Spoleto Music Festival USA

"Entertainer brings back funny,
flashy Bea Lillie"

Reviewed by Diane Sprung

A game of Jeopardy is in order here. A: She was one of the world's most unparalleled comedians, born in 1894 and died in 1989. Q: Who was Beatrice Lillie?

There's a good chance many of you recall a 1967 movie, now a Broadway play, "Thoroughly Modern Millie." If you do, the name that immediately comes to mind is Julie Andrews. If you remember the comedy, chances are you probably forgot that Bea Lillie played the villain, Mrs. Meers.

With her enjoyed longevity, there were many other things this talented lady did. She was an author, singer, actor, and witty woman who hobnobbed with royalty, Charlie Chaplin, Grace Kelly, Cole Porter plus many other celebrities. One of whom was Noel Coward. Starring in many of his plays made her famous for her signature song, "Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Noonday Sun."

Final Jeopardy -- A: She performs in "An Evening With Beatrice Lillie" at College of Charleston's sold-out Chapel Theatre. Q: Who is Layne Littlepage?

With makeup, hairstyle, costume and without a doubt, lots of research, Littlepage is nearly a dead ringer for Bea Lillie. In fact Littlepage enters, a la Bea Lillie, by roller-skating across the stage in a costume emblazoned with sequins, a long skirt, and huge feathered wings. She is an angel, come back from the beyond to tell us about her life on earth.

This is an inspired performance. The talented actor with a beautifully trained voice sings her way through the story of Lillie's life. An opera? Well, yes, in the broadest sense of the word but she also interacts with the audience. For example, when a man walks in late, she offers to help him to his seat. She drops a piece of sheet music and asks the man who retrieves it to "hold that for me, will you?" Someone forgets to turn off a beeper and without skipping a beat, she asks, "Did you just beep? Yes, you are beeping. Do people today beep?"

This is a loony lady, complete with double talk, spoonerisms, and just plain funny stuff that keeps the audience laughing for two hours. As she sings the dubious diva's life story there are several highlights.

In the silly "I Always Says Hello to a Flower," she sings "I totally ignore the bore next door, but I always say hello to a flower."

"Milady Dines Alone" has no lyrics. It's more like a silent movie with her sidekick and pianist, Barney Hulse.

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