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Waiting in the WingsWaiting in the Wings

Waiting in the Wings was Coward's fiftieth play. It premiered in Dublin on 8 August 1960 at the Olympia Theatre, and in the West End at the Duke of York's Theatre on 7 September 1960. It was directed by Margaret Webster and starred Sybil Thorndike, Lewis Casson, Marie Lohr and Graham Payn.

Binkie Beaumont, who usually presented Coward's plays in London, turned it down as "old fashioned". Michael Redgrave put together "a starry cast led by... an amazing gathering of old actresses, many of whom had been stars when Noel was just starting out". Coward later wrote that in the pre-London tour to Dublin, Liverpool and Manchester the play was received "with heart-warming enthusiasm by both the public and the critics". The play was enthusiastically received by the public at its London opening. The London critics, however, disliked the play, and – which was in Coward's eyes much worse – the mass-circulation papers "had neither the wit nor the generosity to pay sufficient tribute to the acting... they gave to their wide circulation of readers the wholly inaccurate impression that the play had been a failure from every point of view."

Ultimately, the Waiting in the Wings was not a financial success. Coward said of the play:
"I wrote Waiting in the Wings with loving care and absolute belief in its characters. I consider that the reconciliation between 'Lotta' and 'May' in Act Two Scene Three, and the meeting of Lotta and her son in Act Three Scene Two, are two of the best scenes I have ever written. I consider that the play as a whole contains, beneath the froth of some of its lighter moments, the basic truth that old age needn't be nearly so dreary and sad as it is supposed to be, provided you greet it with humour and live it with courage."

Four decades later, the play opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre on 16 December 1999, transferred to the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on 17 February 2000, and closed on May 28, 2000 after 186 performances and 16 previews. The production was directed by Michael Langham and revised by Jeremy Sams. It starred Lauren Bacall, Rosemary Harris, Barnard Hughes, Dana Ivey, Rosemary Murphy, Helen Stenborg and Elizabeth Wilson. Harris received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play, and Stenborg received a nomination for Best Featured Actress.

(These notes are an amended version of those found on Wikipedia)

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The play takes place in "The Wings" charity home for retired actresses. The Time is the Present. In the first Act the residents of the home discuss a forthcoming charity event for the home, at which a younger generation of stars will perform to raise funds. They are hoping that the funds will allow the home to build a solarium. The other residents break it to May Davenport that her old adversary Lotta Bainbridge will shortly come to live at The Wings. May, furious, vows never to speak to Lotta and retreats to her room. Lotta arrives with her maid Dora. They part, sadly, and Lotta is left alone. A group of the residents returns from watching the dress rehearsal for the fund-raising show. They do not think the new generation of performers are up to the standards of their own heyday. Lotta attempts to overcome May's hostility but is rebuffed.

Perry, the secretary to the charity that runs The Wings, has invited Zelda, a journalist friend, to visit the home. Miss Archie, the superintendent of The Wings, warns him that this will lead to trouble, but he is prepared to risk it for the valuable publicity he expects to attract for the home. The first resident that Zelda encounters is Sarita, whose wits are wandering and who thinks she is still a leading actress. Other residents, unaware that Zelda is from the press, make indiscreetly rude remarks about the charity committee that runs the home. Lotta recognises Zelda and tries to get her to promise not to write about The Wings. Sarita accidentally sets fire to her room. Disaster is averted by prompt action by the other residents. In the crisis, May gives a slight hint of rapprochement with Lotta. They slowly become friendly and drink a toast to each other.

Zelda has written about the home in her newspaper. Lotta is amused, and May is annoyed, by the story, "Old foes still feuding in the twilight of their lives." Perry comes in. He was sacked for introducing a journalist to The Wings, but he has been reinstated because May has privately prevailed on the committee to excuse him. Sarita, still in a state of serene oblivion to reality, is taken away to be cared for in a mental hospital.

Zelda turns up with a large cheque from the proprietor of her paper, to be donated to The Wings. She also presents a case of vintage champagne for the residents. During the ensuing celebrations, Deidre, one of the residents, drops dead. May and Lotta engage in friendly banter. A visitor, Lotta's son, arrives. His father was the cause of May’s and Lotta’s falling out decades before. He tries to persuade Lotta to leave The Wings and come to live with him and his wife and children in Canada, but she refuses. The latest new resident is introduced; she was once a music-hall star, and the other residents all welcome her by singing her most famous song.

The play contains the following songs:

Waiting in the Wings ‘The Wings’ is a retirement home for retired thespians. Aged actresses are remembering their former glamour and glory. Prompted by the character Bonita who picks up the phrase saying “That would make a wonderful number”, the character Maud “invents” at the piano a little musical ditty. It is a very short and trite 6/8 number, in which The entire lyric is: “Waiting in the wings, waiting in the wings/ Older than God, on we plod/ Waiting in the wings,/ Hopping about the garden/ Like a lot of Douglas Byngs/ Waiting, waiting, waiting in the wings.” (NCMI)
Champagne
Miss Mouse
Over the Hill
Come the Wild, Wild Weather
Oh, Mr. Kaiser

 

There is no original cast recording of the songs from Waiting in the Wings. 'Come the Wild, Wild Weather' has been recorded by a number of artists including: Patricia Hodge; Jerry Hadley and his Orchestra; David Kerna;, Barbara Lea and Dominic Alldis and combo. (see NCMI)

The music was published in 1962 'Waiting in the Wings - a folio of Songs'

 

 

Financial Times - September 1960:

"There is a lot of old shop talked an a lot of old songs sung, and it gets more nauseating as the evening wears on."

Manchester Guardian - September 1960:

"Probably the play will serve as a broad target for scorn in some quarters, and may justifiably be called shameless in its exploitation of the sentimentalities inherent in a tale of old actresses backbiting and sighing in a home for the aged of the profession. But as long as the mood is one of outraged grandeur, mild dottiness, theatrical slamder, and the game of upstaging the last speaker, Mr. Coward's touch remains what it has always been: and sometimes touches the level of the inspired cattiness found in such places as the 'Red Peppers'."

The original cast were:
May Davenport – Marie Lohr
Cora Clarke – Una Venning.
Bonita Belgrave – Maidie Andrews
Maudie Melrose – Norah Blaney
Deirdre O’Malley – Maureen Delaney
Almina Clare – Mary Clare
Estelle Craven – Edith Day
Perry Lascoe – Graham Payn
Miss Archie – Margot Boyd
Osgood Meeker – Lewis Casson
Lotta Bainbridge – Sybil Thorndike
Dora – Betty Hare
Doreen – Jean Conroy
Sarita Myrtle – Nora Nicholson
Zelda Fenwick – Jessica Dunning
Doctor Jevons – Eric Hillyard
Alan Bennet – William Hutt
Topsy Baskerville – Molly Lumley

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