As a Londoner, I try to take advantage of many of the wonderful cultural things on offer, particularly the one-off opportunities, such as seeing the triple bill some years ago of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, or seeing Simon and Garfunkel in Hyde Park, or even the Chinese Terracotta Army in the British Museum’s First Emperor exhibition.
Unfortunately, I had to forgo such an opportunity on Sunday, which is a treat I know I would have enjoyed. Having grown up a huge fan of Broadway tunes and worshipping at the shrines of musical gods like Ethel Merman, I always loved the song Bosom Buddies from Mame, where Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur sang a pally-catty duet. When I was much younger, I would have seen these two women as the star of Murder, She Wrote and The Golden Girls (and Maude), respectively, but I was aware that both had big stage careers in the past and I was familiar with the young, then newly discovered Angela Lansbury in my favourite version of (George Cukor’s) Gaslight, which earned her an Oscar nomination. She also played the original Mrs Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the role recently recreated on screen by Helena Bonham-Carter, for which Lansbury won one of her four Tonys.
So I was thrilled to hear rumours that she would be performing on the London stage for the first time in about 30 years in an event called Jerry Herman’s Broadway at the London Palladium on 4 May. Even before her presence had been officially confirmed, I had my mouse hovering over the final click to book a prohibitively expensive seat (I couldn’t think of anyone else who would be remotely interested in attending such an event with me), but then I checked and found my trains would not be running owing to engineering works. Certainly, I could have made the significant effort to get there and back somehow, although it’s hard enough getting back from town at night after shows when the trains are running, but I dawdled too long and missed my chance.
The concert, for which I’ve found no reviews, was in the end presented by Lansbury and celebrated the career of Broadway composer Jerry Herman, with “a host of stars” performing his songs from his musicals, which included Hello Dolly!, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles. The proceeds went to HIV and AIDS charity Crusaid. Herman himself has been suffering from AIDS for about ten years, so it was particularly great news that he would be in attendance.
The only appearance by Lansbury promoting the show beforehand that I came across was on Channel 4’s Paul O’Grady Show, of all things. As that’s on too early for commuters, I recorded it on DVD, but like most things I record, I haven’t watched it and will probably lose it in a stack of unlabeled DVDs soon. But I did see the end, and despite looking a bit tighter around the face (from age, not surgery, I’m pleased to say), Angela Lansbury looked just the same as Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote, radiant as always even though she’s now 82! And she’s still working.
Morgon Falconer got to interview this British-born actress (whose mother was an actress called Moyna MacGill—a surname used in Murder, She Wrote for relatives of Jessica Fletcher, including an actress cousin in London—and whose grandfather was former leader of the Labour Party George Lansbury) for the Times recently, and the article, cleverly titled “Life After Murder” is worth a read.
Coincidentally, the Biography Channel has been showing a programme on her this week, and certainly Lansbury has had a troubled life, with her first husband, who she married when she was 19 and he was 35, turning out to be bisexual; fire destroying her house; her children struggling with drugs in the past; and various tragic losses of loved ones. But it all seems to have made her quite a formidable woman, and she is still going strong. I only wish she would return for another performance so I could grasp the cherished opportunity that I so foolishly missed last weekend!
Meanwhile, after dreaming for so many years of what it would be like to witness Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur performing the great Bosom Buddies on stage, I get the next best thing: a clip on YouTube of the two reprising their roles for an appearance much later, which I recommend viewing. (YouTube also includes a clip from the film where Bea Arthur reprises her role, but Lucille Ball takes Lansbury’s part, most unfortunately.) Ain’t YouTube grand.