Sunday 11 February 2024

A lovely way to spend an evening

"If my own experience had taught me anything, it was that, if a thing had to be done, it could be done."

Gertrude Lawrence was destined to be a star from an early age. Despite having an incorrigible stepfather whose gambling led them to do many a "moonlight flit" from lodgings to lodgings when she was little, her memory of her mother dressing up each time (with best hat, best coat and evening gloves) as they loaded their possessions into a cart - such a camp theatrical flourish! - left an indelible impression on her. And indeed, she let nothing get in the way of her pursuit of the glamorous life and audience acclaim for the rest of her life...

This fascinating insight, among many, many illuminating (and often quite salacious) details about the life of one of Britain's most glittering stars of early 20th century theatre, was revealed courtesy of the brilliant show Gertrude Lawrence - A lovely way to spend an evening, a one-woman show that Madam Arcati and I went to see at the fantabulosa Wilton's Music Hall on Friday night.

A tour-de-force by actress and opera singer Lucy Stevens [pictured at the top of this post], accompanied only by the talents of pianist Elizabeth Marcus, with a knowing wink and an assured tone she took us through the ups and downs of Gertrude's life, her triumphs and adventures, men, marriages, bankruptcies and her lifelong "partnership" with Noël Coward, peppered with many of the great songs that made her so famous and so beloved.

"Everything that has value has its price. Nothing worth having is ever handed to you gratis."

Among the numbers that Miss Lawrence premiered [and most of which Miss Stevens sang for us in this show] were the Gershwins' Do, Do, Do and Someone to Watch Over Me [which became an enduring standard] from her Broadway smash Oh, Kay!, Body and Soul (written especially for her by Johnny Green), The Saga of Jenny and My Ship from Kurt Weill's Lady in the Dark (another hit show for Gertie) - and of course, she popularised many of The Master's finest numbers, including Parisian Pierrot, Poor Little Rich Girl, Mad About the Boy and London Pride.

"In London I have been by turns poor and rich, hopeful and despondent, successful and down and out, utterly miserable and ecstatically, dizzily happy. I belong to London as each of us can belong to only one place on this earth. And, in the same way, London belongs to me."

The latter was particularly emotionally performed by Miss Stevens, as she recounted the oft-forgotten fact that in the midst of WWII Gertie abandoned what might have otherwise been a comfortable life in America for her beloved homeland, and embarked a gruelling tour with ENSA, entertaining the troops on the frontlines of Normandy and the Far East.

Another fact that was new to me was the fact that not only did she premiere as "Anna" in The King and I, she had in fact commissioned Rodgers and Hammerstein to write it! Of course, starring alongside the youthful and hunky Yul Brynner came with its own additional delights - as I recounted way back in 2011

Truth be told, Gertie's proclivities - despite her enduring marriage to Richard Aldrich, who outlived her - were legendary, and her affairs included Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the future Edward VIII/Duke of Windsor, assorted nobles and military officers, Bea Lillie and Daphne Du Maurier!

"Very few among us are noble, or even mature, in all parts of our nature at the same time."

This was a stupendous show, immaculately performed and presented (and directed by Fascinating Aida's Sarah-Louise Young)! I am so very glad we got to see it...

It continues to tour, so catch it if you can - see for further details.

[Also worth reading is this witty tribute to the great lady on the "Dame Town" site.]


  1. I'm sure that was an excellent show. Plenty of music and stories exist to feed it. I love "poor Jenny bright as a penny."


    1. It utterly blew us away! Lucy Stevens practically "became" Gertie before our eyes, and regaled us with the most intimate anecdotes and stories from her fascinating life - cut short too soon, aged just 54 - in style. A remarkable show. Jx

  2. She looks awful familiar to me...but can't think for the life of me what I would have seen her in.

    1. Gertie made very few films, and she died in 1952, so didn't make many television appearances either. Her star quality and style meant she was endlessly photographed, however. Jx

  3. It was indeed'; A lovely way to spend an evening'.
    I was worried that the songs might have been sung in a 2020's vocal style. I need not have worried Lucy Stevens captured the style the 1920s and 30' perfectly and evoked that world wonderfully.
    I thought I knew a bit about Gertie but I learnt a whole lot more. It was so well performed and put together. It was a fabulous evening.

    1. Miss Stevens is amazingly talented, and conveyed the true Gertie, her foibles, her sense of humour and her vocal style perfectly. Loved it! Jx

  4. Something I would MOST CERTAINLY have seen, had I still been in London. That woman was a staple in my family records cabinet.


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