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Love, Noël: The Songs and Letters of Noël Coward

Theatre Review by David Hurst - August 1, 2019

KT Sullivan and Steve Ross
Photo by Carol Rosegg

There are many ways to spend a sweltering, summer evening in New York City, but few of them will be as debonair, as delicious or as droll as Love, Noël: The Songs and Letters of Noël Coward at the Irish Repertory Theatre. Directed by Irish Rep's Artistic Director, Charlotte Moore, and starring cabaret royalty Steve Ross and KT Sullivan, Love, Noël is an invigorating 90-minutes of trenchant wit, beautiful melodies and a reminder of what a brilliant legacy of words and music Coward left us.

Just descending down the stairs into the Rep's W. Scott McLucas Studio Stage, you'll feel as though you've entered a speak-easy from the prohibition era 1930's, and the cooling relief begins immediately. A charming art deco inspired set courtesy of James Morgan with flattering lighting by Michael Gottlieb will greet you, as will a solitary Steinway baby grand which Mr. Ross will caress throughout the show.

Devised and written by Barry Day, the preeminent Coward scholar in the world today, Love, Noël is a brisk collection of some of The Master's greatest songs, combined with a generous handful of letters both written by Coward and written to Coward. These letters focus on Coward's famous friendships with a who's who of glamorous women, all of whom are vividly brought to life to KT Sullivan. She's an utter delight, whether inhabiting Coward's mother, Gertrude Lawrence, Elaine Stritch, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo and even the Queen Mother, Sullivan's performance becomes a showcase of tasteful restraint. For his part, Ross pretty much plays Coward and acts as Sullivan's foil in their letter-reading, and that's just fine.

Of course, Ross also dazzles at the keyboard, as Coward did himself, so it's luxury casting to have him onstage with Sullivan. This show's been kicking around for a number of years now (with various permutations of the title), with pairings of seasoned, Broadway veterans such as: Christine Ebersole & Edward Hibbert (at Bay Street in May, 2011, and at Adelphi University in May, 2013), Judy Kuhn & John Glover (at the Lovelace Studio Theater in the Wallace Annenberg Center in February, 2014) and Sharon Lawrence & Harry Groener (also at the Lovelace Studio Theater in the Annenberg in December, 2014). But having now seen Love, Noël with Ross at the piano and Sullivan on every conceivable piece of furniture, it's impossible to imagine anyone else doing it. Both of them are undeniable pro's and sparkling, cabaret raconteurs.

As for Coward's songs, they've rarely been in such loving and careful hands. Ross, a fixture on the New York cabaret scene for more than 40 years and an expert on Coward and Cole Porter, will crack you up with "I Like America" and "Mrs. Worthington," while Sullivan will devastate you with "If Love Were All" before astonishing you with her hilarious Stritch homage singing "Why Do The Wrong People Travel?" Why, indeed? The only traveling you should be doing this summer is to the Irish Rep where Ross & Sullivan will charm you with their talent to amuse.

Love, Noël: The Songs and Letters of Noël Coward
Through August 25
The W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre at The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: OvationTix