Sunday, March 9, 2008

Imogene Coca performs "Repent"

Coca originated the role of Mrs. Letitia Primrose (a role Mildred Natwick turned down for being too salacious), the religious fanatic from the lunatic asylum in the screwball musical comedy On the Twentieth Century. This highly entertaining number was her one solo in the show in which she instructed the audience on the only way they could find salvation: to "Repent." The musical opened in 1978 at the St. James starring Madeline Kahn, John Cullum and Kevin Kline. Directed by Hal Prince, with music by Cy Coleman and book and lyrics by Comden & Green, the musical is an adaptation of the farce Twentieth Century, most famous for its 1934 film adaptation with John Barrymore and Carole Lombard. The show is a treasure: the two leads parallel Kiss Me Kate in that they must be able to sing with near operatic quality, but they must also be funny (not to mention the mammoth egos of the leading characters). The show is about a desperate theatre impresario trying to make a comeback with his former leading lady/ex-lover, who has gone on to Hollywood stardom. The score is phenomenal and the cast recording is a must have, in spite of the fact they recorded on a day when Kahn was experiencing vocal problems. (Oh, but what an overture and what a great listen).

(Kahn would depart the company after two months, the specifics of which are still partly cloudy. Understudy Judy Kaye became a star replacing her in the lead role. Sarah, Noah and I were privileged enough to see Kaye sing "Never" at the Theatre World Awards a couple years back and she could still play the role at 60). The show won 5 Tony awards including Best Actor (Cullum), Best Feat. Actor (Kline), Best Book, Score and Scenic Design (a celebration of art deco that audiences cheered as much as the show itself).

The musical played 460 performances and has only been revived in NY under the guise of an Actor's Fund concert starring Douglas Sills, Marin Mazzie and Joanne Worley.

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