern theatre it is. I had no idea what the play was about, but the Black Bottom was a dance I knew so I thought I’d give it a go and I’m so pleased that I did. Nothing like what I expected, this play with music is so moving that in one part I was nearly moved to tears and choked up. The whole cast was brilliant, except I found that Sharon D. Clarke in her quieter moments difficult to hear. The really outstanding performance was to my mind O-T Fagbenle a wonderful ‘tour de force’, so moving and heartfelt.

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The review by Quentin Letts published in the Daily Mail on the 3rd.February, 2016 says it all far better than I can.

Long-suffering jazz band hits all the right notes: QUENTIN LETTS’ first night review of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
By Quentin Letts for the Daily Mail

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
August Wilson, Royal National Theatre
Rating:
Good play, good jazz, great acting: the Royal National’s new production of ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ hits lots of right notes.
August Wilson’s 1984 play is set in a recording studio in 1920s Chicago. Ma Rainey is a black jazz singer and a frightful prima donna. Her white manager Irvin (Finbar Lynch) spends much of his life saying ‘let me handle this’ as he soothes her tantrums.
Ma is played here by Sharon D Clarke, who could almost have been made for the part. Ma is by turns impossible, brilliant at the microphone and – when she needs to be – sweetly encouraging to her stuttering nephew (Tunji Lucas).

The 1984 play by August Wilson  is set in a recording studio in 1920s Chicago
Miss Clarke sings with her usual smoky power. But the story is not really about Ma, or studio boss Mr Sturdyvant (Stuart McQuarrie).
It is about Ma’s long-suffering band members, one of whom, young-buck trumpeter Levee, refuses to be cowed by her or by convention. All Levee’s cockiness and sex appeal and rage is caught fizzingly by OT Fagbenle.
Mr Fagbenle knows how to play a horn. He can act, too. The tale of Levee’s family left last night’s audience in sudden silence. ( Me too. He is quite brilliant. E.L.)
He is supported by Lucian Msamati as cerebral pianist Toledo, lecturing his colleagues in the duty of all black people to aspire. Toledo talks and talks.
Levee is more a man of action – and makes moves on Ma Rainey’s pretty girlfriend Dussie Mae (Tamara Lawrance). Giles Terera and Clint Dyer are also excellent as the other band members.
A slightly odd set, designed by our old friend Ultz (a railway station in Austria?), has the band’s practice room a long oblong basement, terribly narrow. The studio producers are upstairs in a metal Portakabin-style box which swings on chains.
Does the play have an unsatisfactory sense of justice? Well, that reflects the injustice against black Americans in the 1920s but it arguably leaves the evening less than cathartic.
Director Dominic Cooke extracts such good performances from his cast, however, that you still leave richly satisfied.

National Theatre Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom trailer – YouTube

5. Kit Harington in “Dr. Faustus” at the Duke of York’s Theatre

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Well now I was going to see what it was all about. I have to hand to Mr. Jamie Lloyd he is a visionary and a great director. The production of the Christopher Marlowe Play was brought up to the present day with an adaption by Colin Teevan. Kit Harington spends the whole of the second act in his underpants, which is sure to bring in thousands of his fans from “Game of Thrones” and also quite a lot of the gay community who will be fighting with the fans for front row seats. My admiration to Jamie Lloyd exceeds no bounds. He is astute, clever, commercial and artistic, what more can one have in a director. He rightly deserves his position as Artistic Director of the Jamie Lloyd Company.

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Kit Harington as Dr. Faustus.

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The whole production had the feel of a Jean Genet play, and I expected to see Lindsey Kemp appear from “Flowers”, which was another Jean Genet play, floating about the stage. Kit Harington gives a fine performance as Dr. Faustus, but I felt that there was something lacking in his vocal range of the Marlowe text. But I’m sure this will improve with more classical work. You have to hand it to him, he is star quality as you can see.

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Kit Harington before his shower scene in blood.

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Kit Harington post shower.

Kit Harington Doctor faustus . unchain my heart – YouTube

6. “Kinky Boots” at the Adelphi Theatre.

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I never got to see it when I was in New York last year, so I was very happy that I included it in my Marathon. The film I loved and this musical sticks closely to the plot. The cast are brilliant, the staging unbelievable, it has all the glitz and glamour that you would expect from an American musical with an English plot. If you haven’t seen it, go! go! go!  You will love it.

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Killian Donnelly, Amy Lennox and Matt Henry “Kinky Boots”.

