NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Noel And Gertie
Noel Coward was a playwright, screen writer, song writer, director, actor,
producer, raconteur, comedian and TV personality during a life that spanned
74 years from 1899 to 1973. Most of us who can remember him at all remember him from his frequent appearances on TV talk shows at the end of his illustrious career-dissipated, chain-smoking-flamboyant in a Truman Capote sort of way-singing "Mad Dogs And Englishmen" ("go out in the noonday sun") on Ed Sullivan, etc. Very few of us can remember him in his prime, especially razzle dazzling 'em in the old British Musical Halls first as a precocious moppet, where he honed his comic persona and wrote his first tentative songs-actually more like G & S inspired jingles and patter songs--before graduating to the legitimate stage in the twenties.It was in vaudeville where he met his alter ego-in this case most assuredly a female-in the charming persona of Gertrude Lawrence, for whom he wrote two of his most commercially viable comedys, Private Lives and Blithe Spirit and with whom he marked his years and his career.
Sheridan Morely, using Coward's songs, diaries and letters, fashioned them into a musical comedy revue, or review, of this couple's long affiliation and friendship, called Noel and Gertie (presently ensconced at the Southern Repertory Theatre through Jan. 25), directed by, and starring, New Orleans' own answer to Noel Coward, Mr. Ricky Graham, who was most fortunate in securing the services and supreme talents of Liz Argus, arguably New Orleans' finest musical theatre talent. Together, and with the relaxed, confident assistance of assistant director Sean Patterson, Musical Director and Pianist Dane Evans, Choreographer Amanda Zirkenback, Set Designer Robert Self and Cosumers Stephen Rizzo and Roy Haylock, these two theatrical dynamos evoke the long ago eras of WWI, bathtub gin and long cigarette holders, WWII and post Empire with grin-inducing charm and incomparable flair-er-panache!!
Zipping through 18 songs selected from many hundreds, most absolutely obscure, with the exception of "Mrs. Worthington" in the first part ("Don't put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington") and "Sail Away" and "If Love Were All" in the second, Mr. Graham, like a true English Gentleman, defers to his partner at every turn and by doing so displays a generosity of spirit that is most winning-he plays his part straight; that is, he doesn't chew Mr. Self's industrial strength black and silver setting of an art deco nightclub stage with white gossamer backdrop supporting a grand black lacquered piano.
Never having seen Ms. Lawrence, I have heard her on the original cast recording of The King And I. Her vocal abilities were in no way equal to those of Ms. Argus whose bell-clear soprano and insouciant delivery shake out the cobwebs giving these long-forgotten songs a freshness and immediacy that is charming to the "nth" degree.
And when these two marvelous actors, sustaining their Britishness with brio, sink their teeth into extended scenes from Private Lives and Blithe Spirit, Mr. Coward's writing brilliance shines magnificently.
Don't miss this rare theatrical offering from the folks at Southern Repertory Theater.
Director Rene J. F. Piazza, of
Piazza Productions, is look
ing for male and female actors between the ages of 20 - 50 for a production of Tennessee Williams' Small Craft Warnings, "[a] play that deals with a variety of 'lost' people in a westcoast [sic] bar and how they question their own existence, and each others." Auditions will be held Sat., Jan. 24 at Movie Pitchers, 3941 Bienville St., 12noon to 2pm. The play will open in March and run in conjunction with the Tennessee Williams Festival. For more information, call 486.8025.