Playwright, composer, lyricist, director, actor and singer, Noël Coward was known for his urbane wit, flamboyance, and what Time magazine called “a sense of personal style.” Multifaceted as a finely cut diamond, with a complex sophistication to his lyrics, he set a standard of excellence in his work that set the bar high and made him one of the handful of cleverest creative personalities of the twentieth century —a century, I might add, when being intelligent and witty was celebrated and considered a center-placed jewel in the crown of civilization. His material has been incorporated into many a cabaret show, but only a very special few endeavor to and succeed in performing full programs of his work. Steve Ross comes to mind.
Sally Darling is a bona fide Cowardophile who, in the 1970s, created and staged three revues of the songs of Noël Coward and fellow sophisticate Cole Porter — and then created a fourth, for the Theatre Guild, which she tailored for Patricia Morison, Larry Kert, Dick Shawn and Tony Tanner. In 2005 she collaborated with the late great, Paul Trueblood on her cabaret show Noël and Cole. She’s studied his lyrics, read books about him, read and seen his plays– made possible by the fact that Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit have returned to the stage many times as staples of the theatre’s repertoire. She has immersed herself to the point that she has read his own words in the forms of his diaries, letters and essays, which are all bountiful. Her desire to share her admiration for the man is reflected in her new show, Totally Noël with a Little Bit of Sally, with performances at Don’t Tell Mama in midtown Manhattan on Restaurant Row—two nights only: Friday, October 14th at 7pm and Sunday, October 16th at 5pm .
NiteLife Exchange had some questions for Sally.
NLE – If you could have met Noël Coward for beverages and asked him about a song or specific lyric of his, what would it have been and why?
Sally Darling – If I could ask Noël Coward about a particular song or lyric, it would be about “Sigh No More”. Did he get the idea for this breathtakingly beautiful ballad from Shakespeare’s verse in Much Ado About Nothing (“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, men were deceivers ever…..”) What prompted it?
NLE – What was the title of the revue you put together for the Theatre Guild and what was the process of putting that together? Did you run it in cabaret spaces of the time?
Sally Darling – The revue for the Theatre Guild wasn’t performed in cabaret, but came out of my previous revues. It was called, simply, Noël and Cole and featured the performers the Guild had already booked for a cruise. I matched songs to the particular performers, e.g., Cole Porter’s “A Little Skipper from Heaven Above,” a number written for Jimmy Durante, was perfect for Dick Shawn.
NLE – Of all the stories you know about him through his personal papers, which puts the biggest smile on your face?
Sally Darling – So many stories about Noël Coward make me smile, but perhaps my favorite example of his wit is a letter he wrote to T. E. Lawrence [Lawrence of Arabia] who tried to avoid his fame by signing his letters with his army service number. Noël wrote, “Dear 338171…..May I call you 338?.”
NLE – Of all of the bon mots he tossed off, which is your favorite quote of his? And, if that’s too hard, give us two quotes.
Sally Darling – Asked to describe the style of his colorful tropical paintings, he said, “Erratic. Actually, it’s known by my friends as ‘Touch and Gauguin.’” Informed that a dim-witted actor had blown his brains out: “He must have been a marvelous shot!”
NLE – After all of the time you’ve dedicated to researching Mr. Coward, what advice would you give to those who might be thinking of including a Noël Coward song in their repertoire, let alone a full show?
Sally Darling – I’ say: If you’re doing the patter songs, be precise. If you’re doing a ballad, resonate with it. Above all, pay full attention to the lyrics; they’re brilliant and each word is exactly what he meant to say.
NLE – What would you like to say to someone thinking about coming to the show, but who hasn’t made a reservation yet?
Sally Darling – It’s a full and satisfying evening in which you’ll become acquainted with a thoroughly amazing man. As my Musical Director Matthew Martin Ward said, “Do come. Really. DO!”