Sally Darling


By Myra Chanin


Everybody whose taste I respect – I believe they number 2-1/2 people at present – told me Sally Darling was wonderful, but I only saw and heard how totally wonderful with my own two eyes and ears when I watched her steal the show during the March 29, 2018 episode of Ricky Ritzel’s Broadway when, as Madame Alvarez, Gigi’s grandmother, guardian and the onetime paramour of bad man about Paris, Honore Lachaille she almost convinced him into trading his glorious bachelorhood with countless and sundry for holy matrimony with only her. Sally Darling and Bob Diamond – where did they find parents with such appropriate last names? — sang the duet to end all duets, “I Remember it Well,” in which Madame Sally showed kindness, compassion and tenderness as she gently corrected every detail her former beloved mis-recalled in a mellow contralto.

Sally Darling has had a long professional career, which started with her playing Anna in the King and I, opposite the Yul Brynner understudy who replaced Brynner over 1000 times on Broadway. Would you believe that that King of Siam often preferred skiing to applause? She’s directed plays and operas, won awards for narrating over 250 books for the Library of Congress also for the Record Books and worked as a coach, but didn’t enter the cabaret scene until 2005 with Paul Trueblood as her music director/accompanist. After Paul’s death, Sydney Myer introduced her to Matthew Martin Ward, her current music director, and she’s been forever grateful to both of them ever since.

When I learned that Sally Darling would be doing a show about Bea Lillie I wanted to see it. At one time Bea Lillie was considered “the funniest woman in the whole world,” and she certainly knew how to perform very amusing, satirical material, written for her by Noel Coward. I actually watched Bea Lillie in the flesh at the Philadelphia Shubert Theatre in 1948 in Philadelphia in a revue called Inside USA. Yes! I am that old! How much do I remember? Not that much because I am that old.



Sally Darling strode on stage to solid applause in a sparkling black slack outfit topped with a glittering satin turquoise shirt and her very own helmet of beautifully trimmed golden hair. When she picked up the mic, I expected to hear the gorgeous mellow contralto I remembered so well from “I Remember It Well.” But Lord have Mercy! what issued forth from her lips instead were exquisite coloratura trills. Sally Darling has an amazingly facile could-it-be three octave range? She started with Dietz and Schwartz – “Nanette” pronounced nah-net-tah followed by their “Paree” spelled and pronounced in that lower-class accent. Both were unfamiliar. I loved them immediately because they had something of which few of today’s unfamiliar songs can boast — a perky up-tempo, memorable melody and lyrics with inner rhymes and witty couplets. The third Dietz and Schwartz offering, actually introduced by Bea Lillie, came two songs later, “O, Leo,” a tribute to a Swiss mountaineer, which when pronounced and sung properly turned into an unanticipated hilarious yodel.

I always thought of Noel Coward’s plays and songs as being about madcap royals and nobles, upward-mobile hangers-on, zany but intelligent Oxford and Cambridge grads, the toffs that kept the lights burning at both ends and played and danced the nights away in London between World Wars. Sally Darling’s singing seven of Noel Coward’s most satirical and most clever songs within an hour changed my desire to have lived in that milieu. To quote the baseborn Weird Al Yankovic, “I’d rather have a 100,000 paper cuts on my lips.”

Coward’s “World Weary,” moved me because it was sad but it was also stupid. “I’m world weary … living in a great big town, I find it so dreary … Everything looks grey or brown.” Coward’s solution was to move to the country, which would have made him equally weary because God only changes the scenery four times a year. The next three Coward masterpieces, beautifully delivered by Sally, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” “I’ve Been to a Marvelous Party,” and “A Bar on the Piccola Marina,” made me laugh out loud sometimes, but …

At the end of Sally Darling’s sensational show, I was exhilarated because the show had been marvelous, but I walked out “fighting vainly the old ennui.” Because I newly appreciated how appropriate the world weariness of the shallow, petty people at those “marvelous parties” was. Noel and Lillie mocked the Englishmen who went out in the midday sun, detested fiestas, described their days as “Home at five, More Dead than alive, … Cocktails to mix, My face and Hair to fix, The Weary round goes on.” The Piccola Marina is where Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster sits, propping up the bar … and crying “Funicula, Funiculi Funic yourself.” All those madcap brits, doing inconsequential things, wasting their lives avoiding the two things that make living worthwhile, which are love and work.

Bea Lillie worked all of her life which was her blessing, even after she married Lord Peel, got herself a title and begat herself a son. Her dissolute husband was unemployed and she had to work to support them. Noel Coward and Bea Lillie were in the group but not of it. They were working class people who had made the most of their talents in a society where work was frowned on. Sally Darling’s depiction of the Beatrice Lillie Oevre was outstanding. And that I left more thoughtful than merry was another plus.