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Blithe Spirit and Bliss on Broadway

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It was a pleasure to meet Elizabeth Sharland, whose book ‘A Theatrical Feast in New York’ was featured in the October ‘Home Chat’ and the UK guests were delighted to see Steve Ross again, since his triumph in ‘Cocktails and Laughter….. for NCS, at Pizza on-the-Park.  (The photographs of this event were taken by New York member Richard Barclay.) The Museum is situated just off Fifth Avenue so afterwards we strolled along, window gazing and, venturing into Bergdorf Goodman,  bumped immediately into Elaine Stritch in the handbag department, looking in the pink and bright as a button.  She was interested to hear about the flower-laying at the Gershwin Theatre the following day,  having performed the same ceremony for us at Drury Lane, in December 2002. The major event was on Sunday 5th at the Gershwin
Theatre, just off Broadway in the ‘Hall of Fame’, where there is an identical statue of Noël to the one in the foyer at Drury Lane.   Keir Dullea, who appeared with Noël in the film ‘Bunny Lake is Missing’ performed the flower-laying ceremony and was accompanied by his wife, Mia.   Keir told the story of being introduced to Noël, who had greeted him with  “Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow…. “  which, happily, had not been prophetic.  There was an impressive turn out of New York members.   Ken spoke knowledgeably about Noël and about the Society and presented Keir Dullea with a framed publicity poster of ‘Bunny Lake’.   After the ceremony,  we walked a short distance to Rosie O’Grady’s restaurant for lunch in an elegant oak-panelled private room, with piano.   Lots of time to chat over cocktails prior to lunch - well, drinks if you prefer, but this is the Noël Coward Society.  The UK group was delighted to meet Geoffrey Johnson and cabaret singer, Gregory Moore, for the first time and it was good to renew acquaintances with Lynne and Barry Day, Steve Ross and many devoted Coward aficionados. Keir and Mia are a delightful couple and Keir told me that his father had been at the London School of Economics and named him after Keir Hardie.  Keir suggested that we might have a future Coward event on a cruise ship, so watch this space.  Ken presented all the guests with a unique 2005 Coward calendar.  
After lunch we were entertained to a cabaret.  Steve Ross accompanied Gregory Moore, who sang ‘Alice is at it Again’ with new words;  the missing verse being included.  Gregory resembles the young Coward and perhaps he will entertain us at a future event.  They then sang a duet of ‘Matelot’, which was very poignant.  This was followed by Paula Laurence, who performed ‘Nina’ with great panache.   Paula also told a few racy stories, including the one where Cary Grant introduced Noël at an Oscar ceremony and Noël’s delicious comment relating to Cary’s not inconsiderable sex appeal and “be tender with me…. it’s my first Oscar”.   Cathy Gale sang beautifully ‘When My Ship Comes Home’ and everyone joined Steve for a finale of  ‘I’ll See You Again’.
Barry Day had told us that whilst we were in Manhattan, his edited version of ‘After the Ball’ would be opening.  This is Noël’s musical version of ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’.  On Monday 6th we were allowed to watch the final dress rehearsal of the show at the Irish Repertory Theatre in West 22nd Street.  ‘After the Ball’ has an interesting history.  Dominic Vlasto described the difficulties surrounding the original production, in his article ‘Mary Ellis - The Missing Bit of the Obits’ in the August 2003 edition of this magazine.  Written in the early 1950’s, Noël was anxious to repeat the success of his operettas Bitter Sweet (1929) and Conversation Piece (1934) and he thought that Wilde’s play would be perfect material.  “It really is up my musical alley”, he confided to his diary in July 1953 and later added, “The music is pouring out and I can scarce get to the piano without a melody creeping from my fingers, usually in keys that I am not used to and can’t play in;  it is most extraordinary and never ceases to amaze me.” Unfortunately, due to the difficulties which Dominic described in his article, a third of the score had to be sacrificed before the show reached the Globe Theatre on 10th June, 1954, but for this production, the libretto returns to what Barry was able to discover of the original Coward “book” and score and the cut songs have almost all been recreated and restored by John McGlinn.  It is directed and designed by Tony Walton, who, as a teenage art student in London returned to the original production many times, as he says, “partly out of increasing affection for the score and partly due to my delighted bewilderment at the stylised staging.  