A Lost Musicals Occasion
The Linbury Studio Theatre, Sunday 29th July 2001
Review by Emma Shane
© August 2001
What an occasion Ian Marshall-Fisher’s Lost Musicals Occasion turned out to be. When I first read of this occasion I thought it ought to be good. But I did not expect it to be quite as wonderful as it actually was. Hitherto The Lost Musicals shows have always been concert stagings of Lost Musicals. Tonight’s occasion was a bit different, as it was a fundraising concert for the Ian Marshall-Fisher’s The Lost MusicalsTM Charitable Trust itself, a fact which one member of the cast, in particular, seemed to find extremely funny. The show had originally been billed as featuring Special Guests: Kitty Carlisle-Hart and Anne Kaufman-Schneider, with familiar Lost Musicals Ladies: Kathryn Evans, Jessica Martin, Thelma Ruby, and Vivienne Martin. Although that line-up sounded quite promising, I could not but be a little apprehensive over the matter of belt songs. As it turned out, the familiar Lost Musicals ladies actually taking part were: Liza Pulman, Jessica Martin, Thelma Ruby, Valda Arvicks and that spirit of The Lost Musicals, Louise Gold!
Kitty and Anne sat to the right hand side of the stage (from the audiences point of view), on the left-hand side Jason Carr was seated at the piano. In the centre, towards the back, were a row of chairs, the quintet seated themselves, from left to right: Liza, Thelma, Louise, Jessica, and Valda. Ms Gold was smiling her broad grin; the one that makes the audience feel the show is going to be worth seeing. Louise Gold was wearing a long black dress, with a double frilled skirt, I think she wore it for Panama Hattie. Liza Pulman was in a black evening dress that looked like it had been modelled on a toga, Thelma Ruby wore a nice black velvet evening dress, Valda Arvicks wore a black trouser suit, and Jessica Martin wore a black-with white polka dots trousers and top outfit. All of them wore black shoes. Most of the ladies wore silver necklaces and earrings. Thelma’s earrings were green. Louise had big square shining silver and black stud earrings on, I think the ones she dazzled everyone with in Of Thee I Sing, only in the darker venue of The Linbury they did not catch the light and blind us quite so often. Louise’s necklace was a pendent type thing, which seemed to go well set off against her black dress.
The evening started with one of Ian Marshall-Fisher’s introductions, which got off to an amusing start, when he said “This time the show is the raise some money for me,” where-upon Ms Gold burst out laughing. Mr Marshall-Fisher tried to carry on, but eventually turned to that actress and said, “Excuse me. Who’s in charge here?” “That’s what we’d like to know,” retorts the actress, causing the audience to laugh, and the Director to turn to us and say “Don’t encourage her.”
The show proper started with Jason Carr playing the overture from Oh Kay, by George Gershwin, which got us very nicely into the reminiscence mood, especially with both that Lost Musical’s pianist and it’s leading lady being on the stage. Now, having had an overture, it was time for an opening number, in fact the very first number they did in Barbican Cinema 1, Jupiter Forbid, by Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart, from By Jupiter. The Lost Musicals’ own Amazon Queen, Louise Gold, whose first name means ‘Famous Warrioress’ (at least according to the Chambers dictionary), strode majestically about the stage, before finally launching into the song, with all the power she can command, half way through she is joined by the other four, but it is very much her number, and fittingly so.
From a number done in The Lost Musicals early days, to one done in the last season and in The Linbury, Jessica Martin reprised her very funny rendition of Very Very Very, by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash from One Touch Of Venus. Actually, the song was also done, by Mandy More, in that first year at Barbican. But tonight it is Jessica, with her gift for accents who shines. Jessica Martin is one of those rare talents (Louise Gold is another) who can do a wide variety of accents well, sing in them and is very much capable of switching rapidly between different accents. It was great that the Linbury Studio once again echoed with Jessica’s multi-accented version of this song.
Now we came to Valda Aviks’s speciality, Najla’s Lament by Moises Vivanco from Flahooley (a musical which contains many references to puppetry, because its hero is a puppet-builder), again, Valda had sung the number, in The Lost Musicals production of the show. When she sang it before, at Barbican, she had been assisted by James Vaughan’s Arab Emissary’s miming. This time she was on her own, and she sang it well, though I couldn’t help noticing that The Lost Musicals resident puppeteer looked distinctly amused.
