Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Dance Party: Easy Street

The star of this week's Dance Party was well-known in musical theatre circles, but the public at large would be hard-pressed to pick her out of a line-up. Dorothy Loudon spent her career onstage, with only two film appearances ( Garbo Talks and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) to her credit. The early years of her career were littered with flop after flop, though she usually emerged from each disaster with good reviews for her own performance. Nowhere To Go But Up, Fig Leaves Are For Falling, and Lolita, My Love are all shows of which you have never heard, but they all starred our Miss Loudon. Her breakout performance came when she was solidly middle aged, and it was a doozy. I saw her in this performance, as Miss Hannigan in the original production of Annie, and she lifted a very mediocre piece to musical theatre legend.

After Annie, she headlined one of the biggest flops in history, Ballroom, which I also saw and loved, and starred in a short-lived TV series called Dorothy. She appeared opposite Katherine Hepburn in her final stage play (West Side Waltz) and was in the original cast of Noises Off. I saw only one more live Loudon performance, in a new musical called Over and Over at Signature Theatre in 1999 (the piece is still floating around under the title All About Us). She clearly felt a bit trapped in the project, which, despite a book by Tony winner Joseph Stein (based on Pulitzer-Prize winning material by Thornton Wilder), music by Tony winners Kander and Ebb, and a cast which included Broadway vet David Garrison, upcoming star Sherie Renee Scott (only a year or so before her breakout role in Aida) and funnyman Mario Cantone, the thing just didn't work. Loudon, I understand, was hired to play a role which was cut during rehearsal, and ended up playing several smaller roles, each to hilarious effect. But her parting shot onstage was an ad-lib she has used many times in her career: "I'm too good for this show."

She was also too good for Annie, but she made it work for herself, and us. Here is a bit of one of her showstoppers from the Tony Awards, in which she displays her superb comic timing as well as her throaty pipes; she gave this performance just a few minutes after winning the Tony over her co-star, Andrea McArdle:

 Dorothy Loudon died six years ago this week, at the age of 70.