This was by Robert Helpman, who, presumably inspired by his background in classical ballet - had directed Coward’s operetta on the principle of ‘every little meaning has a movement of its own’”.   Graham Payn, who played Mr Hopper in the original production, recalls that everyone was “bobbing and weaving around the stage like puppets on a string.”  Graham continues:- “at least we were until Noël turned up for his first rehearsal and saw what was going on.  Bobbie was breaking Coward’s First Law of Theatre - give the words their value.  But seeing that the nostrils of our highly strung director were positively flaring, he decided on humour, rather than vitriol.
‘That shouldn’t be called After the Ball at all, he said, “it should be called St. Vitus’ Dance!”.
It was a great joy and privilege to see, this witty, romantic and virtually unknown work and to hear such beautiful music.   The production has been a big success with excellent reviews in the New York Times, News and the New Yorker, so far.   Ken Starrett is organising an NCS visit to the production in mid January, 2005.   Would any fringe theatre producers/directors in the UK (Chichester Festival Theatre?) please take note.  Quite apart from the main Society events, Ken also arranged a series of tours and walks which made the trip to New York unforgettable.  Knowing the history of so many of the theatres on and around Broadway and loving the business as he does, Ken is the very best of guides.  We saw the Bellasco Theatre, where Noël gave his last New York performance in ‘Nude with Violin’, the Henry Miller Theatre  (now with its façade only remaining).  We went to the Dr Rounds’ theatrical digs, where Noël had stayed with the Lunts in 1921, the apartment block on 67th Street, (home of the famous Café Des Artistes restaurant) where he stayed and we visited Washington Square, scene of the anecdote when Noël was espied by a policeman, whilst cooking in a state of undress.  After much research, Ken is fairly certain which particular house in the square is referred to in Coward’s diaries. Prior to the ‘Blithe Spirit’ screening, Yvonne and Richard Thomas and Lisa Foster joined us for a private tour backstage at ‘Radio City Music Hall’, which has been in use continually as a grand showbiz venue, since its opening night in December, 1932.  The venue underwent a $70 million, seven-month restoration project in 1997 and has been returned to the opulence and glamour of its Art Deco beginnings.   Ken presented the UK visitors with a commemorative first edition booklet, published after the restoration, which contained a photograph our incredibly debonair hero,  with Anna Neagle and Leslie Howard, visiting Radio City in November, 1938 for the American premiere of ‘Sixty Glorious Years, starring Dame Anna as Queen Victoria.   Yvonne and Richard also joined us on 6th December for a guided tour of the New Amsterdam Theatre, which opened on 42nd Street in 1903 and was home to the Ziegfeld Follies from 1913 - 27.   In 1997 it was restored to its unique original ‘art nouveau’ glory.  Another highlight of the trip.
Of course, we lunched at the legendary Sardi’s Restaurant, which opened in 1927, and searched in vain among the caricatures for Noël’s.  Apparently he did pose for one.  Perhaps a reader might supply more information about that?  And yes, I did get into a yellow cab and say “take me to 21” just like Tony Curtis in ‘The Sweet Smell of Success’.  Our native New Yorker, Ken, was amazed that the driver knew the address, but he certainly did.
We stayed at The Algonquin Hotel because Noël had often stayed there and it has been allowed to retain its period (1902) glamour and style.  After the First World War,  Vanity Fair writers, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood began lunching there, leading to a daily exchange of ideas, opinions and often savage wit.  Alexander Woollcott, George S. Kaufman and Heywood Broun were also part of the group and by the early 1920’s society columns were referring to them as the Algonquin Round Table, although they called themselves the Vicious Circle.
In December 2005, the Algonquin Hotel, in conjunction with NCS, will officially open its ‘Noël Coward Suite’ with accompanying ‘pomp and circumstance’.  The Society is hoping to arrange another visit to New York for UK members to events surrounding the opening as well as for the annual flower-laying ceremony.  As in Noël ‘s song (Ace of Clubs, 1949)  - “And come what may, I shall return one day, to the good old USA”  We do hope that you will join us.
The Society in North America
Ken Starrett is our
North American Director.
He can be reached on: [email protected] 

