"TALKIN' BROADWAY" (Internet Review) • August, 2001
"An Evening With Beatrice Lillie"
Reviewed by Richard Connema
The City is now graced with three solo presentations by women, or at least two women and a drag diva. Lily Tomlin holds forth at the Theatre on the Square, Lypsinka is playing hostess at the Alcazar, and Layne Littlepage is currently presenting An Evening with Beatrice Lillie at the New Conservatory Theatre Center. And what a sublime evening it is. Littlepage is amazing as the wonderful late British comedienne. She has perfected every little movement, every little gesture and the timing of the charming Ms. Lillie. Littlepage has the voice down pat and there were moments when I thought it was the great lady herself. This is a stunning characterization.
There are not many people who know about Beatrice Lillie. Ms. Lillie's remarkable career began on the London stage in 1914. She and fellow artists Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan all started together and they starred in the smashingly successful Charlot’s Review shows. Ms. Lillie traveled back and forth from London to the New York stage for over 50 years.
I met Beatrice Lillie in the late '40s when she toured with Jack Haley in Inside USA. She was a charmer and so laid back. Ms. Lillie was also Lady Peel because of her marriage to British nobleman Sir Robert Peel. However you would never know she was a Lady; she had one of the most droll wits that I have ever known. I met with Ms. Lillie several times while she was performing in England in various shows. She was always so outgoing and open, and doing crazy things in her dressing room after the shows. I saw her for the last time when she was filming Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1966. Ms. Lillie, who passed away in 1989, has always been one of my idols. There is only one, and never will be another Beatrice Lillie.
Layne Littlepage couldn’t embodied Ms. Lillie more completely. The 90 minute with intermission show starts out with Barney Hulse in a tux coming out to the grand piano. There on the piano are a candelabra and other various sophisticate props to suggest a grand dame is coming out to entertain us. With the opening bars on the piano, Mr. Hulse announces Beatrice Lillie. She makes her entrance on roller skates wearing a stunning outfit and wearing large feathered white wings, whirling about the small intimate stage and finally hitting a wall. She tells the audience she is coming down from heaven just to entertain us for a short time.
An Evening with Beatrice Lillie is a combination of songs made famous by the comedienne with stories about her youth in Canada, her beginnings as a chorus girl in London in 1914, and her lifelong friendships with Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence, Cole Porter and Tallulah Bankhead. Ms. Lillie (and I will call her that from now on since I could not distinguish the actresses from the diva) starts the show by singing the funny Rodgers and Hart "Rhythm" medley which includes a few bars from nine rhythm-related songs. She tells many stories about Tallulah, including one in which Beatrice and Tallulah decided one Sunday to go to church in New York.
Ms. Lillie sings some of the wonderful comedy songs that made her famous in the '20s and '30s such as "I Always Say Hello to a Flower," "The Yodeling Goldfish," "The Fan" and "Paree" with innuendoes and clever word play and actions throughout. The Victorian fan song, about how to flirt with a lace fan, is hilarious. Probably one of the funniest bits of the evening is the "Swell Party Medley" from the pen of Cole Porter. During this number Ms. Lillie has various cardboard paddles with Hirschfeld drawings of famous persons of her day and today. As she holds up each paddle she imitates amazingly the voices of Julie Andrews, Noel Coward, Tammy Grimes, and Tallulah, among others.
Ms. Littlepage performed this intimate show in New York at the High Spirits Room, which I am sorry to say is no longer in existence. I can only hope she takes the show to other cities in the states. It is well worth seeing.