"high spirits"

Published April 5, 1964





(L to R) Edward Woodward, Louise Troy, Tammy Grimes, Beatrice Lillie

High Spirits opened in April 1964. Despite the fact that Hello, Dolly! had opened three months earlier (and Funny Girl opened two weeks earlier), the UPI critic wrote: “High Spirits is, by all odds, the best musical show of the season – the funniest, the most melodious, the most enchanting and the most literate … The musical is based, and with respect and imagination, on Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit, one of the finest of modern comedies.” The show, with book, music and lyrics by Hugh Martin and Timothy Gray, was directed by Noël Coward.

In directing Bea Lillie, Noël was exasperated, as he had been in the past. He was a stickler for learning lines; Bea was the opposite. Noël wrote, “Beattie is AGONY but, of course, has moments of brilliance. … She can’t act at all and yet – and yet – she is a great star. Eventually she will be wonderful as Beatrice Arcati.” Bea’s view of the rehearsal period is documented in her autobiography. She seems jealous of Tammy Grimes, calling her “overly ambitious.”  In defending herself against Noël’s criticisms, she wrote that “Noël and I had always enjoyed a screaming fight together.”

Noël continued to be impressed with Tammy Grimes: “She is going to be brilliant.” As the Hirschfeld drawing depicts, Tammy as Elvira is aloft for much of her performance. “I fly in and out of the scenes. And I sing a couple of songs while 20 feet in the air. It isn’t difficult doing that, once you get the hang of it.”

Despite the UPI review, and a glowing notice in The New York Times, it was hard to compete in a season chock-a-block with great musicals. High Spirits closed on February 27, 1965.

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