Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence Banter


Musical comedy by Sheridan Morley. Songs by Noel Coward. Costumes by Barbara Beccio. Scenic design by James Morgan. Lighting by Mary Jo Dondlinger. Produced by the York Theatre Company. At the Theatre at Saint Peter's Church, Citicorp, through December 20.

`NOEL AND GERTIE" is a diverting little musical comedy that begins slowly but gradually wins you over with its warmth and wit.

It is a musical retrospective based on the legendary friendship and professional collaboration of actor, playwright, songwriter Noel Coward and actress Gertrude Lawrence set in a sophisticated and glamorous era.

Sheridan Morley's play, which was originally produced in London in 1986 and has had two recent London productions, is premiering here at the Theatre at Saint Peter's Church.

Morley is author of both the Noel Coward biography, "A Talent to Amuse," and the Gertrude Lawrence biography "A Bright Particular Star."

His tale of the two theatrical titans is neatly linked with scenes from some of Coward's best known plays, including "Private Lives" and "Blithe Spirit."

Noel Coward fans will also delight in snatches of his best songs, especially the hauntingly beautiful, "Someday I'll Find You."

As a child actress, Lawrence possessed sublime self-confidence and even passed out business cards, saying "Little Gertie Lawrence - Actress and Danseuse."

Coward and Lawrence first met when they were in their teens.

Lawrence went on to star in dozens of Coward's plays. Off stage, they kept up a bantering, but always affectionate friendship, which "Noel & Gertie" ably captures.

In 1929, when Lawrence appeared in "Candlelight," her first nonmusical play, Coward wired her tauntingly, "Legitimate at last, darling. Won't mother be pleased."

Jane Summerhays as Gertrude Lawrence, and Michael Zaslow as Noel Coward, put poignance and genuine feeling into the more serious scenes in "Noel and Gertie."

However, both performers have trouble sustaining the showy and amusingy teasing between their characters.

Noel Coward's thin plots and brilliantly brittle dialogue have always needed actors of extraordinary talent to bring his sardonic and caustic wit to full bloom.

James Morgan's imaginative art-deco set is reminiscent of a Fred Astaire film.

In sum, "Noel and Gertie" is a pleasant, nostalgic buffet that is a tribute to friendship and the theater of yesteryear.

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