Continuing down memory lane, another song reprised by its original Lost Musicals interpreters, Louise Gold and Jessica Martin took on the roles of Blossom and Chiquita Hart playing “two little Squaws from Indiana” in By The Mississinewah by Cole Porter from Something For The Boys. It was almost the way they’d done it before, only six years on they are both older and wiser. The number got off to a flyingly comical start, as both women scurried about the stage wah wah wahing, before finally launching into the verse, where I am pleased to say they sang Cole Porter’s lyrics clearly. I cannot review this show without commenting on the fact that Louise Gold seems to have made a real effort with her diction. Sometimes, when she is singing, it has to be said, that her diction lets her down, but tonight she was absolutely fine. The number went across well singing-wise, but it was also wonderful to watch; Louise Gold and Jessica Martin are two intelligent actresses, who are excellent at acting out their songs. This number gave them lots of opportunities to exercise their considerable comic talents. Sometimes one, sometimes the other would be dancing around madly all over the place. During part of Refrain 1, Jessica wouldn’t stop turning, until Louise placed a hand on her head. While to emphasis the “It’s bigamy” line (which she exclaimed very dramatically by going into a completely different accent) Louise rested her right hand on Jessica’s left shoulder and then jumped up enthusiastically. Indeed the funniest thing about having these two do this number, apart their undoubted comedy skills, is that they are so different in height, Jessica being 5ft2 ½ “ tall, while Louise is 5ft9” tall, this really looks comical, especially when they stand back to back, or are dancing around each other. By and large they stuck to the song as they did it in Something For The Boys. The “Patter” was cut (but I don’t think that was used in The Lost Musicals’s production anyway). Although all of Refrain 3 is supposed to be sung, by both of them, I think Louise spoke the “Mister Ten-by-Five” line and Jessica the “Without a bra” line. In Refrain 4, Louise adlibbed “Different tribe” in place of one of her lines. The only major change, however, was in Refrain 5, when, possibly owing the Jessica’s condition, they switched their parts around completely, so that Jessica said “Are you expecting too?” while Louise had to sing the insomnia lyric, which she did with feeling. The number was, as before, a real show-stopper, and with a thunderous applause between Refrain’s 4 and 5, it seemed a little as if Refrain 5 was an encore. (Although those of us who know the song expected them to do it anyway.)
After such a showstopper almost anything would be a come-down. So it wasn’t really fair on Liza Pulman that she had to sing the next number, Windflowers by Jerome Moross and John Latouche from The Golden Apple. She sang it well enough, but the previous number was just too good. It was followed by another Cole Porter hit, Nobody’s Chasing Me from Out Of This World, again reprised by its respective Lost Musicals lady, Thelma Ruby. It was a better-placed number, and she sang it well, reaching her comic height towards the end of the number when she hiked up her skirt to show her legs.
Now it was time for a couple of ensemble pieces. First of all the five girls sang Money Isn’t Everything by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II from Allegro. This time Liza Pulman did stand out and shine, in many ways it seemed to be her number, although, all the others got some very good lines, and Jessica and Louise have such a way with their singing and acting, and such strong voices, that they could not help but steal a bit of it, The second ensemble piece was Let’s Have Another Cup Of Coffee, by Irving Berlin, from Face The Music, it seemed to be very much Jessica’s number. This rousing rendition actually came across rather better than it had done in The Lost Musicals production of Face The Music (which, none of tonight’s performers had been in).
At last we come to two numbers which, for me at least, are truly the highest spot of the whole evening. Something For The Boys from Something For The Boys and I’ve Still Got My Health from Panama Hattie, both written by Cole Porter for the mighty Merman to sing. Originally I had been rather apprehensive at the prospect of them putting anything written for Ethel Merman into this concert, for the simple reason that such songs need a certain type of belter to whack them over the footlights. But with the glorious Gold around there is absolutely no need to worry; Louise Gold is just so electrifyingly good, and here she is at her very best. There is just nothing quite like watching the ever powerful Louise Gold, unmiked, singing Cole Porter a la Ethel Merman, it’s her speciality. No one else has her uncanny ability to do Ethel Merman numbers quite like that! The first of these, Something For The Boys, was good, Gold was, as usual, on form. However, the second one, I’ve Still Got My Health was even better – it’s a meatier number anyway; Louise Gold just let it rip and really hit the heights, pitching the lyrics loud and clear over the footlights, and yet sung with such feeling that she lived the song, and well she might. These lyrics suit her so very well, for she is an underrated and often overlooked performer, who usually winds up as a scene-stealing supporting player rather than a lead. While I would not go as far as to say she is “always a flop at a top notch affair”, it is true that “by fashion and fopp’ry she’s never discussed” and she probably “never will have that Park Avenue air” she’s too given to making a spectacle of herself. But she is a talented earthy comedienne and delightfully individual. However, it was not just her singing of the lyrics that put the song over so well, she is a beautiful mover who knows how to act out her songs, shaking her hips (once used to carry a Skeksis puppet in Dark Crystal) and kicking up the hem of her dress to reveal her lovely legs at the appropriate moments in the song. Needless to say, she got much deserved thundering applause for her performance.
