by Rob Lester
Suddenly, it seems, Noël Coward's songs are in the air everywhere again. Christine Ebersole, who has a new all-Coward CD, will be one of the artists featured when the annual Cabaret Convention devotes October 8, the middle of its three evenings, to the master's songs in the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center at Columbus Circle. She'll also be singing at a free event October 13 at 7:30 pm, along with Jim Dale and Maria Aitkena few blocks north, at Barnes & Noble's 66th Street/Broadway branchcelebrating the publishing of The Noël Coward Reader, edited by Barry Day, who will be present to discuss all things Coward (the book includes previously unpublished material). The same week, there are two other Coward evenings in New York City: on October 11, Simon Green brings a Coward evening to the Metropolitan Room and on the 14th, John Patrick Hart recreates Coward's Las Vegas act at The Triad on West 72nd Street.
The Cabaret Convention, produced/hosted by Donald Smith and the Mabel Mercer Foundation, has an array of cabaret singers in their early-evening shows, covering standards and show tunes, but the Coward night, "If Love Were All"/The Timeless Words & Music of Noel Coward, is of special interest to theatre fans. Other performers include Elaine Stritch, who had a long association with the Master, Broadway's Gregg Edelman, musical theatre performer Nancy Anderson, cabaret's KT Sullivan, Craig Rubano, young Nicolas King and singer-pianist Steve Ross, who has often saluted Coward over the years. Also on the bill are a few who were in the recent contest sponsored by The Noël Coward Society: Sidney Myer, Sarah Rice, and winner Jennifer Sheehan, who will receive her first-prize award on stage. Here are some thoughts from participants in the October 8 Coward night.
Jennifer Sheehan, a young protegee of Andrea Marcovicci whose own second CD is being released this week, told me, "I first learned about the incomparable Noël Coward when I was in high school. Steve Ross had come to my hometown, St. Louis, to perform and he delighted everyone with his rendition of the clever '(Don't Put Your Daughter on the Stage) Mrs. Worthington.' Earlier this year, when I was invited to take part in the Noël Coward Cabaret Competition, I knew I'd have some great material to choose from." She chose "Mad About the Boy" and the judges were mad for her. Her second selection was "Here and Now" from one of his last musicals, The Girl Who Came to Supper.
This girl who came recently to Coward remarks, "I was surprised to read that this personification of wit and sophistication actually grew up in poverty and received little formal education. Still, he went on to become a prolific playwright, composer, singer, actor, and director who was admired on both sides of the Atlantic." As a singer just in her early 20s, she's eager to share her love for classic songs as she does in her show and new CD of the same title, You Made Me Love You, and remarks that once those in her generation hear these songs, "they really do like them. As a matter of fact, a lot of my younger sister's college friends have come to my Facebook music page asking about the new CD. I think that's very encouraging!"
Sarah Rice, well-remembered as the original Johanna in Sweeney Todd and winner of a Bistro Award for her Screen Gems cabaret show last year, tells me, "This is why I love Noël Coward: I had the pleasure and joy of performing the role of Sarah/Sari in Bitter Sweet, directed by Jack Eddleman. The beautiful score struck me deeply emotionally, especially the performance of Juliette Koka's heartbreaking and tragic Manon ('If Love Were All'). The audience was extremely moved by it as well. I think performers want to perform this song because it is our secret feelings set to music, the feeling of being an outsider surrounded by people, of not having what you desire mostit certainly was Noël's, but I think most of us are right there with him. Whenever I perform 'I'll Follow My Secret Heart,' people almost always come up to me and tell me how profoundly moved they were by it, how they emotionally connected to it. I feel this song is humanity's national anthem. Does it get any better than that? 'Zigeuner,' to me, is about finding your true love, the grand passion and having lost that person, what wouldn't you give to have them back for just an hour and feel those feelings again?
"I also love his wicked, saucy sense of humor, and his observations of human nature are dead-on. I also love anything Sidney Myer sings of his. I think Sidney is brilliant. Sidney always has a secret when he sings, he is just so damn charming and funny."
So, we'll leave the last word to terse, Sidney, a Convention favorite who is well known in cabaret circles as the enthusiastic booking manager of Don't Tell Mama, in addition to his own performing work: He says, "Noël Coward's spirit and songs remain timeless and tuneful today." That spirit, of course, can be a Blithe Spirit, recently revived on Broadway. It's nice to have the ghost of Coward present at any time.