Noel Coward at Las Vegas
Night Club reviews in the June 15, 1955, edition of Variety, the Gideon of the theatrical world, shouted as follows: “Las Vegas, Flipping, Shouts ‘More!’ As Noel Coward Wows ’Em in Café Turn.” The article went on to spell out the news that Mr. Coward had “socked across his message to a glittering first-night audience of theatrical luminaries here last week [June 7th].” Hidden deep in that cascade of luminaries were a tape recorder and an engineer, accompanied by Goddard Lieberson, who had journeyed to the Nevada mecca for the purpose of trapping and holding what was about to happen within the shiny confines of tape and recording head.
The crush of that opening night was notable, even for Las Vegas. Booking the theatrical great into Las Vegas bistros had not particularly paid off; that is, the audience for culture had not turned out to be the audience for gambling, once the culture was consumed. Gilbert Millstein quoted one culture advocate as having explained: “People who come to hear lieder aren’t looking to make eight the hard way.” If class was going to be brought to Nevada, it was going to have to be done by another sort of star.
And so they got Noel Coward. What could be simpler or more direct? Already a “legit legend,” as Variety opined, he could step before an audience of well-heeled celebrities and idle rich, give them “what for” as no one else could, and make ’em like it.
After all, thirty years of acclaim and productivity had prepared him for this. He has nostalgia working for him as well as a frightening reputation for matchless wit that makes his listeners hang on every word, waiting to be enchanted and made hilarious – and he always delivers the goods.
Some of the songs he sang were new ones, some old. The opening medley is made up of songs from the twenties and thirties.
“I’ll See You Again” and “If Love Were All” are from Bitter Sweet (1929). “I’ll See You Again” is the Coward motto-song. He writes in The Noel Coward Song Book (Simon and Schuster): “It has proved over the years to be the greatest song hit I have ever had or am ever likely to have. I have heard it played in all parts of the world. Brass bands have blared it, string orchestras have swooned it, Palm Court quartettes have murdered it, barrel organs have ground it out in London squares and swing bands have tortured it beyond recognition. It is as popular today as when it was first heard, and I am still fond of it and very proud of it.”
“A Room with a View,” “Dance, Little Lady,” and “World Weary” are from This Year of Grace (1928), “World Weary” from the American production in which Beatrice Lillie sang the song dressed as an office boy, “sitting on a high stool while munching an apple realistically, sometimes at the expense of the lyric.”
“Poor Little Rich Girl” is described by Coward as his “first authentic song hit;” it comes from On with the Dance (1925). “Someday I’ll Find You” was the theme song from Private Lives, while “I’ll Follow My Secret Heart” is the main theme of Conversation Piece. “Play, Orchestra, Play” was sung in Shadow Play, from the second series of Tonight at Eight-Thirty.
The Coward classic, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” and his closing number, “The Party’s Over Now,” are from the revue Words and Music (1932). In his Song Book, Mr. Coward states that “Mad Dogs” was once a bone of contention between two of his admirers, F.D. Roosevelt and W. Churchill, when on the eve of signing the Atlantic Charter they got to discussing just where “In Bangkok at twelve o’clock they foam at the mouth and run” came – whether at the end of the first refrain or at the end of the second. F.D.R. was in the right this time and, says Coward, “when, a little while later, I asked Mr. Churchill about the incident, he admitted defeat like a man.”
“Nina” and “Matelot” are from the Coward score for Sigh No More, a revue produced in 1945 at the Piccadilly Theatre. To illustrate the great man’s wandering habits, “Nina” was actually begun in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa and finished in a train between Bloemfontein and Pretoria.”
There are three brand new songs here: “Uncle Harry,” “A Bar on the Piccola Marina,” which Variety described as “hilarity itself,” and “Alice Is At It Again.” Finally, there are two that Noel Coward simply didn’t write. One is “Loch Lomond,” the much-abused favorite; the other is “Let’s Do It” by Cole Porter, whose kindness in giving permission for the mayhem wrought on his brain child is only outweighed, no doubt, by his delight in the fun had by all.
– from the original liner notes to Columbia Masterworks ML 5063
Music and Lyrics by Noel Coward
Piano Accompaniment and Arrangements by Peter Matz
Recorded in actual performance at Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn, June 1955