Louise Gold’s Merman-act is a very very very hard one to follow. Jessica Martin actually did a terrific job of following it, with another Cole Porter number, My Heart Belongs To Daddy from Leave It To Me. In recent times this number has become a little associated with Liz Robertson (Lerner)’s rather knowing interpretation (which is no bad thing). Jessica took us back to the original innocent interpretation. Of course unlike Mary Martin (no relation), who introduced it, Jessica Martin surely knows what the lyrics really mean, but she convincingly sang at as though she did not. It was lovely to hear that song sung in a way that approximated its original interpretation.
For the penultimate number of Part 1, an assistant brought on a microphone (it was the only time in the entire evening a microphone was used), and Kitty Carlisle Hart took her place behind it, to sing September Song by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson from Knickerbocker Holiday. She sang it quietly, but well, and brought a more serious tone to the occasion. Somehow it seemed a fitting number for her to sing at this occasion.
Part 1’s finale found the quintet doing what they had been doing for almost all of Part 1, having a ball, in this instance with the hilarious feminist number It Was Good Enough For Grandma (But It Ain’t Good Enough For Us) by Harold Arlen and E.Y Harburg from Bloomer Girl. Standing in a line (from left to right): Liza Pulman, Thelma Ruby, Louise Gold, Jessica Martin and Valda Aviks, sang strongly, with conviction, and acted out the number well marching up and down on the spot. Although a great ensemble piece, the number was somewhat dominated by the powerful Louise Gold, which was really very fitting, partly she had opened Part 1 in a similar vain, and partly because she is a tall striking woman and her mother’s daughter.
Having had a lot of, as Ian Marshall-Fisher put it, “La la la’ing” in Part 1, Part 2 started with Ian Marshall-Fisher in conversation with the special guests, Kitty Carlisle-Hart and Anne Kaufman Schneider. He put to them a variety of questions, which had been submitted by the audience.
After this it was time for some more music. This time songs that The Lost Musicals have not done before, although some of the performers are familiar with them. The music started with an ensemble performance of Mutual Admiration Society by Harold Karr (who we kept being told was a dentist) and Matt Dubey from Happy Hunting, where it was originally sung by two leads who did not exactly get on, Ethel Merman and Fernando Lamas. It had a rather happier, and very funny, incarnation on the Ethel Merman episode (of season 1) of The Muppet Show (where it was sung by Kermit and co with the guest star). On this occasion the number started off sung by Thelma Ruby and Jessica Martin (possibly taking on the Mother-and-daughter characters from Happy Hunting), then things got a little more lively, as Louise Gold sang it, with Liza Pulman and Valda Aviks, naturally The Lost Musicals’s resident Muppeteer dominated that bit. Things quietened down for the next verse, sung by Kitty Carlisle-Hart (doing Merman’s lines) and Anne Kaufman-Schneider (singing Lamas’s lines). Finally all seven ladies sang together. It was great fun and got Part 2 off to a really good start.
Anne Kaufman-Schneider continued to play a man’s part, for the introduction of the next number, Thelma Ruby singing Only For Americans by Irving Berlin from Miss Liberty. The song is very funny and seems to be completely unlike anything else Irving Berlin has written, what a versatile writer he was. This was Thelma Ruby’s finest moment in the show.
The next number was not (as it said in the programme) Jessica Martin singing Harold Rome’s South America Take It Away from Call Me Mister, which seems to have been cut, instead, the assistant brought another chair out, and a gentleman with a guitar came out and sat down. It took him a while to tune up, and when he had done so Valda Aviks came to the fore and proclaimed Sing To Me Guitar by Cole Porter from Mexican Heyride. The guitarist did make his guitar sing to Valda, and the number went across very well. Even the other members of the cast seemed to be listening to it intently.
