By BART GREENBERG****Here She Is Boys, Here She Is World, Here’s Lane! The diminutive blonde with the husky voice is part seductress, part realist, part survivor and part fairy spirit (it is not accidental that her first stage role was the water sprite Ondine). And now she has returned to the New York stage, making her debut at Don’t Tell Mama, to give us a glimpse of her life during the halcyon days of the Broadway theater in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Welcome Lane Bradbury.
Let Me Entertain You Again is Ms. Bradbury’s autobiographical show, more theater piece than cabaret, about her early life in Atlanta, Georgia, as a self-described “odd duck”, and her escape to New York City to pursue her desires to dance, and, in time, to act. She wound up at the Actor’s Studio by one of those accidents that shape a career, which led to a deep mentor relationship with Lee Strasberg, illuminated in the show at the famed cabaret venue.
The show itself was a work of love created by friends and family. It is directed by one of her two beloved daughters, Elkin Antoniou and written by a dear friend, Doug DeVita, who was in a roundabout way responsible for the birth of the show through his escorting her to see the Broadway production of Next to Normal, which awoke in her a desire to return to live performance after decades as an actress in television and films, as a teacher, a documentary film maker and a wife and mother.
When I had the pleasure of brunching with Lane Bradbury a few weeks earlier, she recounted both her journeys before she arrived on Broadway — and once she departed. The Atlanta she grew up with was still segregated and being a debutante required certain restrictions and restraints that did not suit her personality. She shared a strong memory of shock during her early days in New York City when she saw two women emerging from church with arms linked, chatting, clearly dear friends. One lady was white and one was African-American, and Bradbury had never believed such a friendship could exist. Returning home for a family holiday, she regaled her family with this revelation which caused her father to command her mother: “Lane cannot return to New York. She obviously has been influenced by the Communists.” But return she did.
Her audition for Gypsy, which she recreates in her show, was a song from the first Broadway musical she had seen— Can-Can, introduced by her first theater role model, Gwen Verdon. Bradbury’s delivery of “Maidens Typical of France” is delightful. France is a reoccurring theme in the actress’s conversation; she sings in French during her performance, and had told me that, after our brunch, she would be heading to a French literature class.
Broadway would introduce Bradbury to great talents, both supportive (the all-grown-up June Havoc, the real-life character she played in Gypsy), whom she would work with in a production of the latter’s Marathon ’33, Elia Kazan, who gave her her first role in J.B., and actress Patricia Roe) and difficult to terrifying and the star of Gypsy (Ethel Merman) and the show’s director and choreographer, Jerome Robbins, whose cruelty she relates in her show at Mama’s), and Bette Davis, whose only interest seemed to be in her own performance.
Of course, there was time for romance, especially with a young man from her home town identified in her show as “Eddie.” In a very clever piece of special material by Jan Roper, Bradbury recalls their date to the premiere of The Young Lions and the party afterwards, when she was clad in The Dress, her debutante ball gown that almost had a personality of its own.
Also discussed were her exhausting experiences in Gypsy and The Night of the Iguana, and a brief rehearsal period for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (she was released after one week and “replaced by the director’s girlfriend”). With her trademark honesty, she acknowledged she was coasting during that time and probably saved her sanity by departing the show and New York City.
Relocating to “the other coast”, Bradbury became a regular on television, guest-starring on pretty much every genre of broadcasting, from sitcoms (her Actors Studio training was challenged with the fluffy nature, but she just got down to doing the job) to westerns (she loves to ride) to cop shows (she loved being on In the Heat of the Night where she played less than ladylike roles). She was also part of a landmark made-for-TV film, Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring, playing the younger sister to Sally Field, and the daughter of Eleanor Parker and Jackie Cooper. She united with Field over their similar acting methods, while feeling estranged from the older actors who were raised in the Hollywood studio style, which she used to inform her character’s estrangement from her parents. Two happy things came out of this film: a deep friendship with Field, renewed backstage this year at the new production of The Glass Menagerie, and her daughters’ informing her that the film, which dealt with the danger of recreational drugs, kept them on the straight and narrow.
Returning finally to the city she once had so much enthusiasm for (she celebrates her first arrival in her show with a breathless, joyous version of “Another Hundred People”), she enchants the audience with her stories and songs. Ably abetted by her musical director Joe Goodrich, who also helps out on the vocals, Bradbury is a rediscovered treasure. Her energy is infectious. As she told me at brunch, “The only time I’m not doing something, I’m asleep.”
Don’t Tell Mama is at 343 West 46 Street on Manhattan’s Restaurant Row. For reservations for the 7 PM show on Thursday, June 29, call 212-212-757-0788 after 4 PM when the venue is open for business or click on this link to reserve online:
Cover charge is $20 plus a two-drink minimum.