Corrections or additions?
This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the February 21,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Noel and Gertie’
Although nostalgia is nothing new, it nearly always
stays in style.
Now that the millennium has inarguably turned, it is perhaps
pleasant for theater-goers to sip from the well (or in this case,
the Martini glass) of the once popular fare of 20th century’s bygone
age. The Marx Brothers, the Beatles, and "Give `em Hell" Harry
Truman, among others, all continue to have their theatrical recreators
and enthusiastic audiences. Yet much of the success of these
as they are often called, depends upon the skill and sensitivities
of the performers. In this regard the Off-Broadstreet Theater’s
of "Noel and Gertie," a musical tribute to Noel Coward and
Gertrude Lawrence, is exceptional.
Noel Coward’s work isn’t often performed these days, but his
as a playwright, composer, and performer, was once profound.
his heyday of the 1920s and 1930s, Coward whipped up such popular
gems as "The Vortex," "Private Lives," and
at 8:30," plays that attracted throngs to his breezy depictions
of wit, sophistication, and elegance. Perhaps the best indication
of the power of Coward’s early prestige could be that although few
theater-goers have actually seen any of his plays, nearly everyone
seems to be aware of the typical Coward trappings of a sharply dressed
personage uttering urbane witticisms while balancing a cigarette
in one hand and an empty Martini glass in the other.
At its surface, "Noel and Gertie" chronicles the lifelong
friendship between Coward and the talented and mercurial performer
Gertie Lawrence, for whom he wrote his biggest hit, "Private
Culled from Coward’s journals and letters as well as snatches from
his plays, it is a straightforward and idealized portrayal of two
devoted friends as they travel along the sometimes bumpy terrain of
20th-century show business.
Bolstered by a healthy selection of Coward’s show tunes
and peppered with comic banter from some of his plays ("Why is
gettin’ up at 6 o’clock in the morning like a pig’s tail?" "I
don’t know dear, why is gettin’ up at 6 o’clock in the morning like
a pig’s tail?" "T’wirly."), "Noel and Gertie"
was created by British drama critic and Coward biographer Sheridan
Morley. The show had its premiere in London in 1985; it was revived
and adapted in 1999, in honor of Coward’s 100th birthday, under the
title "If Love Were All."
"Noel and Gertie" is anything but a stodgy staged biography.
(In fact, it barely touches on anything controversial, such as
homosexuality.) The nice thing about the Off-Broadstreet production
is that even theater-goers who are not particular fans of Coward will
enjoy the show. Lead performers Laura Jackson and Edward Teti deftly
execute their roles, delivering performances that pulse with the
joys of entertaining us.
As the two painted portraits of Coward and Lawrence that hang above
the stage make clear, neither performer bears much of a physical
to their real-life character. Jackson is much taller and voluptuous
than the petite Gertrude Lawrence could ever have dreamed of, but
Jackson’s mercurial stage energy and downright beautiful singing voice
more than compensate. Also, the fact that she so obviously enjoys
herself on stage is no small part of her infectious charm.
Similarly, Teti, despite being variously attired in a tuxedo, a
jacket, and a shimmering, expensive-looking robe, does not exude the
sort of slickness or suavity that one usually imagines Coward to have
possessed. But nonetheless, he informs his performance with such real
warmth and concern — both for his work and for his friend —
that he is a delight to watch. Although Teti’s occasional dance steps
are anything but polished, in fact they are charmingly clumsy; his
voice is certainly first rate.
Jackson and Teti play off one another with a casualness that they
make look easy, but in fact must be the result of long hours of
It is this onstage chemistry, despite being delightfully low-key,
that is the heart and blood of the evening. They are simply likable,
and throughout the show, whether their singing voices are merging
like strips of colored smoke, or as they affectionately banter back
and forth like a well-matched married couple, it is this likability
that draws us in, and in the end, makes the evening such a success.
Paul Sulyok, as the pianist, contributes significantly to the show’s
success. Playing a piano as accompaniment is very different from
it alone and throughout each singing number, he displays a real touch
for elegantly complementing each song, never playing too forcefully,
nor drawing back too far. He is also more than just a piano player,
as throughout the play his eyes and energy are always focused on the
action of the play. One gets the feeling that the performers are
as much for his eyes as for those of the audience.
Robert Thick, to his credit, gives the performers the space to be
themselves, letting them discover the humanity behind their characters
rather than insisting on dogged superficial similarities. He also
knows how to keep things moving, but subtly, as if propelled by a
light summer breeze.
Housed in an old-time movie house as it is, Off-Broadstreet Theater
is always a charming place to see a play, but occupied by these
of the past, it is absolutely perfect. And the past, as idealized
as it may be, is certainly a nice place to visit from time to time.
Long live Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence. As the Monkees
said, "Look out, here comes tomorrow." Perhaps it helps to
know that someday even Britney Spears will be an oldies act.
— Jack Florek
Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. Fridays to Sundays, through
March 24. $20.50 and $22 includes dessert and coffee.
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