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High Spirits

High SpiritsOriginally entitled Faster Than Sound Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray wrote and composed this musical version of Noël Coward's most popular play, Blithe Spirit in 1963. The musical was first presented in the Shubert Theatre, New Haven on 1 February 1964. The show then moved to the Colonial Theatre, Boston and the Shubert Theatre, Philadelphia before reaching New York's Alvin Theatre on 4 April 1964 where it had 375 performances.

After a long period of gestation, the composers visited Noël in New York to present and play their work. Noël was, "...all set to turn it down because it had really has been going on far too long and I was sick of all the frigging about. Coley [Noël's secretary] and I sat with our mouths open. It is quite brilliant. The music is melodic and delightful, the lyrics really witty and they have done a complete book outline keeping to my original play and yet making it effective as a musical. I am not only relieved but delighted."

Coward agreed to direct it, hoping to cast Keith Michell as Charles, Gwen Verdon as Elvira, Celeste Holm as Ruth, and Kay Thompson as Madame Arcati, with Danny Daniels as choreographer. Coward's dream cast failed to materialize, but he continued with the project.

The musical was directed by Timothy Gray and Graham Payn in London's West End where it ran for 93 performances.

Although it played well and certainly impressed the critics, it was heavily dependent on the comic abilities of the player in the enlarged role of Madame Arcati. It had relatively short runs in both the US and the UK. The musical compositions were widely applauded.

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The musical broadly follows the plot of Blithe Spirit but develops the role of the eccentric medium Madame Arcati:

Seeking material for his exposé about psychics, novelist Charles Condomine invites eccentric medium Madame Arcati to his home to conduct a séance. As Charles, his bride Ruth, and their guests the Bradmans restrain their laughter, Madame Arcati performs peculiar rituals and speaks with a propensity for clichés. Upon its conclusion, Arcati obviously is concerned about an unexpected turn the session has taken, although the author and his guests are dubious anything extraordinary occurred. Amazingly, Madame Arcati accidentally summoned the spirit of Charles' first wife Elvira during the séance.

The author, who is the only person capable of seeing Elvira, becomes both dismayed and amused by her sudden and unexpected presence. Complications ensue when Ruth becomes aware of the presence of the ghost. Eventually, the author’s fascination wanes – especially when he learns Elvira has been plotting his early demise. But the spirit miscalculates and ends up dispatching Ruth instead, after which the author is haunted by both his deceased wives.

Madame Arcati is contacted to rid his household of both spirits. Although she initially appears to be successful, it soon becomes obvious one or both spirits have remained in the house, and the plot to bring Charles into the spirit world continues.

He quickly decides to escape the premises, but his escape ultimately fails.

 

 

Act I

Was She Prettier Than I?
The Bicycle Song
You'd Better Love Me
Where Is the Man I Married?
The Sandwich Man
Go Into Your Trance
Where Is the Man I Married? (Reprise)
Forever and a Day
Something Tells Me
I Know Your Heart
Faster Than Sound

 

Act II High Spirits

If I Gave You
Talking to You
Home Sweet Heaven
Something Is Coming to Tea
The Exorcism
What In the World Did You Want?
Faster Than Sound (Reprise)

Songs composed by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray but not included in the final production:
The Season, Would You Let Me, I've Never Had a Manifestation, An English Summer Day, Nothing Ever Happens in London.

The composers produced an LP recording of all the songs they had written in which it appears they sang and accompanied themselves or employed either one or more performers for the recording. A copy of the recording was found at Noël's London Office when it was closed in 2000. It contains some songs that never made it to the final musical and some where the titles were changed. It remains a well performed work in its own right as well as giving us a stronger sense of the composers initial intentions. The quality of some of the sample tracks is poor despite some renovation.

The orginal cast recordings for the US and UK castings are as follows:

New York Cast: LP ABC-OC-1   West End Cast: CD DRG 13107 (1964)
LP Pye Records Ltd.
Pilot Recording
by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray - Private LP by Olmsted, 1 East 54th St. NYC

Side 1:
1. Overture
2. Was She Prettier Than I?
3. The Bicycle Song
4. You'd Better Love Me Listen...
5. Where Is the Man I Married?
6. Go Into Your Trance
7. Forever and a Day Listen...
8. Something Tells Me

Side 2:
9. I Know Your Heart
10. Faster Than Sound
11. If I Gave You
12. Talking to You
13. Home Sweet Heaven Listen...
14. Something Is Coming to Tea
15. What In the World Did You Want
16. Something Tells Me (Reprise)

 

1. Overture
2. Was She Prettier Than I?
3. The Bicycle Song
4. You'd Better Love Me
5. Where Is the Man I Married? Listen...
6. Go Into Your Trance
7. Forever and a Day
8. Something Tells Me
9. I Know Your Heart Listen...
10. Faster Than Sound
11. If I Gave You
12. Talking to You
13. Home Sweet Heaven
14. Something Is Coming to Tea Listen...
15. What In the World Did You Want
16. Faster Than Sound (Reprise)

Additional tracks sung by Noël Coward
Noël Coward Sings High Spirits

17. Something Tells Me Listen...
18. If I Gave You
19. Forever and a Day
19. Home Sweet Heaven

1. An English Summer Day * Listen...
2. Was She Prettier Than I?
3. The Bicycle Song
4. Forever and a Day Listen...
5. You'd Better Love Me
6. Where Is the Man I Married?
6. Go Into Your Trance
7. Forever and a Day (Reprise)
8. Nothing Ever Happens in London * Listen...

Side 2:
9. The Season * Listen...
10. Something Told Me
11. I Know Your Heart by Heart
12. Faster Than Sound Listen...
13. Would You Let Me * Listen...
14. Home Sweet Heaven Listen...
15. I've Never Had a Manifestation * Listen...
16. What In the World Did You Want
16. Faster Than Sound (Finale)

* these tracks were not used in the musical.


The musical was nominated in the following categories for the Tony awards: Best Musical, Best Composer and Lyricist, Best Author of a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical (Beatrice Lillie), Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Louise Troy), Best Choreography, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Conductor and Musical Director.

"Beatrice Lillie's performance as Madam Arcati, the happy medium in High Spirits, reaffirms her place in the recorded history of the 20th century, along with the Battle of Jutland and Salk vaccine. When she is on stage, the musical achieves both the sublime and the uproariously ridiculous." Norman Nadel New York World Telegraph

"Light and fantastic." New Haven Register

"A blithe new musical." Boston Globe

"A gay glossy poltergeist gem." Philadelphia Enquirer

"I will remember it as the musical comedy in which Beatric Lillie killed me... in about two seconds I'd turned in my critical faculties to someone who was sitting near me and had surrended." Walter Kerr New York Herald Tribune

"It has elevated by several notches the tone of Broadway's current musical theatre simply by being beguiling." John Chapman New York News

Edward Woodward and Tammy GrimesThe show High Spirits opened in the US with Beatrice (Bea) Lillie, Edward Woodward, Tammy Grimes and Louise Troy in the main roles. Noël directed the musical.

It was performed later in London with Cicely Courtneidge, Marti Stevens, Denis Quilley and Jan Waters and directed by Timothy Gray and Graham Payn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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