Friday, July 25, 2014

Sail Away

To be a professional pepper upper/ isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea.
But I've wit and guile / and a big false smile
And the tourists rely on me

Noel Coward was impressed by Elaine Stritch’s performance in Goldilocks and offered her a supporting role in his new musical Sail Away. Stritch’s cruise ship hostess would supply the comedy while Jean Fenn’s tourist would engage in a bittersweet romance.

Ethan Mordden (Open a New Window): “Stritch confronted Coward with the rumor that one of the woman leads was going to have her name listed last and set off in a box with the word “and” in front of it. The exasperated Coward replied ‘she shall have her name listed last and set off in a box with the word ‘but’ in front of it.”

Out of town audiences were bored so Fenn’s role was cut and Stritch’s role built up to get the love interest and the jokes. She was a smash. The show wasn’t.

Howard Taubman (New York Times – 1961 review) “As Mimi, the brash, energetic, implacably vivacious cruise hostess, Elaine Stritch gives what must be the performance of her career. She reads lines like an unerring marksman.” Ben Brantley (New York Times – 1999 concert) “Critics fell to their knees in adoration in 1961.That adoration did not extend to Sail Away itself. ''The general feeling was that in 1936 it would have been the best musical of the year,'' wrote the actor Graham Payn, Coward's companion. ''In 1961 it ran for five months.'' The reasons are still apparent.” Ken Mandelbaum (Not Since Carrie): “The failure of both her star vehicles, Goldilocks and Sail Away, did irreparable damage to Stritch’s career.”

It would take eight years for Stritch to appear in another musical on Broadway.

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