UK – Kinky Boots the Musical – Trailer 2015 – Adelphi Theatre – YouTube

7.  Uzo Aduba, Zawe Ashton in “The Maids” at the Trafalgar Studios.

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Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant!

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By now you must gather that I think that Jamie Lloyd is the bees knees, and you are right! What a brilliant director he is. To be able to invoke such terror and excitement into a play is something I have never in all my years’ experience in the theatre seen before. This play is so powerful and the performances of both Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton so exceptional, that I doubt that I will ever see such class acting again in my lifetime. To ask me to say which was the stronger performance, I am at a loss because the magnetism between them both was equal and if awards were to be given and there was only one, split it in half, equal, equal. Or go to the extra expense and have another made, like an Olivier. They deserve it.

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Zawe Ashton and Uzo Aduba

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Uzo Aduba

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Laura Carmichael, Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton

The stage set was an open ended 4 poster bed, so that you had a mirror image of another audience sitting watching the play unfold on the other side of the stage. But, they were for real. It is important that I explain this, as it is integral to what I have to say. So that although the theatre is so versatile it can be in the round, or 4 sided. This time it was 2 sided facing one another, with the stage in the centre. Maybe I haven’t explained it too well but the following photos may explain it better. At first I couldn’t believe that the people sitting facing me were real, until I saw a rather large fat lady who was sitting front row in the centre isle with a gentleman friend, drinking what I took to be wine from a very large plastic glass. So the play has started and the drama unfolds, it ran, I think, for 90 minutes with no interval. At odd times I would see the lady sipping the wine, but I was so caught up in the play that it did not really distract. After about half an hour into the play, I caught sight of her refilling the glass from a bottle in her bag, and by this time the wine was beginning to take effect. She was slowly sliding down in her seat and her head was beginning to loll. It finally finished up on her gentleman friend’s shoulder and she must have fallen asleep. Meanwhile the drama is unfolding and being in C Row centre, I was literally in the play and enjoying every moment of it. Much later I caught sight of her fidgeting and moving around in her chair and of all things she takes her phone out, and starts texting and the light from the phone is going on the stage. We are reaching the pinnacle of the play, High Drama! She has meanwhile fallen asleep again with the phone still switched on in her lap and the light still on. No-one on her side of the theatre said a word. What was the matter with them? Were they all asleep or just dummies? No usherette or management came to scold her and take the phone away. Meanwhile Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton are acting their tits off, and that stupid bitch was allowed to sit there and no-one admonished her. I just cannot believe that people can be so rude. But then with all that was happening, and the high drama on stage, it made a very memorable night for me in the Theatre, and every time I think about it, I see the funny side of the whole situation.  She was a light relief with such high drama.Thank you Drunken Fat Lady!

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This is what it looked like, before the play started, so I had no idea that there was another audience facing me.

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If you look closely, to the back of this photo.  This it what I saw from my seat in C Row Centre and the drunken fat lady was siting facing me, front row centre isle at the back of the stage.

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Uzo Aduba, Laura Carmichael, Zawe Ashton.

The Maids Vox Pops – Trafalgar Studios – ATG Tickets – YouTube

 

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Uzo Aduba

Here is another interview with the fabulous actress       Uzo Aduba.

Our Interview with Uzo Abuda from The Maids – YouTube

Here is an interview with the brilliant Jamie Lloyd, about “The Maids”.

Interview with director Jamie Lloyd about The Maids – YouTube

8. “Nell Gwynn” at the Apollo Theatre

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This was one glorious romp from beginning to end. Such wonderful Theatre, in such a beautiful theatre.

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APOLLO THEATRE INTERIOR

Nell Gwynn at the Apollo Theatre – YouTube

9. Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon in “The Painkiller” at the Garrick Theatre.

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“THE PAINKILLER” with Kenneth Branagh and Rob Rydon

A Farce by Francis Veber and adapted by Sean Foley. Why is it that the French are Masters at writing Farce?  For example, Feydeau, Moliere and Labiche and now we have Francis Veber. Well first you need a simple but clever plot of mistaken identities, and lost virtues, a split stage showing maybe 2 or 3 rooms. Plenty of very solid doors for running in and out and slamming. Windows for climbing out and maybe coming in, and a cast of master actors. Well, with “The Painkiller” you have just that. It was a laugh from beginning to end.

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Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon.

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Rob Brydon, Kenneth Branagh and Mark Hadfield.