Ken manages North American membership and the dispatch of Home Chat our bi-monthly newsletter and events.
Events in the UK
Those in the UK and the US are looking at the possibility of a joint venture at some time in 2004.

If you have a suggestion for a new event then please get in touch. email
A Noël Coward Cabaret
At the Noël Coward Studio Theatre at the Hampton Hill Playhouse Saturday May 7th, 2005 at 2.30pm
Champagne Reception
The Songs of The Master
Tea and cakes
Dedication of Moira Lister’s Molyneux gown worn in the 1947 West End revival of Present Laughter
This jewel of a theatre has to be seen to be believed! 
Teddington Theatre Club has a long history of award-winning productions and acquired its new premises at Hampton Hill in 1998.  This, after much endeavour on the part of one particular person, Eric Yardley.  His vision and efforts in fund-raising secured the company a lottery grant to complete the building process.
One of the leading amateur theatre companies in the South East, it had the foresight to include in its plans The Noël Coward Suite, comprising a bar and lounge area together with a 50 seater studio theatre. 
A totally unique feature, generously funded by our patron Graham Payn.
Moira Lister, who starred in the first run of Present Laughter in 1949, attended the theatre’s June production in 2004.  She was so enchanted with the results that she has donated the gown she wore for almost a 1000 performances, to the Hampton Hill Playhouse.  An elegant rival to the dress worn by Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives.
So  do join us for the Champagne reception, followed by the Cabaret of Noël’s songs, performed jointly by members of The Teddington Theatre Club together with Noël Coward Society members. Moira has sent a scroll with the dress in which she says;
“I donate it to this theatre in admiration for its great work in keeping our beloved theatre alive”
Tickets £6 per person.
Credit Card or Cheques payable to:
The Noël Coward Society
Guests would be most welcome.
Contact the Membership Secretary by email if preferred on:
post to:
3 Somerville Road, Poulner, RINGWOOD, Hants BH24 1XJ
Further travel details if required.


under our sway

A two-day trip to Paris in early September to visit Coward’s wartime residence and of course, obligatory stops nearby at the Ritz, Café de la Paix, La Coupole (haunt of writers and artists), possibly throw in a trip on a Bateau Mouche, and suggested hotels to book. 
Our guide will be our member in Paris, Helene Catsiapis who is liasing with Celia our Membership Secretary.  Full details will be in the April issue of Home Chat but if you cannot wait till then, contact Celia on: 01425 478760 or
email to: [email protected] or write to:3 Somerville Road, Ringwood, Hants BH24 1XJ

Tony Walton’s production of the American Premier of this Coward musical play edited by Barry Day proved to be a surprising off-Broadway hit!

Click on the picture below
for reviews
A big thank you to all those who expressed an interest in our Film event. We now know that Barry Day’s book is due out in March so we have decided to postpone the date to coincide with the release of the book in the UK. We hope the event will take place on a Sunday afternoon in a rather splendid venue in London - The British Film Institute have obtained a copy of The Scoundrel Noel’s 1935 film in which he plays a ruthless, cynical, hated publisher who is killed in a plane crash, his ghost must wander restlessly unless someone sheds a tear for him. This Paramount film by Hecht and McArthur remains a cult classic and shows Noel Coward in one of his most interesting film roles. As his character Anthony Mallare says: “I'm never nice.”  A view confirmed by one of his victims Cora Moore who says, upon reading about Mallare's plane crash, “I've just learned that there IS a God!”
This is true film noir with acting cameos for most of the New York theatre elite of the time including the critic Alexander Woolcott making a rare showing. The other starring role is taken by Julie Haydon as Cora Moore with fellow actors including Hope Williams, Helen Strickland, Everley Gregg and Stamley Ridges even the uncredited fortune teller Madame Shushkina! More news to follow soon!

There is to be a major exhibition in Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham from July to October. The focus is to be on Musicians in the area from the past 500 years. Any of our members who have anecdotes or memories of Noël Coward are asked to send in their contributions. The Noël Coward Society would also like to include your contributions in Home Chat issues. Please believe us, nothing is too small to be considered! We should be thrilled with that special view of the past that you can offer. Also, song sheets of the 20’s 30’s and other small memorabilia would be appreciated. Everything would be fully insured by the Museum and returned to you afterwards.
This prestigious heritage house is owned by Richmond Borough Council and is visited by 40,000 vistors annually. 
Stroll along a peaceful riverside road into secluded woodland gardens, to find stunning 18th century interior design and the principle art gallery for the Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, which attracts over 40,000 visitors a year. Visitors of all ages can try out their own artistic talents in a pre-booked workshop at Orleans House, or to soak up more history, Marble Hill Park and Ham House are nearby. Finish off with great pub grub around the corner from the Gallery, which is reached easily from London and the south east by road, rail, or even by boat. Orleans House has a rich and vibrant history, the baroque Octagon room was designed by renowned architect James Gibbs, but the full potential of the site has yet to be realised. 
In the first instance contact Celia Cologne, our membership Secretary with your items.
Visit their website at:
The review of last year’s Coward birthday celebrations is underway with planning for next year’s events in New York and London. We hope to make more of the celebrity flower-laying at the Theatre Royal next year as well as enjoying another Annual Lunch. Details coming soon.

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Keir Dullea and Ken Starrett