All About Margo

APPLAUSE at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket.

The London critics to a man have sung the praises of Lauren Bacall for her appearance in the musical APPLAUSE, and I can but echo their comments. It is difficult to find any new adjectives not already showered on her, and I am grateful that for once the original star of a Broadway show has graced our shores. We’ve missed out in the past on seeing the original ‘Dolly’, and of course Merman in ‘Gypsy’, but here after a two year wait is the Margo Channing we’ve heard so much about.

Bacall first burst upon the screen in a Hemingway story titled TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT and was instantly hailed as a promising new star. In those days everybody quite rightly ‘The Look’. With her provocative eyes and smouldering sexuality she delivered lines such as ‘If you want anything, just whistle’ to perfection.

In her earlier films she didn’t always get the chance to prove her worth as an actress, appearing more as a ‘personality’, but when Fox gave her the role of a cynical gold was tagged with a ‘nickname’ and hers was digger in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE she came into her own, making a perfect contrast to those two dumb blondes Monroe and Grable. Later in Metro’s DESIGNING WOMAN she again had a role worthy of her talents, and I was hopeful that she might appear more often in this type of sophisticated comedy.

However, her appearances became less frequent, though her last one in THE MOVING TARGET (alias HARPER) proved that she had lost none of her talent for delivering witty dialogue. I bless whoever had the idea of bringing her to the stage to portray Margo Channing, as I truly can’t imagine anyone else doing the role as well as her.

The Mary Orr story THE WISDOM OF EVE is supposedly based on an incident in the life of Elizabeth Bergner, famous European star of the 30’s. When Fox purchased the story, Joseph L Manckiewicz re-worked the script, basing it on Tallulah Bankhead and incidents that occurred when she starred in a Broadway play.

Claudette Colbert was the original actress chosen to play Margo, but when she fell ill, Bette Davis replaced her and went on to score one of her greatest triumphs. ALL ABOUT EVE received a total of 14 Academy Award nominations and won seven Oscars. The film has become a favourite with movie buffs everywhere and is up there with the big money makers of all time.

I am surprised that it took so long for its conversion into a musical as the plot lends itself so well to musical numbers. Comden and Green are responsible for the book, and these clever writers have already given joy to theatre and cinemagoers with their writing. Their book incorporates a lot of the original film script plus many funny new lines. There is a noticeable effort to remind the audience that this is a NOW show. For example at one point we are treated to the sight of the derrieres of 3 of the chorus boys, and there’s even a mention of Screw magazine thrown in for good measure.

The character of Eve is a complex one, part Cinderella and part Wicked Witch. The one flaw I found with both film and show is that I felt these show business people would never be taken in by her for one moment. Ann Baxter’s subtle performance managed to overcome this fault admirably. I’ve met a few Eve Harringtons in my life (believe me you don’t have to be a Broadway star to come across them) and one can’t always spot them in the beginning. In this show Angela Richards is most believable in the role of Eve – she is all sweetness and light for just the right amount of time (perhaps a longer period than in the film) before she shows her true colours. In her last big scene near the end where she sings ‘One Halloween’ she really lets loose, and we see the tigress hidden just below the surface.

Ken Walsh as the hairdresser is the only one who is on to Eve’s tricks from the beginning, and he is a valuable asset to the show. Sheila O’Neill scores well, as she does in every show, with her vivacious singing and dancing of the title song, and later in ‘She’s No Longer A Gypsy’. I wasn’t too struck by the choreography, having to agree with a friend who remarked that each routine ended with ‘Good Friday arms’.

The music by Charles Strouse is unmemorable, but in several instances I was noticeably pleased with Lee Adam’s lyrics, especially in Bacall’s cynical first act closer, ‘Welcome To the Theatre’.

As for Lauren Bacall herself, I can only reiterate and borrow from Miss Stein – “A star is a star is a star” … Her curtain call at the finale was ‘something else’ – standing triumphantly on an empty stage in a shimmering black dress she looked like a million dollars — and rightly deserved the bravos from her audience.

Theatre For Christmas

Someone in the editorial collective decided it would be a nice idea if I would select what I thought were suitable shows for our readers to see at Christmas, as that’s the time of year a lot of folk take an occasional visit to the theatre. Firstly take into consideration that we go to press 3 weeks before the actual Christmas week so do check the daily papers to ensure the show you wish to see is still running.

Now it rather depends on the type of show you want to see, and who you are going to take along (if anybody) so I’ll try and categorise those that I consider the best ones.

If you are considering taking along a parent, aunt or anyone approaching middle age, settle for GONE WITH THE WIND at Drury Lane Theatre which has enough glamour to appeal to them, or if you feel a straight play would be preferable I suggest one of the following:

LLOYD GEORGE KNEW MY FATHER at the Savoy Theatre which is a light comedy not likely to offend anyone, and skilfully played by Celia Johnson and Sir Ralph Richardson. Another safe bet is CROWN MATRIMONIAL at the Haymarket Theatre which is the story of Edward VIII’s abdication and would especially appeal to people over 40 who can recall the era when this story took place, and THE DAY AFTER FAIR* at the Lyric Theatre stars the lovely Deborah Kerr in a charming romantic drama.

There are quite a few shows that you can take a child to and that won’t bore you in the process. TOAD OF TOAD HALL is playing at the Jeanette Cochran Theatre, ALICE IN WONDERLAND performed by 10 foot puppets at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate sounds interesting, and a new musical version of THE WATER BABIES is due at the Cambridge Theatre, starring Neil Reid of ‘Opportunity Knocks’ fame, with music by John Taylor, the talented composer of ‘Charlie Girl’.

If just you are involved in this theatre trip then let me first mention what is still, in my opinion, the best straight play in town, THE PHILANTHROPIST at the Mayfair Theatre. This forerunner of ‘Butley’ is also set in a college and is likewise all about one of the ‘losers in life’ and it’s an extremely enjoyable evening. Certainly the next best production in town must be LONDON ASSURANCE* at the New Theatre. If you fancy a ‘period piece’ and enjoy first class ensemble playing, this cannot be bettered. My third choice for straight theatre is undoubtedly PRIVATE LIVES at the Queens Theatre, for its witty script and star performance by Maggie Smith, but whether or not you’ll be able to get a seat is another matter entirely.

Which leaves us with the musicals and one revue. HULLA BALOO* at the Criterion Theatre is a fun evening and Rogers and Starr with their blue tinged material will give you a lot of laughs. The two religious musicals are still with us: GODSPELL* at the Wyndhams which I found delightful, and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR at the Palace Theatre, which I didn’t care for but everyone else did so I might be wrong. THE DIRTIEST SHOW IN TOWN* is still running at the Duchess Theatre and though I missed a few of the jokes along the way I found it at all times enjoyable. APPLAUSE at Her Majesty’s Theatre is hard to get tickets for, but worth the effort to enjoy Lauren Bacall’s star presence, and as we go to press Tony Newley’s latest musical THE GOOD OLD, BAD OLD DAYS is about to open at the Prince of Wales Theatre and if the score is anything to go by ought to be worth the visit.

One last word regarding theatre prices which are getting higher each year. If you really find front stalls too expensive, but don’t care to be sitting a mile away, I can recommend the back dress circle at those shows marked * as not being too expensive and not too far away. Also the back stalls at Mayfair Theatre for THE PHILANTHROPIST are inexpensive and of course both the Jeannetta Cochran Theatre and Mercury Theatre with their children’s shows are reasonably priced.