Well that is the end of my Theatrical Marathon, and it was so varied, and great fun. I thoroughly enjoyed every one. Okay, there were a few that I didn’t think came up to standard, but all in all the Theatre in England is wonderful. Remember that the criticism’s are mine alone, maybe you don’t agree with me, but I have tried to be fair. Stay happy. E.L.

 

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She Was Oddly Beautiful: An Homage To Elaine Stritch

SHE WAS ODDLY BEAUTIFUL 

ELAINE STRITCH 15MILLION $ PHOTO

 ELAINE STRITCH

1925 – 2014

ELAINE STRITCH hit the Broadway lights in 1946 and has since been the toast of Broadway and the West End.

Albert Einstein once said, “Never memorize something that you can look up.” So I’ve done just that; half of what I am now writing is from memory past and the rest I’ve just looked up!

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Elaine Stritch sings “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” Her unique singing voice was once affectionately compared to a car shifting gears without the clutch.

I was saddened by the news of the death of Elaine Stritch, a performer par excellence; and it brought back the memory of when I first saw her on stage in “The Time of the Barracudas” at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco in 1963. This was prior to its opening in Los Angeles and then onto New York.  (Which, as fate would have it, never happened).

I hadn’t a clue who she was, the only name that meant anything to me was Laurence Harvey, her co-star, who I knew from London when I was 20. So I went to see the show with Ray and my cousin Adrienne, who happened to live in San Francisco.

I was looking forward to seeing the play because I hadn’t seen Larry for many years and now of course he was a big star. We had met originally at Roehampton Swimming Pool when he asked me whether he could take a shower with me? Enough said!

I used to go to Roehampton with my girl friend Pamela Bevan, who was in ‘Diamond Lil’ at the time, and so we became and stayed friends with Larry up until the time he was with Hermione Baddeley when she was performing in cabaret at Ciro’s Club, a chic nightclub in Leicester Square. He was introducing her act and doing the odd sketch with her. He was also living with her and ‘schtuping’ her at the same time. She was twice his age. As I said before, she liked young men.

Laurence Harvey was on his way up and I was still just a poor actor working in the West End and getting ready to do the No.1 tour of “Tobacco Road” playing Dude the lunatic son. Somehow I could never get away from playing lunatics! Do you think it was in my genes?

We met at the ‘White Room,’ a drinking club in Denman Street. W.1. for drinks and a chat. He introduced me to Hermione Baddeley, who I was thrilled to meet, and we talked about various things that we were doing; and that was last I saw of him!

Much later, I think it was in the early 70s in Los Angele, Ray and I were having dinner with Hermione Baddeley and Lady Mary (I haven’t a clue what her other name was). Avery Van Arthur and his mother Miss Dodie were our hosts. After looking at the menu, Hermione said, ”I think I shall risk the halibut. It can’t be too awful, can it? After you’ve lived with Laurence Harvey, nothing in life is ever really too awful again.” That’s enough said about Hermione Baddeley!

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Elaine Stritch

The play “The Time of the Barracudas” was marvellous and Elaine Stritch was mind blowing. She had such comedy and such talent and looked so wonderful. As for Laurence Harvey he was really awful, his performance was a nothing!

One of the critics said in his review of the play;

‘The director has decided to direct most of the play with Elaine Stitch having to have her back to the audience. I can tell you that this critic would rather look at Elaine Stritch’s back than Laurence Harvey’s front!’

After a notice like that, what could she do? The leading lady quit and her complaint was her co-star. “If I told you some of the things that son of a bitch has done to me, you wouldn’t believe it!” she said. “This play has been the most horrible experience of my life.” Of course, Laurence Harvey hadn’t a kind word to say about Elaine.

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Elaine Stritch and Laurence Harvey

After walking out of “The Time of the Barracudas,” she tended bar for five months. Seven years later, she was nominated for a Tony for Company. “I’d just as soon not be nominated for awards,” she once said. “I want to win. If you can’t let me win, don’t nominate me.” 

Elaine was not the only person to regret working with Laurence Harvey. Jane Fonda said, “Acting with Harvey is like acting with yourself, only worse!” Lee Remick similarly regretted working with him, “The tales I can tell of working with him are too horrendous to repeat!” And so it went on. 

