GO! MAGAZINE (MONTEREY) • January 11, 2001

Bea Lillie show is a triumph for Layne Littlepage

Reviewed by Barbara Rose Shuler

The talented and irrepressible writer-actress-singer Layne Littlepage returns with another delightful incarnation of her Beatrice Lillie show, the fourth round to be produced on peninsula stages. Each version Littlepage brings to the public is slightly different, but all her Bea's possess the same high spirits, impeccable timing, good humor and magic.

If you don't know who Beatrice Lillie is or have never heard of Layne Littlepage, now is your chance to hightail it over to the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts in Carmel before Feb. 4 to find out about both of them.

I highly recommend this because Littlepage's "An Evening With Beatrice Lillie" is simply one of the best theater pieces ever created by someone in our region. Furthermore, she will soon be taking it to New York where, mark my words, she will also attract appreciative audiences who may not easily let her go.

Beatrice Lillie was born at the turn of the (20th) century in Toronto, Canada. Her love of the theater led to a British debut in 1914, which launched her remarkable success on the London stage. She married aristocrat Sir Robert Peel and became a British subject.

Despite an unhappy personal life, Lillie's career soared, bringing her in contact with some of the most famous and accomplished people of her time, including members of the British Royal Family, Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, Fanny Brice, Bing Crosby, Clark Gable and Cole Porter. She was part of the inseparable theatrical foursome that included Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence and Tallulah Bankhead.

Lillie starred in many of Noel Coward's shows. During World War II she entertained in London and toured Army bases in the Mediterranean, Africa and the Middle East. She appeared on Broadway in 1952 in "An Evening With Beatrice Lillie," for which she received a Tony Award.

Lillie was a frequent guest on television in the 1950s and 1960s, including appearances with Ed Sullivan, Jack Paar, Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin. In addition to the live stage she performed in vaudeville, film and radio. Lillie died in England in 1989 at the age of 94.

As with her early productions, Littlepage who bears a striking resemblance to the comedienne, floats on to the stage as Bea, wearing wings and rollerskates, and begins to talk about her life. She's enchanting, funny, charming, irreverent and enormously talented in this role.

Accompanied at the piano by Barney Hulse, Littlepage weaves more than 15 of Bea's songs into the show, including several new ones. (Littlepage continues to turn up new Bea Lillie material.)

She performs old favorites such as "Rhythm," "Guess Who Was There," "Weary Of It All," "Maude," "I Always Say Hello To A Flower" and "Wind 'Round My Heart."

The classic riff on "Double Damask Dinner Napkins" is happily repeated in this show, with Hulse as the straightman. Among Littlepage's new contributions are the unlikely funnybone-tickler "The Yodeling Goldfish" and a medley of party songs in which she rather brilliantly impersonates various of Lillie's associates including Tallulah Bankhead and Julie Andrews.

The show, which runs just under two hours, takes place on a simple but stylish set, a'la New York, beautifully designed by Renata Yundt.

What a wonderful gift Littlepage has given to us in recreating Bea Lillie. This grandly funny, intelligent and utterly irresistible woman truly seems to live again through this superb actress. So, get your tickets now!

Though she calls the (Monterey) peninsula home, when New York discovers the new Beatrice Lillie, Littlepage may be gone from our stages for a long, long time. Knock'em dead, Layne!

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