For the past two weeks at the aptly titled Queens Theatre a 70 year old woman has been holding packed audiences spellbound nightly, and on 4 occasions twice nightly. The orchestra plays a medley of the tunes associated with her and finally she appears from the wings, immaculately gowned with a huge chinchilla coat almost carelessly draped around her. Her opening song ‘Look me over closely’ is an invitation that everyone in the audience takes up. We all looked closely, some through their opera glasses and those of us with the cash to sit in the front stalls could see with our own eyes that all was well, that the face looked exactly the same and the legend was still intact.
Marlene then spoke of her early days in films, how she auditioned with an American song, won the role of Lola and ended up in Hollywood. In this segment she gave us Porter’s ‘You’re the Cream in my Coffee’, ‘My Blue Heaven’, the rollicking ‘Boys in the Backroom’ and her song from ‘Stage Fright’ ‘The Laziest Gal in Town’. Strutting arrogantly to the wings she discarded her coat and returned to give us one of her best performed songs that evening ‘When The World Was Young’. I have seen this song performed many times but never so movingly, and perhaps this is part of the secret that she knows how to think and feel a song so well.
Her selection continued with ‘Go Away From My Window’, her touching version of ‘I Wish You Love’, the sombre ‘War ls Over’, a quite terrible ‘Boomerang Baby’ which bored me last time she sang it in London, ‘La Vie En Rose’, and ‘Sentimental Journey.’ By this time the audience was so involved that when she announced the song from ‘The Blue Angel’ people were calling out various titles until she corrected them, announcing the rousing ‘Lola’.
‘Don’t Ask Me Why’, ‘Marie’, ‘Lilli Marlene’ and Seeger’s ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ are all songs she used last time in London but somehow nobody seemed to mind. We were all happy being in the presence of this glamorous star personality. Her version of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ continues to confuse me and if anybody knows the significance of her repeat of the word ‘Rose’ perhaps they’d enlighten me.
When she winds up her 75 minute show with the inevitable ‘Falling In Love Again’ the audience rose to their feet in appreciation. Many people have wondered in the past exactly what it is about Marlene that attracts a predominantly gay audience of both sexes. Certainly on the night I attended there were many young men dashing up to the footlights to throw little posies at her feet and to clutch her hand. The more exhibitionistic of them held her hand for a longer while, some kissing it gallantly. One wonders about this hold she has on both young and old alike. Unlike Garland whose sheer emotional approach to songs was an obvious draw to the gay crowd, Marlene by comparison just stands there almost mockingly saying “take me or leave me – that’s how I am””… Finally you have to satisfy yourself that her attraction is made up of many things, glamour, a certain sense of high camp, but above all supreme artistry.