- Blithe Spirit (play)
"Blithe Spirit" (1941) is a comic play written by
Noel Cowardwhich takes its title from Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem " To a Skylark". The action of the play centres on socialite Charles Condomine being haunted by the ghost of his first wife Elvira following a séance, and Elvira's continued (and increasingly desperate) efforts to disrupt Charles' current marriage. The play is notable for the comic character of Madame Arcati, the eccentric medium.
The play provoked a small outcry at the time of its first performances, as it was seen to be possibly making fun of death at the height of
World War II; however, such objections were quickly forgotten and the play went on to set all manner of British box-office records. Its mark of 1,997 consecutive performances for non-musical plays in the West End was only eventually beaten by "Boeing Boeing" in the 1970s.
In his autobiography Coward claimed he wrote the play in five days during a holiday he took with actress
Joyce Careyto Portmeirionon the coast of Snowdoniain Wales. He wrote it straight through from beginning to end whilst staying at the Fountain 2 (Upper Fountain) suite at Portmeirion and only two lines of dialogue were removed before its first production in London.
At the first production (
Savoy Theatre, London, 1941), directed by Coward himself, the main cast members were:
The play is much revived by amateur companies but has had fewer West End productions than might be expected since the original record-breaking run. Modern West End revivals include:
Globe (now Gielgud) Theatre (1970)
National Theatre (1976)
Vaudeville Theatre (1986)
Savoy Theatre (2004)
Penelope Keith(later Stephanie Cole)
The Broadway premiere took place on November 5, 1941 at the
Morosco Theatrein a production staged by John C. Wilson and designed by Stewart Chaney. In the cast were Leonora Corbettas Elvira, Mildred Natwickas Madame Arcati, Clifton Webbas Charles, Peggy Woodas Ruth and Jacqueline Clarkeas Edith. The play transferred to the Booth Theatreon May 18, 1942 and it ran for a total of 657 performances.
It was revived at the
Neil Simon Theatreon March 31, 1987 in a production directed by Brian Murray, designed by Finlay Jamesand with costume design by Theoni V. Aldredge. It starred Richard Chamberlain as Charles, Blythe Danneras Elvira, Judith Iveyas Ruth and Geraldine Page, who received a Tony Awardnomination for Best Actress, as Madame Arcati. It ran for 104 performances. Page died of a heart attackduring the play's run.
A Broadway revival has been announced to begin previews on February 26, 2009 at a Shubert Theatre to be announced. Announced thus far are
Michael Blakemoreas director, with Christine Ebersoleas Elvira and Rupert Everettas Charles. [Gans, Andrew, and Jones, Kenneth. [http://www.playbill.com/news/article/122208.html "Film Star Everett Will Join Ebersole in Blithe Spirit Revival",] playbill.com, Oct. 9, 2008]
Other U.S revivals
At the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor in 2002 the play was revived with
Twiggyas Elvira, Dana Iveyas Madame Arcati, Patricia Kalemberas Ruth, and Daniel Gerroll, who also directed, as Charles.
High Spirits (musical)
The play was adapted into a musical, "High Spirits", in 1964, which had a Broadway run of more than 300 performances, starring
Tammy Grimesas Elvira and Beatrice Lilliein an expanded role as Madame Arcati. The role of Charles Condomine was played by Edward Woodward, with Ruth, Charles' second wife, portrayed by Louise Troy. Noel Coward directed this Broadway production, with book, music and lyrics by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray. The show received eight Tony Awardnominations but did not win any. Other major musical nominees that same year (1964) were "Funny Girl" and "Hello, Dolly!" and most major Tony wins went to the latter, including to Carol Channingfor her portrayal of Dolly, winning over both Miss Lillie and Barbra Streisandfor "Funny Girl".
"Blithe Spirit" was also made into a successful film in 1945, adapted by Coward himself and directed by
Television and radio
On American television Coward himself starred in a 1956 production with
Lauren Bacallas Elvira, Mildred Natwickas Madame Arcati and Claudette Colbertas Ruth. On UK radio and television, notable portrayals of Madame Arcati have been given by Hattie Jacques(ITV 1964, directed by Joan Kemp-Welch, Joanna Dunhamas Elvira, Griffith Jones as Charles and Helen Cherryas Ruth) and Peggy Mount(BBC radio 1983, with Anna Masseyas Elvira, Paul Eddingtonas Charles, Julia McKenzieas Ruth and Jacqueline Clarkeas Edith.
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/arts/sites/theatre/pages/blithe_spirit.shtml Notes on the history, BBC]
*The Great British Films, pp 79-81, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN 080650661X
* [http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=2087 Internet Broadway Database listing]
* [http://imdb.com/title/tt0038363/ Blithe Spirit] at the
Internet Movie Database
* [http://www.screenonline.org.uk/film/id/485834/index.html British Film Institute]
* [http://thattheatresite.com/library/showpages/show_101.html "Blithe Spirit" at ThatTheatreSite] Provides character listing, reviews of several productions, and current upcoming auditions.
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