Nothing Like a Dame
"She would do anything..." says Angela Lansbury in Eddie Shapiro's "Nothing Like a Dame." "If it meant murdering people and chopping them up, she was willing to do it. I know quite a few women like that, don't you?"
She's describing the roll of Mrs. Lovett that she immortalized in the original production of Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Wheeler and Hal Prince's "Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," a legendary roll created by a legendary performer.
Lansbury paints a picture of how she was hesitant to enter into the project and how she had to push for comedy in the piece in order to make her character engaging and palatable, because initially the humor just wasn't there.
It's not terribly surprising that Lansbury enjoys housekeeping and gardening, but who would imagine she has a bit of an ambitious streak, or that Patti LuPone can be warm and welcoming, a nurturing mother hen, with virtually no temperament and ego? Or that Carol Channing was so focused on creating her roll she was completely unaware of monstrous tensions between composer Jerry Herman and producer David Merrick during "Hello, Dolly!"'s out-of-town run?
You'll never cease to be surprised or delighted by the interviews with 20 carefully selected women of Broadway that this book features. Though many of these women are much more than a triple threat (not only do they sing, dance and act the hell out of a show, they also do film and television), all of them are Tony Award-winning stars who have spent the majority of their careers in theatre.
A consummate theatre writer and enthusiast, Shapiro asks questions that reveal each woman's most interesting qualities and reverse our expectations. He goes into each of these interviews knowing these women's careers backward and forward, with all the theatre lore that surrounds them, and having read the biographies of Broadway's writers, composers and lyricists.
The author successfully records an oral history of American musical theater by attempting to bring us interviews that are "career encompassing" and "bigger than anything else written about these women" (save some of the biographies the women wrote themselves).
No one's name pales in book that is peppered with production photos. Elaine Stritch, Carol Channing, Chita Rivera, Donna McKechnie, Angela Lansbury, Leslie Uggams, Judy Kaye, Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone, Bebe Neuwirth, Donna Murphy, Lillias White, Karen Ziemba, Debra Monk, Victoria Clark, Audra McDonald, Kristen Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Sutton Foster and Laura Benanti with a foreward by Elaine Paige.
The lives of these women are all unique and they inhabit a very interesting time period in theatre history, linking the golden age of Broadway and the Great White Way of today.
"Nothing Like A Dame"
Oxford University Press