An Open Letter to Emma Thompson

Dear Ms. Thompson,

This past week, I had the unmitigated pleasure of witnessing you make your New York stage debut in the exciting New York Philharmonic concert of Sweeney Todd. I have long been an admirer of your work, ever since I first saw the 1993 film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing in high school. Not long afterward, I fell head-over-heels for your Oscar-winning Margaret Schlegel in Howards Endwhich I stumbled upon on Bravo one weekend, back when that station had a more artistic bent.

In the years since, I have come to admire your work as an actress, writer, humanitarian and activist. Your appearances at awards ceremonies and on talk shows show us a smart, genuine Brit with unfailing wit. You seem like you’d make a great friend as well as the best kind of drinking buddy, but that’s another matter entirely. As someone with a vested interest in musical theatre, I also became aware of your presence in the smash-hit West End revival of Me and My Girl opposite Robert Lindsay, which I acquired immediately and have enjoyed many, many times. (I have also watched a charming video of you singing and tap dancing on a giant LP).

I had seen the acclaimed London revival of Sweeney Todd only two years ago, so I wasn’t entirely bowled over by the NY Philharmonic’s initial announcement. However, when it was later announced that you were going to play Mrs. Lovett, the concert immediately jumped to the top of my must-see list, so much so that I made the early decision to see it twice.

One thing that was certain from the two performances I attended was the great love and affection pouring across the footlights in both directions. For someone who hasn’t appeared in a musical in 27 years, you seemed quite at home and at ease in the role. Mrs. Lovett is nothing if not daunting, with unforgiving musical and dramatic demands, and it was delightful to hear how you used your voice to your best advantage through some of the score’s most difficult passages. I laughed in the most unexpected places, the result of your manic energy, wit, and side-splitting physical comedy. However, you were also very careful to make Mrs. Lovett a real individual, someone who has starved, suffered and been down on her luck. I was mesmerized by you from start to finish.

While I enjoyed myself immensely, I had some quibbles with the production. If I were casting, I would have had Mr. Terfel and Mr. Quast switch roles, and would have cast Mr. Johnson as Tobias. I also missed the organ prelude and certain elements of the book and score (I never realized how much I missed the line “How many bells are there?” until it was gone!) However, it was a thrill to hear Jonathan Tunick’s arrangements so expertly played by the Philharmonic, I could hardly contain my excitement. I was so pleased at what you were able to accomplish with such limited rehearsal time that a few minor problems ultimately don’t matter. For a NY debut, I don’t think it could get more memorable than this.

I do hope that the rapturous reception of your appearance with the Philharmonic will entice you to return to the New York stage, and sooner rather than later. Play, musical, Broadway, off-Broadway; whatever you chose, it would certainly be a welcome experience. Personally, I would love to see you tackle the role of Desiree Armfeldt in A Little Night Music. I think you have the right comic sensibility, depth and voice to play her.  You and Mr. Sondheim suit each other quite well.

Please come back to us soon. In the meanwhile, I look forward to revisiting your performance on the Live from Lincoln Center broadcast.

Warmest regards,

~Kevin D. Daly
Theatre Aficionado (at Large)

Emma Thompson: Musical Theatre Leading Lady

Maryann Plunkett won the 1987 Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in Me and My Girl, but what many might not know is that the role of Sally in the Stephen Fry-Mike Ockrent revisal of the British classic was first played by Emma Thompson in the West End.

The show was a mammoth success in London, besting Les Miserables for most of the awards (most particularly Robert Lindsay’s sweep of Best Actor in a Musical) and running for 8 years.

From the Royal Variety Performance here’s Lindsay and Thompson performing the title song:


They are joined by the company for the rousing “Lambeth Walk”


Emma Thompson wins

As an English major who ended up reading Jane Austen in about five different courses, I’d known of this speech for years. More than one of my professors referenced it in teaching Sense and Sensibility (and other Austen novels). Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson (Howards End and The Remains of the Day for the win), who is one of my favorite performers on the planet, wrote and starred in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, directed by Ang Lee. The film ended up being an enormous success with critics and audiences alike. It is an impeccable adaptation of Austen’s novel and it features a who’s who of British actors: Kate Winslet, in a breakthrough role, Hugh Grant, Hugh Laurie, Alan Rickman (as a nice guy!), Imelda Staunton and Harriet Walter, among others.

