Presenting…in person…/That 3′ foot 3 bundle of dynamite…Baaabeee…June! [applause]
Hello everybody/My name is June (beat) What’s yours?
With that speech, ten- year-old Bonnie Langford made her Broadway debut in Arthur Laurent’s imported production of Stephen Sondheim’s and Jule Styne’s Gypsy. Angela Lansbury played Rose. It was “a long way from Twickenham where I was from.” Apparently, her parents had agreed to the trip assuming the producer wasn’t serious. They were being “polite.” She was nominated for a Drama Desk Award. And spent her first Christmas in New York.
Little Bonnie was thrilled to be asked to perform her number for television cameras in front of Macy’s, on the occasion of the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. A patch of carpet was laid on the street to protect her tender skin. Out the front doors she came at full throttle, perfectly executing her dance moves, ending in a full split-overshooting the carpet, only to land on a steaming manhole cover! (She demonstrates).
These and other buoyant stories of a remarkably full career, act as a through-line in Langford’s premiere as a cabaret performer thirty-six years later. Starring roles in The Pirates of Penzance, Peter Pan, Chicago, Sweet Charity and Me and My Girl—to name a few highlights—give this ebullient artist ample, entertaining anecdotal material.
Beginning the evening with a rare rendition of Kander & Ebb’s Winter in New York: Your hopes die/Your dreams die/ Your begonia gets pneumonia (nice, syncopated arrangement) she has the audience smiling from the get-go. Interestingly, Langford speaks with her natural British accent, but for all except a very few songs, sings with an American one. A musical theater actress first, she doesn’t merely sing the song, she plays the character.
A medley from Gypsy, a song from Harold Rome’s 1972 Gone With The Wind (yes, it flopped twice), and a number from the kid-filled film, Bugsy Malone (starring Jodie Foster) followed. For Show Business (Bugsy Malone), she portrays an exaggerated caricature crossing Hirschfield with a Disney cartoon. Langford is loose and expressive. She has all the moves and no fear of being broad. The few times her voice doesn’t meet its own power are negligible and forgivable.
Unexpectedly, it’s a Charles Strouse/Don Black song from The Worst Witch that offers the first beautifully performed song sung simply. (It would be swell to have another of these). Langford has quite a range. The act includes brassy blues (Fosse & not), pop interpretation, carefully enunciated and physically enacted T.S. Eliot (Cats), ballads, and a supposed Metropolitan Opera audition which is not only formidable in regard to her gymnastic voice, but showcases skills as an accomplished comedienne.
The jaunty duet, Together Again (Mel Brooks from Young Frankenstein) with her pianist and music director, Michael Levine, swings smooth as silk: Like Ginger and Freddie/MacDonald and Eddie… Langford puts a little spin on this and opens full throttle on that. We learn Judy Dench almost originated Grizabella (in Cats), Joss Ackland liked to wear three red sequins over his eye playing Captain Hook, and screaming in the key of F was requisite during the mid eighties taping of the ever popular British Sci-Fi series Doctor Who. There’s never a dull moment.
Langford ingratiates herself with her audience. She makes fun of her own resident alien status with great flair singing Charles Strouse’s You Can Be a New Yorker Too, which you’re unlikely to ever hear again. A diminutive woman, she snaps and crackles, gleefully and effectively using the whole stage, filling the room with the resounding joy of her art. Bonnie Langford’s second Christmas in New York is something of a gift.
Bonnie Langford Christmas in New York
Music Director/Pianist Michael Levine
59E59 Street Theaters
59 East 59th Street
www.59e59.org or Ticket Central 212-297-4200
Through January 2