Quote of the Day: Angela Lansbury

“I mean, there are times when you walk into that dressing room and you think, ‘I can’t do this. I cannot do this.’ And it’s a curious thing: When you sit down in front of that mirror and you pick up that first piece of makeup and you start to apply it – you see how I immediately go under the eyes? First thing! – and suddenly, you transform yourself into that person who is capable of going on stage and delivering that performance. And you do it, and yes, you can. Yes, I can! Yes, I can!”

“I’d like to do one great movie before I pass along the way,” she said. “I don’t know what it’ll be. But I think there’s one out there somewhere.”

Angela Lansbury, in her sit-down interview with Katie Couric on CBS Sunday Morning.

Angela Lansbury in "Dear World"

When discussing the musical theatre career of Angela Lansbury, sometimes Dear World gets lost in the shuffle amidst the more popularly received Mame, Gypsy and Sweeney Todd. The musical adaptation of Jean Giradoux’s play The Madwoman of Chaillot brought Lansbury her second of four Tonys for her work in musicals.

The new musical reunited Lansbury with her Mame team, with Jerry Herman supplying the score and Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee writing the book. However, those expecting another Mame were in for a surprise. The show is a delicate story about an eccentric woman in living in Paris, fighting greedy businessmen who wish to drill for oil in her beloved neighborhood in Paris. Hopes were high for a repeat success, with Lansbury signing another two year contract and producer Alexander Cohen sparing no expense in bringing the show to life.

The play was a poetic satire that just didn’t translate well to the musical stage. There was trouble out of town as the show went through three directors (Lucia Victor, Peter Glenville and eventually Joe Layton) and negative reviews poured in. One of the major problems with both the musical and its source material was a decided lack of plot. Another reason was that the light play was being turned into a big Broadway musical.

Trouble continued during New York previews, where there were 49 of them after several opening night postponements. Finally, after critics told the production they would just review it anyway, the musical limped open to mostly negative reviews. The show managed to eke out an official run of 132 performances at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. The general consensus was that the musical was of inferior quality, but that leading lady Lansbury as the Countess Aurelia was stunning.

For the most part, the score is quite incredible. However, it was done in by some huge production numbers. The act one finale “Dear World” was an attempt to cash in Jerry Herman’s blockbuster success with a title song, which was at odds with the show’s story and style. “One Person” was another similarly big, brassy way to bring the show to a close. However, Lansbury stopped the show cold with her act one waltz “I Don’t Want to Know,” stunned with the devastating “And I Was Beautiful” late in the second act and took part in one of the most impressive musical scenes written by Mr. Herman, “The Tea Party” in which Aurelia and her two closest madwomen gather to take action but get lost in their memories and delusions. When the score is light and delicate, it is more in tune with the nature of the original play.

For what its worth, a film version of The Madwoman of Chaillot was released that same year starring Lansbury’s good friend Katharine Hepburn. It too was dismissed by critics and audiences. However, Lansbury’s Tony-winning performance is still well-regarded by those who managed to see it. The score is worth checking out on the original cast album, as there is much to enjoy with Lansbury and her ensemble (her support was Jane Connell, Carmen Mathews, Kurt Peterson and Milo O’Shea). Once you hear Lansbury’s “And I Was Beautiful,” you will never forget it.

As for the failure, Lansbury assigned blame to herself saying that audiences were expecting another Mame. But given her reception in the part, it seems very clear that she was the least of the show’s troubles. The creators have continued to revise the score, with a chamber production that played at Goodspeed in 2000. There was also a late 90s workshop at Roundabout with Chita Rivera as Aurelia, and supported by Madeline Kahn. But neither of those have had any continued life. I do think that Encores! should eventually get around to presenting it in their season.

Here is some silent video footage of the original production, set to a live recording of the title song:

‘Cause That’s How Young I Feel

Angela Lansbury, an icon of film, television and especially theatre, is celebrating her 84th birthday today. The actress is in the middle of a second coming on Broadway. After a 25 year absence, she returned to NY and live theatre with three shows opening in as many years, winning a record-tying fifth Tony Award for her crowdpleasing performance in last season’s Blithe Spirit.

Starting this winter she will be seen as the droll, disapproving Madame Armfeldt in the first Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music with Catherine Zeta-Jones. This will mark Angela’s first appearance in a Broadway musical since the 1983 revival of Mame, and her fourteenth Broadway credit.

We are so very lucky to have this international treasure still creating magnificent work, with no signs of stopping or slowing down. In honor of her birthday, I think it’s appropriate that we should take a look at Angela, in the ’83 Mame, stopping the show with “That’s How Young I Feel.” Enjoy:

Isn’t it rich…?