The film received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress and Screenplay. It would win one: for Thompson’s screenplay, making her the only person to win Oscars for both writing and acting. Thompson would later win a BAFTA as Best Actress. But it was this Golden Globe speech that year that folks really seem to remember, my professors especially. Dedicating the win to Austen, Thompson proceeds to offer a speech in the style of Austen’s writing, surmising how the author might have perceived the Hollywood Foreign Press event. Enjoy.


Wouldn’t Hugh Be Loverly?

Okay, so that probably goes down as the worst blog title I’ve yet to post. Sue me. But anyway, there was a brief piece in Variety about Oscar-winner Emma Thompson in Variety talking about her current and upcoming projects. First up, she’s got a movie out called Last Chance Harvey in which she stars opposite Dustin Hoffman (earning a Golden Globe nomination in the process). But for those theatre fans out there, she is currently starting work on the screenplay for a remake of My Fair Lady for which they’ve apparently already signed Keira Knightley (blurgh) to play Eliza Doolittle. However, Thompson’s first choice to play Henry Higgins is none other than her old Cambridge classmate Hugh Laurie, who turned in a delightfully understatedly droll supporting turn as Mr. Palmer in Thompson’s exceptional adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. His casting would at least makes this (unnecessary) remake interesting. Seriously, though folks, there should be a full-scale revival of the musical with Kelli O’Hara before any film is brought to theatres. Just my $.02. Your thoughts folks?

The article also states that Thompson is poised to film a sequel to her successful Nanny McPhee, a witty adaptation of Christiana Brand’s Nurse Matilda books (again written by Thompson – is there anything this woman cannot do?) If you haven’t seen this film, get thee to a video store. It draws immediate comparisons to Mary Poppins, but provides an enjoyably fresh take on British children’s literature. Plus, it’s got fantastic supporting turns from Colin Firth, Celia Imrie, Imelda Staunton and Miss Angela Lansbury as Aunt Adelaide, sporting a false nose and finding herself thrust into the middle of chaos during a nuptual food fight gone horribly wrong.

And though Sarah is poised to respectfully disagree with me here, I would really love to see her play Desiree Armfeldt in a revival of A Little Night Music (with Lansbury as Madame Armfeldt, perhaps?)

Emma Thompson to write "My Fair Lady" film remake


‘British actress Emma Thompson has been commissioned to pen a screenplay for a My Fair Lady remake.

The Howards End star won an Oscar for adapting Sense + Sensibility for the big screen and now she’s tackling George Bernard Shaw‘s Pygmalion musical.

But she admits the less-sweet version of the Audrey Hepburn movie musical won’t be completed anytime soon.

She tells Parade magazine, “I’m a Luddite, and I write longhand with an old fountain pen.”

That said, Thompson is the only person to have won Academy Awards for both acting and screenwriting.’

This venture has gotten somewhat interesting, wouldn’t you agree? While the 1964 film adaptation was a colossal success, winning 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture, it appears that many feel the film does not hold up well today. Suffice it to say, given the titles that have been remade recently, I wouldn’t have thought a classic musical would be considered. The film is a bit long, but has plenty of charms (even if I feel that Rex Harrison is phoning it in compared to his performances on the original Broadway and London cast albums), but I miss many of the elements of the stage musical, including the orchestrations of Robert Russell Bennett and especially the exuberant dance arrangements of Trude Rittman. Now, let’s see if they can cast actors who sing well. Thompson is well-established as a writer of exorbitant wit, humanity and charm: the aforementioned Oscar-winning Sense and Sensibility and Nanny McPhee come readily to mind. I’m suddenly very curious to know what comes of this project. Meanwhile, I’m very excited to see Thompson in Brideshead Revisited this summer (Emma Thompson in a British period film? Perhaps it’s time for a Howards End/The Remains of the Day marathon). Now if someone could only get her in a stage production of Night Music, I think I’d be all set 😉