by Carol Rocamora
Once again, the Irish Rep shows its flair for on-line theatricality – this time, with the inspired remounting of its lovely Love, Noël at The Players in New York. It’s part of the Rep’s Digital Summer series, and it provides welcome entertainment that’s as close to “live” as we can get these days.
Devised by Barry Day with direction by Irish Rep’s artistic director Charlotte Moore, this loving homage to the late, great Noel Coward premiered at the Rep in July 2019. Through a selection of Coward’s songs, stories, and personal letters, cabaret performers Steve Ross (vocalist, pianist) and KT Sullivan (vocalist) conjure up the many luminaries that made up Coward’s unique life in the theatre.
And now, this rich theatre tapestry has been remounted, filmed at The Players in Gramercy Park, New York, and available for on-line viewing. And what a stately set it provides, to celebrate the life of Noel Coward (1899-1973)! Founded in 1888 by actor Edwin Booth, The Players boasts a grand baronial staircase, drawing rooms filled with theatre memorabilia and artifacts, portraits of great actors (including Booth’s infamous brother), oriental carpets, and deep leather couches. This mammoth historical mansion oozes the grandeur and glamor befitting of Coward’s legendary charisma and charm.
Steve Ross opens the show, descending the grand staircase, and introducing the star of the evening with a quote from Lord Mountbatten (on the occasion of Coward’s 70th birthday): “Painter, novelist, composer, librettist, singer, dancer, comedian, tragedian, stage director, film director, producer, TV star, wit, cabaret artist – 14 people, and only one man combines all these talents.”
As the delightful duo of Ross and Sullivan deliver song after song, letter after letter, anecdote after anecdote, a portrait is revealed of an elegant man, graced with humor, wit, style and an exuberant love of life – “a renaissance man who just happened to live in the 20th century.”
Tales of Coward’s relationships with demanding leading ladies abound, including Gertrude Lawrence, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Elaine Stritch, Lynn Fontaine, – and don’t forget his mother! Sullivan’s imitation of Elaine Stritch (aka “Stritchie”) singing “Why do the wrong people travel”? is especially delicious. So is her imitation of the deep-voiced Marlene Dietrich.
These colorful stories are peppered with Coward’s witty one-liners, such as:
Actress: “Before I make an entrance, I always step aside and let God go first.”
Coward: “I can’t imagine what kind of performance he gave.”
And so on.
But my favorite moments in the evening come from Coward’s celebrated play Private Lives (1930), starring the playwright and the legendary Gertrude Lawrence. The poignant “Some day I’ll find you”, a leitmotif in this 75-minute-long evening, brings a tear to the eye each time it’s sung. (Lawrence and Coward appeared in three of his plays together, and maintained a lifelong friendship).
Sullivan and Ross, a gifted, stylish cabaret duo, perform one Coward gem after the other: “Where are the songs we sung?,” “I like America,” “Mad about the boy,” “You were there,” “I’ll remember her” “We’re a dear old couple who detest one another”, “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington,” etc. Thanks to their tender, loving delivery, we’re given a chance to admire the artistry and wit of this wonderful composer/librettist. Coward’s songs are elegant, funny, poignant, sentimental, wistful and wise – a unique mixture that only can be described as “Cowardesque.”
Moore’s elegant production evokes the glamor of a theatre era gone by that is to be savored. As Coward himself summed it up: “In the end, it was about the people, really – not the places, not the plays, but the people. So many of them, they’re all gone now, of course, ‘time’s winged chariot’ and all that – but we did have a lot of laughs and a few tears… It’s been a marvelous party, and I couldn’t have liked it more…”
That quote from Coward, underscored by “I’ll see you again” from his 1929 operetta Bittersweet, provides the perfect send-off of a beautiful life in the theatre.
Love, Noël, an entertainment devised by Barry Day , starring Steve Ross and KT Sullivan, an Irish Repertory Theatre production, now live-streaming at www.irishrep.org