One of the worst kept secrets in recent months has been the casting of the first-ever Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim & Hugh Wheeler’s Tony winning A Little Night Music. Murmurs of Angela Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt have been swirling since the beginning of the summer (if not before) and the rest of the actors’ names have been leaked out at one point or another. Then last week, Michael Douglas let it slip on Live with Regis and Kelly that his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones would headlining as Desiree Armfeldt. (He immediately mused whether or not he was supposed to say anything).

Well, it’s been announced that the musical will open at the Walter Kerr Theatre on December 13, with previews starting November 24. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury will indeed headline the revival, as well as Aaron Lazar as Carl-Magnus, Erin Davie as Charlotte, Leigh Ann Larkin as Petra and the sole holdout from the Menier revival, Alexander Hanson, will reprise his Olivier-nominated turn as Fredrik for NY audiences.

All due respect to the headlining divas, but the most interesting piece of casting is that of Anne Egerman. The role is being portrayed by Ramona Mallory, who is taking on the role created by her mother, Victoria Mallory, in the original Broadway company. It doesn’t stop there: her father is Mark Lambert, who originated the role of Henrik.

I’m always grateful for the chance to see A Little Night Music, but had hoped that the original orchestrations would be reconsidered. The Menier production featured new charts by Jason Carr, who was responsible for eviscerating Sunday in the Park with George to a tinhorn and kazoo. (Hyperbole, yes, but it was the major flaw in that revival). I am loathe to think that Jonathan Tunick’s sumptuous orchestrations will be streamlined by a lesser talent for the sake of cost and size. But beggars can’t be choosers (though I realize I’ve personally yet to see a Sondheim revival on Broadway that used the superlative original orchestration). I quibble, but you know I’ll be there and how!

Tickets go on sale online starting October 17, the Walter Kerr box office opens on October 19. (And of course those with Amex can get them starting September 30).

Original Cast Album: "Mame"

Was introduced to Bleecker Bob’s yesterday afternoon by SarahB. While down to catch the Fringe production of How Now Dow Jones, we found ourselves with some time to browse through the cast album bin ($2 special on many popular favorites). As you may recall, I am a huge fan of record shopping. Not only do I enjoy the browsing, but I am always excited at the potential of finding a forgotten gem. I picked up Ballroom, Shenandoah, Coco, and the original off-Broadway cast of Hair. Now, not only do I like to collect the records, but I also like to play them. I sound older than my 26 years, but there is just something so incredibly satisfying about the sound of the needle hitting the vinyl. So while I played through a few platters, I decided to pop on Mame, just because. What I had never done before was read the back of the sleeve. I discovered here the most amusing artist biographies I think I’ve ever read and thought I’d share:

ANGELA LANSBURY (Mame) can do anything but wrong. She can be the good girl (The Picture of Dorian Gray), the bad girl (Gaslight), villainous mother (The Manchurian Candidate) or Elizabeth Taylor’s sister (National Velvet). Those were films. On stage she has ranged Bert Lahr’s farcical playmate in Hotel Paradiso to the dramatic demands of A Taste of Honey. Her previous musical outing, Anyone Can Whistle, proved that she can handle parades and miracles. MAME proves she can handle anything. And not only sing it, dance it and act it, but wear it, too. And beautifully.

JERRY HERMAN (Music and Lyrics) is a blooming Broadway industry. With four previous scores to his credit (two revues, plus Milk and Honey and Hello, Dolly!) he has a Tony Award, a gold record, a Grammy Award, 1964 citation from Variety as both the year’s “Best Composer” and “Best Lyricist,” and from station WPAT, for the song “Shalom,” a Gaslight award (no connection with Miss Lansbury’s movie). On top fo this he was chosen one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men by the United States Chamber of Commerce in 1965. Yes, he seems to have the knack of things, all right.

JEROME LAWRENCE and ROBERT E. LEE (Authors) began on Broadway with a musical, Look Ma, I’m Dancin’, starring Nancy Walker. But then they wrote a play, called Inherit the Wind, and the success of that classic theater piece kept them thinking in dramatic terms for some time. (Having a work translated into Urdu and Serbo-Croatian and twenty-six other languages can do that). But one of their subsequent plays was a masterful comedy named Auntie Mame from PATRICK DENNIS’ brilliantly funny novel. And now, with the musical MAME, they are bringing it all back home.

SYLVIA and JOSEPH HARRIS and ROBERT FRYER and LAWRENCE CARR (Producers) are a kind of musical Quartet. Each comes to production with significant individual credits. Fryer and Carr produced the original Auntie Mame, Desk Set, Advise and Consent and Gwen Verdon’s Redhead. Sylvia Harris coproduced Make a Million and Tovarich, and her husband Joseph has conquered virtually every known aspect of theatrical business management. Together the four launched their firstborn, Sweet Charity, and resuscitated not only the old Palace Theatre but an entire New York theatrical season. And here they come again.

