The St. James Studio is a very special venue and dear to my heart. Walking down the steps one is greeted by black and white photographs featuring classic Hollywood stars from Hitchcock to the Rat Pack to James Dean. The auditorium has the atmosphere of a jazz club and does indeed often serve as a performance space for talented jazz singers and musicians, solo artists as well as regular theatre productions. Tonight I have come to see a one-woman show about Dame Angela Lansbury, who just happens to celebrate her 90th birthday on the very same day – and there will be a cake.
Fiona-Jane Weston makes her grand entrance with “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy, and gives a short introduction to her show, which is called Looking for Lansbury because the actor has always been intensely private – an “enigma star” – but Ms Western has done her research and is going to share her findings with us.
As Angela’s father died when she was very young, she was mainly influenced by her English grandfather George Lansbury, who had fought with the suffragettes, and her Irish actor-mother Moyna Mcglll, Consequently, Angela was not quite sure whether she should become a politician or an actor. Soon the teenager found herself in a drama school in New York where she also developed an interest in the musical theatre although it was frowned upon by serious thespians. Once in L.A , the young woman soon landed a contract with MGM but found herself playing the mothers of men about her own age. Obviously the Hollywood moguls did not consider her movie star material. After playing a variety of mothers Ms Lansbury decided to focus on a career on Broadway.
Accompanied by the witty William Godfree on the piano, Ms Western alternated her narrative about Angela Lansbury’s career and personal life, sometimes embedded in their historical context, with songs from some of her most memorable shows such as Mame, Sweeney Todd, Gypsy, Anyone Can Whistle, and Beauty and the Beast. With so many Angela Lansbury fans present, the performance sometimes was close to turning into a sing-along, and Fiona-Jane Western took full advantage of an audience more than willing to participate.
Although the show was over two hours long, including an interval, there was not one dull moment in Patrick Lambe’s production. Fiona-Jane Weston had a great rapport with the audience and remained calm even when dealing with wardrobe mishaps, dismissing the incidents with humour and charm.
A delightful show about one of the great living legends.
Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin
Photo: Dan Tsantalis