Dorothy Loudon is such a gifted actress! Most of you probably know her from her Tony Award winning performance in the original production of Annie in the role of the wickedly funny Miss Hannigan.. In the timespan between Annie and Ballroom, her next Broadway musical, Dorothy's life was turned upside down.
When asked in 1977 what it meant to win her Tony Award, Dorothy replied, "Like most winners I had mixed feelings: delight in this gift from my peers, sadness that actors are put in a competitive position. But what I treasured most was the look on my darling husbands's face, a pride and joy that overwhelmed me. When the award was announced, I didn't want to leave my seat. I just wanted to sit there with him and hold on to the moment. I felt it was something he and I had won together. Later we went to the Tony ball, ate the rubber eggs, danced the first dance together, came home and hugged each other, laughed a lot, then hugged again and held tight. I suppose we'd have done that anyway but the award made our evening special."
"Less than a month later he died. Now when I look at my Tony, and I do, what I remember is that wonderful moment together."
Dorothy continued doing her performance in Annie, despite her tragic loss. A year or so later, Michael Bennett approached her to do Ballroom, his eagerly awaited musical after the Chorus Line triumph. The initial problem was that Ballroom is about a woman dealing with widowhood, and there was talk that Dorothy might find the work and the subject material too emotionally draining. She agreed to go to the "workshop" for several weeks to try it out.
Dorothy treated the role of Bea, as a part, and did not create the role by pulling from her own personal experience. She felt that that would have been cheating anyhow.
Ballroom opened on Broadway with mixed reviews. Everyone expected Bennett to outdo himself after A Chorus Line and perhaps the reviews were a bit unfair. Regardless, the show was wonderful and enjoyable. Louden was thrilling to watch.
Still, knowing what she had gone through in the last eighteen months, we, the audience, could not separate the real from the stage in certain instances. The big eleventh hour number came in act two; the song is called "Fifty Percent." The song is about a woman who would rather deal with having just half a person than nothing at all. All I can tell you is that it was one of those magical moments in the theatre where your breath is taken away. Dorothy Loudon singlehandedly destroyed an entire audience nightly at the Majestic theatre. I can still hear the hush and then an audience screaming and cheering, and the love poured over the footlights. It was audience and performer sharing and caring about eachother. We applauded Bea and embraced Dorothy Loudon.
For those of you with the cast album, and knowing what I have just written, give a listen, and you will experience what I experienced that night on Broadway.
Dorothy Loudon, whereever you are, one more, Dorothy, one more musical.