Frank Sinatra’s nickname for Laurence Harvey, according to his valet George Jacobs, was “Ladyboy.” It was well known in the business that James Woolf, who co-owned Romulus Films with his brother Sir John Woolf, was in love with Harvey. He had put his protégé into film after film, all of which had flopped, until he bought the film rights to John Braine’s bestseller Room at the Top, contracted the great Simone Signoret to play opposite Harvey, and finally made his lover a star. But Harvey kept marrying to further his career. Larry’s whoredom was so blatant it was disarming. After living with Hermione Baddeley, he married Margaret Leighton who was six years his senior. When that marriage finished he married Joan Cohn, the widow of Harry Cohen, the managing director of Columbia Studios. Throughout all of these career marriages, he still strung Jimmy Woolf along. Noel Coward once commented on Harvey’s unhappy marriage to actress Margaret Leighton; “It really isn’t surprising that homosexuality is becoming as normal as blueberry pie”

Noel Coward and Elaine Stritch backstage after the Broadway opening of Sail Away.

Elaine Stritch and Noel Coward

In 1971, the film critic Alexander Walker wrote about James Woolf:

“He was a rarity in British Films at the time, and would still be so if he were alive today; a man of taste and judgement who loved craftsmanship and supported a director instead of suffocating him or using him as a surrogate talent for the film he himself would have liked to direct had he dared. He was an obsessional filmmaker, loving the wheeling and dealing, relishing the juggling with human talents that it involved, and taking pleasure in spotting youthful ‘proteges’ and promoting their careers, thereby gaining a vicarious satisfaction from their success that was lacking in his own basically lonely nature. James Woolf was gay and the lover of Laurence Harvey.”

I may lose the plot sometimes and wander off in a tangent as a name crops up and I remember an amusing story. Please forgive me dear reader, but I shall always return to the plot sooner or later.

 

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Under the headline “Actress Elaine Stritch, ‘Her Own Greatest Character,’ Dies At 89,” National Public Radio journalist Elizabeth Blair wrote, “Elaine Stritch — one of Broadway’s boldest and brassiest performers — has died. With that gravelly voice — and those long legs — and the utter command of the stage, Stritch was a bona fide Broadway star. Not as a classic leading lady, necessarily, but as the hardened-yet-vulnerable performer audiences couldn’t forget. Stritch died of natural causes Thursday morning at her home in Birmingham, Mich. She was 89.”

In an interview with Stritch in March 2014, National Public Radio’s Scott Simon observed that the stage and screen legend “may be her own greatest character.”

In a career that stretched back to the 1940s, Stritch did it all: theater, TV, movies. She was nominated for several Tony Awards and won three Emmys. She starred in the 1961 Noel Coward musical Sail Away and the 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical Company. (With her performance of  “Ladies Who Lunch,” Sondheim said, Stritch turned what he thought was “just a simple saloon song” into a “piece of theater.”)

Stritch was born in Detroit, where her father was a rubber company executive. She was raised Roman Catholic and when she first moved to New York City, she went to a finishing school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. Years later, Broadway producer Hal Prince said Stritch had “the guts of a jailbird” but “the convent girl is still there.”

It’s been said that Stritch could always play older than she really was. She was 20 when she sang Zip in Pal Joey, but Stritch herself said she looked 40. She had a terrific sense of humour about her looks — and her age. In 1988, Stritch told National Public Radio’s Susan Stamberg that she didn’t mind the word “aging” at all.

“It applies to everyone,” she said. “I saw a kid 16 on the street and he was aging. We’re all aging but somehow the press loves to say it when you’re over 40.”

Stritch was candid about everything — her age, her alcoholism, her diabetes. In her book Am I Blue?: Living with Diabetes and, Dammit, Having Fun! she wrote about being diagnosed with the disease at the peak of her career.

“More than with any other condition I know of,” she wrote, “the diabetic simply has to understand the nature of the illness and become intimately involved in treating it.” But with her trademark wit she also said: “Diabetes is great because I can say, ‘My blood sugar is off. I have to go.’ “

In 2002, when she was in her late 70s, she launched a Tony Award-winning, one-woman show called Elaine Stritch at Liberty. She continued performing well into her 80s. In 2008 Stritch won an Emmy — her third — for her role as character Jack Donaghy’s mother on NBC’s 30 Rock.

Stritch once said, “I just pray that I can be at least amusing.”

And was she ever. 

Tina Fey said of Elaine Stritch, “Elaine was a ‘tough old bird,’ but I suspect she may have been a ‘tough old bird’ since birth, I loved her voice, her timing, her stories and her natural elegance.”

“One day she was wearing a beautiful butterfly cocktail ring, and when I admired it, she gave it to me on the spot – like an Arab sheik in black pantyhose. I feel very lucky to have worked with her as much as I did.”

