Monday, July 5, 2010

Best of the Decade: Female Theatre Artist of the 21st Century (So Far)

To think that this legend of the Broadway stage has had a career in theatre, film, television, and publishing is inspiring on it own.  But to think that her career started in 1944 with the film Gaslight, and has continued through today, nearly 70 years later, is as magical and wonderful as the lady herself.  At an age where most people have long since retired, this amazing woman is enjoying career highs, public adoration and critical acclaim.  Most people would be thrilled to have the kind of career Angela Lansbury has had in just the last decade.  I know I would.

Here is why Ms. Lansbury is the Female Performer of the first decade of the new millennium:

  • During a rest from her long-running television series, Murder, She Wrote,  she continued to make several television films and series appearances.  And she has always been a mainstay at a variety of theatre-related charity events.
  • In 2002, she lent her talents to a two performance event called Short Talks on the Universe, appearing in a one act play called "Ghost Light" by Terrance McNally and co-starring Chris O'Donnell.
  • It was in 2007, however, that she made her Broadway return in McNally's Deuce, co-starring the great Marian Seldes.  Critics were divided about the play, but heaped praise on Ms. Lansbury.  Audiences gasped and laughed in delight at this foul mouthed character, so unlike the publicly demure actress.  (I don't think I could ever forget hearing her say the "C" word and then the collective gasp of the audience!)  Potty mouth or not, her performance earned her a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Play.

  • Not a few people were surprised that Angela returned to Broadway in just 2 short years in the physically demanding role of Madame Arcati in the starry revival of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit, her co-stars were great, but again it was Lansbury who received the lion's share of acclaim.  At 80+, here she was dancing and kicking up her heals, flopping up and down on a couch, and delivering sharp one-liners with precision.  It was this performance that earned her a second Tony nomination in the 21st century, and her 5th Tony award!

  • Then, defying all expectation, she returned to Broadway again, this time in a musical!  Just this past season, Ms. Lansbury took the stage in the revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, playing the caustic, shrewd and loveable Madame Armfeldt.  Again the critics raved, and her performance of the classic, "Liaisons", along with most of her dialogue has been preserved in the revival cast recording.  The role earned her her third Tony nomination in as many tries.

Something tells me we haven't seen the last of her onstage yet.  But if Night Music turns out to be her final Broadway appearance, aren't we all lucky that she came back three times!?

Of course, the artistic accolades reach far beyond the Tony Awards and Drama Desk Awards.  In just this past season, Angela Lansbury has been honored by:
  • The Drama League
  • The Manhattan School of Music, which awarded her an honorary Doctorate degree
  • Signature Theatre in Virginia named her the first recipient of the Stephen Sondheim Award, which she accepted from the man himself.  The new award is given to individuals who have dedicated their lives to the musical theatre.

But perhaps the greatest accolade given to this beloved legend is the most recent, and the one that will keep her active in the theatre for years to come.  At this year's Tony Awrds ceremony, the American Theatre Wing named Angela Lansbury its first Honorary Chairman.  In her acceptance speech, she emphasized the need for education in the arts for artists and everyone, a subject near to her heart.

Thank you, Ms. Lansbury for continuing to brighten our lives and showing each new generation what it means to use celebrity for the good of the world, with class and dignity.  And may this new decade bring you even more happiness and success.


  1. I can't believe I've seen all three of them! And I really enjoyed Deuce. I saw it on the last evening of my first trip to Broadway. (I picked a perfect time to start.)

    It was great to just sit back and listen to Angela Lansbury and Marian Seldes for 90 minutes totally become these two retired tennis players. I could have listened for another 90 minutes.

    Plus, hearing her sing in A Little Night Music was such a thrill it took my breath away.

  2. Esther,

    I, too, was fortunate to see all three performances. And I think Deuce really got the short end of the stick. At the very least, it was a master class in acting.

    (For some reason, your comment didn't publish. Sorry!)


  3. Where are my comments?
    Seems not everyone agrees with you?
    From the Washingon Post.

    Actually, he plays the Teen Angel, but that role is basically a campy second-act cameo that allows some dreamy pop figure to croon "Beauty School Dropout." It lets Hicks be Hicks, but instead of facing judges and at-home voters, he's popping out of a giant ice cream cone over the local burger stand and offering sober counsel via corny serenade.

    He's too cute, he hams it up, and he sings smashingly; in other words, he's exactly as remembered and perfect for this fleeting, self-consciously star-dusted part.


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