Party animals

ART celebrates Noël Coward
By IRIS FANGER  |  July 3, 2007
Remo, Thomas, Karen, and Will

A Marvelous Party! The Noël Coward Celebration | American Repertory Theatre, Zero Arrow Theatre, Mass Ave + Arrow St | July 13-29 | $45 table seating; $25 stool seating; $10 senior discount; $15 students | 617.547.8300
It’s a Noël Coward season, what with Present Laughter recently closed at the Huntington Theatre Company, Blithe Spirit set to open at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and American Repertory Theatre gearing up to throw A Marvelous Party! The Noël Coward Celebration, a revue of the British playwright’s songs and scenes, at Zero Arrow Theatre. For the show, Zero Arrow will be turned back into the mirrored nightclub of The Onion Cellar, with a cash bar serving up drinks to accompany the entertainment.

Sir Noël Coward remains one of the most bankable of dramatists, as the frequent revivals of Hay Fever and Private Lives attest. But in his heyday, between World War I and World War II, Coward flourished not just as a playwright but also as a performer, a composer of popular songs, and a bon vivant. An unlikely late success was his Las Vegas act; it was recorded for posterity and is still available on CD.

Among the catalogue of 500 songs Coward turned out are some that remain cabaret standards: “I’ll See You Again,” “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” “If Love Were All.” Then there are the droll novelty numbers, among them “Mrs. Worthington” and “The Stately Homes of England.” Marvelous Party is the first revue to be authorized by Coward’s estate since his death, in 1973; ART is mounting it “to showcase the musical talents of the resident actors, because there are so many story songs and acting moments,” says Elliot Norton Award–winning director Scott Edmiston, who helms the proceedings. “I selected the songs they would sing. It’s a chance to see how silly these actors are, to see some of their whimsical sides.”

Long-time fans of ART have had only glimpses of the musical smarts of the cast: Remo Airaldi, Thomas Derrah, Will LeBow, and Karen MacDonald. Airaldi, who is new to the Coward repertory, says, “I thought some of the quips were throw-aways, but there are moments that break your heart.” And just wait till you see Derrah in a soft-shoe number, complete with hat and cane, accompanied at the piano by musical director Will McGarrahan.

Following “the arc of Coward’s career,” as Edmiston describes it, the show includes MacDonald’s reading of an excerpt from the playwright’s diaries, which were published in 1962. “There’s such a wit in his writing but a loneliness in him,” she says. “The image of him in a smoking jacket with a cigarette holder and champagne glass was never true. He worked all the time to keep up the image.” Quoting Coward’s friend Elaine Stritch, who appeared in his musical Sail Away, Edmiston adds, “How exhausting to be Noël Coward. Everything out of your mouth has to be witty and clever.”

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