St. Joan of Lorraine cut her hair and dressed as a man to save France. Stately and sassy Sally Darling sheared her hair to resurrect Noël Coward. At Don’t Tell Mama, Ms. Darling is more than cabaret diva: she is a medium. She effectively conjures the late, great Coward. In light of contemporary crass, coarse Trump tabloid-like media, her ultra-sophistication seems like exotica. She summons up a more refined zeitgeist via an inspired awareness and an informed consciousness. Due to precision in style, her presence never upstages the gourmet vocabulary of Coward’s complex lyrics.
With a chic structure and terse narrative she reviews master wit Coward’s achievements. A highlight of her show, Totally Noël, with a Little Bit of Sally, is the unexpurgated “Mad About the Boy.” It is particularly moving in our post-same-sex marriage legalization era. She minces no words in describing Coward’s decades-long persecution (comparable to Tennessee Williams’ crucifixion). The horror of this harassment seems a significant subtext to even Coward’s most joyous songs. A moody “Matelot” is presented and a Bea Lillie-esque “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” are on view. Her irresistible conspirator, Matthew Martin Ward helps make “The Brownsville Darby and Joan” an audience favorite.
I approached reviewing this show with trepidation. I kept reminiscing about Maggie Smith and Tammy Grimes whose affects have made enduring impressions. Ms. Darling did not disappoint one iota. Her sensibility understands the innuendo, subtlety and nuance of Coward’s wordplay. Her ongoing terse biographical comments were informative. The disclosure that Cary Grant, Leslie Howard and Coward functioned as bona fide War spies was intriguing. Her interjections of “(Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage) Mrs. Worthington” were droll, even in repetition. The costuming and lighting seemed appropriately exquisite.
Editor’s Note: Sally Darling, a recent winner of the Hanson Award from MAC (the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) was reviewed in her October performance at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street in Manhattan, and she returns there with this show on December 13.