GENE SAKS (Director) is a reformed actor. Since his first job as director, Enter Laughing, there’s been no time for acting, enviable as his reputation was. In the short time since that smash hit there have been Nobody Loves an Albatross, Generation and Half a Sixpence. In this last he worked with ONNA WHITE, reformed dancer, who has here staged the musical numbers and dances, as she did there. Miss White had previously been applauded for her assignments in The Music Man and Irma La Douce. From the look of it, mutual success makes happy collaborators.

And so we have the Fryer, Carr, Harris, Lansbury, Lawrence, Lee, Herman, Dennis, White, Saks ensemble. Enough to make up one of Mame’s posher, more intimate parties. Cheers!

What’s My Line – Angela Lansbury

Thanks to the Game Show Network, I discovered a lot of old 50s game shows when I was living the life of a night owl at college. However, the one that I always found myself really fascinated with was “What’s My Line,” where a four person panel had to guess the occupation of ordinary folks. The regulars on the show were columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, TV and stage personality Arlene Francis (who brought warmth and charm to the entire series) and publisher Bennett Cerf. Many other stars made guest appearances on the panel, but these three were the mainstays for most of the original run. The host was John Charles Daly (no relation) who moderated all questions.

The special gimmick each week was to have a mystery guest appear on the show. The panelists would be blindfolded and they would have to guess which star was in their midst. Based in NY, the panelists and guests ran the gamut from A-list movie stars to noted politicians and diplomats – practically everyone you could think of appeared on the show during its run, including Eleanor Roosevelt.

For each question wrong, the guest would receive $5, with a limit at $50. For celebrities, their winnings would go to charity. I have to warn you, it’s very easy to get swept up in watching these clips. Sometimes I find myself spending an hour going from one segment to another – just so addicting and a show that I think could still work today, if any daring TV producer decided to revive it.

Anyway, while Angela Lansbury was appearing on Broadway in Mame, she made an appearance as the weekly mystery challenger. Enjoy.

Quote of the Day

Who needs Burn the Floor when Broadway has Angela Lansbury?

“Although it was lacking true star power, the first-night crowd seemed to have more choreographers than you could shake a baton at. If a bomb had fallen on the Longacre, what a boon for Angela Lansbury! She “choreographed” her own trance-dance in Blithe Spirit — and, she said disparagingly, “did it nightly.”

– Harry Haun, Playbill on Opening Night: Burn the Floor

Thoroughly Modern Angie

At the Oscars in 1968, Angela Lansbury, who was in town with Mame, was asked to perform the Oscar-nominated title song from Thoroughly Modern Millie. It was customary at the time that the song’s originator didn’t sing on the telecast, which is why Julie Andrews didn’t do the honors. Many consider this performance to be an unofficial audition for the film version of Mame. Now, if someone could post Mitzi Gaynor’s showstopping rendition of “Georgy Girl” from the year before (apparently the standing ovation led to a commercial break)…

Angela to take Madame Arcati to London?

Well, this is certainly an interesting idea. Will Jayne Atkinson hop over the pond with her? If not, there are two choice roles for Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter to take on…

Here is the article from the Daily Mail:

Angela Lansbury wants to come home to England to make what she believes will be her final stage appearance. The star is eager to bring a production of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit to the West End. She played the phoney old medium, Madame Arcati, with much gusto opposite Rupert Everett on Broadway earlier this year.

But the actress, now in her 84th year, is insistent that the comedy goes to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, and only the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.

The reason? Ms Lansbury’s mother Moyna Macgill was also an actress, and performed on the West End stage, including the Haymarket, in the years before World War II.

Angela has told friends and associates that she doesn’t need to come to London (she certainly doesn’t need the money), but feels it would ‘complete the circle’ if she did Blithe Spirit at the Haymarket as a way of honouring her mother, and ending her stage career on a high note.

Blithe Spirit is a creaky comedy, but Madame Arcati is a bit of a laugh. Whenever Lansbury’s Arcati felt a ‘presence’, she did a dotty dance that changed nightly. At the Tony Awards, she explained her dance depended on how much energy she had that night.

The Haymarket management said it would love to have Blithe Spirit. ‘But it depends on how flexible Miss Lansbury is prepared to be,’ a spokesman for the theatre told me.

The Haymarket is busy with Waiting For Godot, starring Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Simon Callow and Ronald Pickup, which runs until August 9. Anna Friel begins in Breakfast At Tiffany’s on September 9 and that’s scheduled to run until around next February. And there’s talk of The Three Sisters opening some time in 2010.

‘If there’s a slot, we’ll fit Blithe Spirit in. Angela Lansbury would sell a lot of tickets,’ added the spokesman.

Mr Everett, meanwhile, begins filming St Trinian’s: The Legend Of Fritton’s Gold soon and doesn’t plan to do Blithe Spirit in London.