People who write descriptions like “Broadway royalties” tend to be free to roam. But there’s no disputing that title claim by Angela Lansbury, who passed away on Tuesday, just five days before her 97th birthday. She is a great dame of the theater of the kind that has largely gone the way of the dinosaurs. It’s tempting to imagine a reverent silence passing through New York’s holiest stages tonight, along with those in London, as they greet another wonderful ghost.
Lansbury is a classy act, a rare public figure whose elegant flair matches her easy going. When she was not on the actual stage, performing tirelessly in plays and musicals during her eighth decade, I saw her many times in the theater as a spectator. normal.
Often dressed in a chic outfit with unflattering gold jewelry, her patriarchal posture – and perhaps a sensible pair of heels – makes her appear taller, more stately than her stature. his 5’8” . She’s always pleased with audiences’ statements about their fandom, but her grandmother’s warmth also makes it clear that a respectful distance is a must.
I met Lansbury only once, when I was Chief Theater Critic at Diversityat the publication’s 100th anniversary party in Los Angeles in 2005. She arrived with a companion and didn’t seem to notice, so I went to greet her myself.
I know from a Page 6 entry that week in The New York Post that Lansbury attended Stephen Sondheim’s completely stripped Broadway revival and Hugh Wheeler’s Victorian killer musical Sweeney Toddstars Patti LuPone honk on a tuba as Mrs. Lovett.
That unusually juicy part, a Fleet Street bakery owner who found a new method of disposing of bodies for which the “devil barber” yearned for revenge, is a story Lansbury originated. in 1979. It brought her fourth of five Tony Awards in the competitive categories, followed by sixth in lifetime achievement in 2022.
Lansbury has been full of praise for her revival, explaining how it is closer to Sondheim’s original Grand Guignol concept than the industrial epic it became in Harold Prince’s first production. We talked about her history with the show, first co-starring Len Cariou and then with George Hearn on tour, which was taped to air on television during their engagement in Los Angeles. , the footage becomes an important resource for fans of major musical theatre.
I put my foot in all that is shared Sweeney Todd love, however, when I note that LuPone’s interpretation of Mrs. Lovett is quite different from Lansbury’s. “Yes, completely different,” came the truncated answer, her smile turning ice cold and pretty much ending the conversation. I was educated by Angela Lansbury!
His ability to instantly turn normal into a chill has informed some of Lansbury’s greatest performances, perhaps most of all the manipulative matriarchal role of a prominent Washington political family in John Frankenheimer’s 1962 neo-noir, Manchurian candidate. Her personality proved to be so indelible that Meryl Streep’s take on the role in the 2004 Jonathan Demme remake pales in comparison.
Frankenheimer’s Cold War classic earned Lansbury a third best supporting actress Academy Award nomination, sadly none of the films won. The first was her screen debut in 1944 by George Cukor Gaslight, plays Nancy, a depraved handmaiden whose attitude further drives the house’s paranoid hostess, played by Ingrid Bergman. The second time was when the pub singer was heartbrokenly cast aside by the title of caddish aristocrat in 1945 Painting by Dorian Gray.
Despite her promising start in films, Hollywood rarely knows what to do with Lansbury’s exceptional talent. She only really started making a comeback as a beloved presence in the 1970s, first as an apprentice witch who opened up a world of magic to the children in her care during wartime. at Disney. Bed Cover and Broom.
Perhaps it was the scene of Lansbury riding a broom in a combat helmet with a sword held aloft that helped land her larger-than-life roles, such as the self-scripted romance novelist Salome Otterbourne in the series. 1978 all-star adaptation of Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile.
A brush follow-up with Christie, playing Miss Marple writer’s famous shaggy girl in 1980 The Mirror Crack’d, less successful. But it certainly helped seed Lansbury’s casting a few years later in what is still her most iconic role, as Jessica Fletcher, mystery writer and amateur detective busy with countless murders in the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine, in CBS’ Murder, She Wrote.
That Sunday night’s popular staple ran for 12 seasons, spawned spin-off TV shows and even a Magnum, PI cross set. The show brought Lansbury a record 12 Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, again neither winning nor giving. Murder, She Wrote as well as six other times she was nominated. Perhaps the Television Academy is long overdue for career honors, as the 2014 Oscars did.
Lansbury’s most extensive appearances have come from her screen work, which includes one of her most beloved characters, the voice of Mrs. Potts, the castle teapot from the instant classic cartoon Disney’s 1991, Beauty and the Beast. The recording of the film’s theme song was almost inaudible and brought tears to the eyes. She continued her Disney affiliation with one of her last film roles, a touching cameo as the Balloon Lady in 2018. Mary Poppins is back.
But for anyone lucky enough to witness Lansbury’s work on stage, that’s where she will be most sincerely remembered. Her career on the Broadway stage spanned more than half a century, including musical warhorses like Mother and Gypsy. She even managed to pull a Tony out of the silly Jerry Herman failure Dear world and won another as the little clairvoyant Madame Arcati in the farce Noël Coward Blithe Spirit.
Her Broadway work in plays includes Tony Richardson’s 1961 original production of the British television series Sink, The taste of honeyand her last role was in Gore Vidal’s election satire cast, The best man, appearing with John Larroquette, Eric McCormack, James Earl Jones, Candice Bergen, and Michael McKean. Lansbury’s character’s outspoken opinions about what American women like and dislike about their presidents and first ladies are a master of scene-stealing in acumen delivery.
2007 comedy Deuce may not be remembered among the great works of Terrence McNally. But any play uses Lansbury and another great woman of the stage, Marian Seldes, as a former tennis player and leaves the entire audience gasping in awe as Jessica Fletcher throws a “C.” not bad at all.
Given how fresh the loss of Sondheim is, it was inevitable that Lansbury’s longstanding relationship with the composer resonated strongly. They worked together for the first time in 1964 Anyone can whistlewith Lansbury co-starring Lee Remick in a show that ended after just 12 shows and has rarely been produced since.
That musical debut might not have gone well for some, but Lansbury turned it into a flourishing career path, going on to nail one of her signature roles (and the first as her Tonys), in Mother, just two years later. She worked again with Sondheim (and won another Tony) in 1974 Gypsy revived and then won in 1979 in Sweeney Todd.
Mrs. Lovett may have been an eccentric, willing to sell pies made of human flesh to get through tough times and help the man she loved, but the desperate desire Lansbury instilled in her character made her she becomes a tragic figure of haunting vulnerability beneath the raw fun of the exterior.
It won’t be Lansbury’s last Broadway role, but I would choose to think about the 2009 revival of Sondheim and Wheeler. Some night songs like her swan song. As the mother of famed beauty Desiree Armfeldt, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lansbury spent most of the show’s time in a wheelchair, a glorious relic of old-world European hauteur, observing the lustful girls of everyone around and lacks nothing.
Madame Armfeldt only had one solo, “Liaisons,” but it was a great song. A flashback to the past – champagne and jewels, lavish parties and glamorous gowns, trials with kings and kings – it was performed by Lansbury with sadness and humour, pride and wisdom. She faced the looming specter of her death with a twinkle of defiance, toasting, “To death!” I’d like to think that’s her way of getting herself out, mentally stripped by so many glorious memories.