ELAINE STRITCH 3 SOME PLUS 2

Tina Fey, Elaine Stritch and Alec Baldwin

 Alec Baldwin said,  She was just the funniest damn woman you’d ever met in your lives. So, there you have it!” Baldwin, meanwhile, took to Twitter Thursday to remember Stritch – and hinted that things in heaven are about to get a whole lot more interesting. “I’m sure that even God is a bit nervous right now,” he wrote. “I love you, Elaine.”

Alec Baldwin on his friendship with Elaine Stritch: “No one was funnier and had better timing than Elaine. I just sent Tina [Fey] an email yesterday saying I’ll always be grateful to you for casting Elaine as my mom, because she would walk in there and we just had to stand back and get out of her way and the rest of it would take care of itself.”

ELAINE STRITCH LIGHTS

Performing Arts Elaine Stritch was an American actress and singer who had a net worth of $20 million dollars. Elaine Stritch was born in Detroit, Michigan, and went on to study theater at New School University. Some of her classmates at the theater school included future acting legends Marlon Brando and Bea Arthur. She made her professional acting debut on stage in the mid-1940s, and then made her Broadway debut in the 1946 production of “Loco”. She went on to appear in multiple Broadway and National touring productions, including “Call Me Madam”, “Pal Joey”, “Sail Away”, and “Company”. She began her film and television career in the late 1940s, and went on to appear in such projects as “The Scarlet Hour”, “A Farewell to Arms”, “The Spiral Staircase”, “Cadillac Man”, “Screwed”, “Autumn in New York”, and “Monster-in-Law”. She has been nominated for multiple awards, including five Tony Awards. She won one for her one-woman show, “Elaine Stritch at Liberty”. She has also been nominated for eight Emmy Awards, and has won three. To younger audiences, Elaine Stritch is probably most widely recognized for her Emmy-award winning recurring role as Jack Donaghy’s mother Colleen on the NBC sitcom “30 Rock”. Elaine died on July 17, 2014 at the age of 89

ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY NO.1

Now we see how At Liberty, the amazing one-woman show Stritch is moving to Broadway from the Public Theater this week, acquired the credit, “Constructed by John Lahr. Reconstructed by Elaine Stritch”. “The reconstruction means I had the last say”, she says. “Damn right I did.” … In case you didn’t notice, Stritch is not the kind of woman who goes in for the sappy self-indulgence that pollutes most one-person shows. In fact, At Liberty is in a class by itself, a biting, hilarious and even touching tour-de-force tour of Stritch’s career and life. Almost every nook and cranny of “At Liberty” holds a surprise. Turns out she dated Marlon Brando, Gig Young and Ben Gazzara, though she dropped Ben when Rock Hudson showed an interest in her. “And we all know what a bum decision that turned out to be”, she says. And then there were the shows. A British writer recently called Stritch “Broadway’s last first lady”, and when you see her performing her signature numbers from Company and Pal Joey and hear her tell tales of working with Merman, Coward, Gloria Swanson and the rest, it’s hard to argue. Especially since she does it all dressed in a long white shirt and form-fitting black tights. It’s both a metaphor for her soul-baring musical and a sartorial kiss-my-rear gesture to anyone who thinks there isn’t some life left in the 76-year-old diva. “Somebody said to me the other day, ‘Is this the last thing you’re going to do?'”, says Stritch. “In your dreams! I can’t wait to get back into an Yves Saint Laurent costume that isn’t mine – but will be when the show is over.”

In recent years, Stritch performed a regular cabaret act at New York’s Carlyle Hotel, where she was a longtime resident. The actress returned to live in her native Michigan in 2013, citing her health. Elaine died on July 17, 2014 at the age of 89.

Elaine Stritch An Appreciation

 by David Rooney 

The Hollywood Reporter’s leading Theatre Critic pays personal tribute to the legendary Broadway performer, whose exacting professional standards were as renowned as her tart tongue and eccentric style. Across the New York Theatre District, marquees will dim their lights on Friday evening in honour of one of the all-time greatest brassy broads of Broadway, Elaine Stritch. But a more fitting remembrance might be for the Theatre Lovers to take to the streets and accompany that symbolic ritual with the final roar of the Stephen Sondheim song most indelibly associated with the beloved performer, who died on Thursday at her home in Birmingham, Michigan, at 89.

Broadway to dim it’s lights in honour of Elaine Stritch.

 

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