With the guitarist having left, and his chair removed, it was time for a spot of yodelling, with Yodel Blues by Robert Emmett Dolan and Johnny Mercer from Texas Li’l Darlin. First Liza Pulman came on and yodelled and sang the number, she certainly yodels rather well. Presently she is joined by Louise Gold, a gifted voice-artist, singing very well in a distinct Texas Twang, she also joined in the yodelling a little, for (as The Muppets found out) Louise Gold’s vocal talents include more than just singing a number, such as yodelling or whistling it (however, as she is prone to corpsing, gargling a song is best avoided).
Next up we had Jessica Martin doing a number which is a very true statement for both the singer and the lyricist, I Love A Film Cliché (Because A Film Cliché Is The Best Entertainment I Know) by Dick Vosburgh and Trevor Lyttleton from A Day In Hollywood A Night In The Ukraine. Here Jessica Martin is on absolutely top comic form, and doing some wonderful impressions: I particularly liked her Judy Garland voice for “Why don’t we put on a show”. She acted and sang the number so well that her physical appearance was completely irrelevant, in ones mind-eye one saw whatever film cliché she was acting out at the time. Needless to say she got a rousing applause, although some of it may have been for the writers, who happened to be in the audience.
Jessica Martin’s ‘Party piece’ was going to be another hard act to follow, but follow they certainly did, with a song not actually from a show, namely, Yiddisha Nightingale by Irving Berlin. After a lengthy piano introduction, with some foot stamping from the company, Louise Gold, in a way a bit of a Yiddisha Nightingale herself (well with her surname there’s probably some yiddisha blood there somewhere), started to sing, and how beautifully sweetly she sang it too. After a while it was Thelma Ruby’s turn. Now though Ms Ruby is a fine comedy singer, and her diction may be better than Ms Gold’s, her voice is not as sweet, and I couldn’t really help thinking that the main part of the number could have been rather better done as a solo act by Louise Gold, for she is terrific at switching accents and styles quickly, and has such a truly beautiful voice. For the final verse of the song everyone else joined in enthusiastically, as well. It is such a lovely song.
The “wise canary”, Louise Gold, also lead the next number, the trio Sing For Your Supper by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart from The Boys From Syracuse, along with Valda Aviks and Liza Pulman. All three trilled the number thrillingly, and their movements were absolutely spot on as well. However, Louise Gold was the clear star of the piece. But then she has the experience of having sung this number ten years ago, as Adriana, in The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production of The Boys From Syracuse, where by all accounts she did it rather well, therefore, how wonderful it was that she got to reprise it here tonight.
It is time for the finale. Leaning on Louise Gold’s strong left hand, Kitty Carlisle Hart made her way to the centre of the stage, and appropriately led the company with Something To Remember You By by Arthur Schwarz and Howard Dietz from Three’s A Crowed. The song seemed a perfect one to end on. All evening, when not actually singing the leading parts, Louise Gold in particular, and to some extent Jessica Martin had provided very strong vocal support for the chorus, which somehow did not seem at all out of place, and this last number was no exception. It ended to tumultuous applause, so it is hardly surprising that the cast concluded with a brief reprise of Mutual Admiration Society.
All in all it was just a fantastic show. The Occasion was made very special by having Kitty Carlisle Hart and Anne Kaufman Schneider to present it. While every one the five familiar Lost Musicals ladies proved herself to be well worth seeing and hearing: Liza Pulman and Valda Avicks both provided splendid support, but showed that they could sing solos when required. Thelma Ruby had some great comedy triumphs. Jessica Martin was not only as joyously enthusiastic as ever, but also displayed her extensive talents to the full, ranging from: doing marvellous imitations, to belting; there was not the slightest need to worry about her overstretching herself stylistically, as Louise Gold’s presence in the cast ensured that just could not happen. Indeed it was the tall magnificent Louise Gold who dominated the quintet, the way she has many a Lost Musical. Admittedly, whenever she wasn’t actually performing, she periodically burst into laughter, but such was the atmosphere of The Occasion, that nobody (with the possible exception of The Director) minded too much. All of the five actresses were stars, but hers shone the brightest, for this Lost Musicals Occasion found Louise Gold, as a singer, doing exactly what she does best.