"roderick cook in oh, coward!"

Published January 2, 1987


Roderick Cook in Oh Coward! (1/2/87)



When Oh, Coward! opened on Broadway in 1987, Roderick Cook, who devised, directed, and starred in the show, was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical. Mel Gussow wrote in The New York Times, “The performance is determinedly low-key and genteel, in keeping with its source. Neither in the selection of material nor in the performances does the show overstep into self-parody, as is often the case in other musical anthologies. As before, Mr. Cook lets Coward speak and sing for himself, which he does, trippingly.”

But the production, featuring many of the best loved songs of Noël Coward, had a deeper, more bittersweet significance, when it premiered off-Broadway on October 4, 1972, at the New Theatre on East 54th Street. It was three months later, on January 14, 1973, that one of the great gatherings in New York theater history took place there. On that evening, the great and the good in the entertainment world gathered at the New Theatre to pay homage to Sir Noël Coward at a gala black-tie invitational performance of Oh, Coward!. Guests included Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Lena Horne, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Sir John Gielgud, Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy, Ethel Merman, and countless others. Noël’s date was Marlene Dietrich who, with assistance from Geoffrey Johnson, led Noël up the stairs to the orchestra level.

At the intermission, Noël proclaimed the cast “so bloody good. I’ve never seen such a talented cast.” Cole Lesley, Noël’s long- time secretary and dear friend wrote: “None of us could know that Noël was making his last public appearance that evening. Both the gala itself and the large party afterwards were extremely happy occasions for him; his personal invitations had been based on his American Christmas-card list and so, as had happened in London, every single friend whom Noël cared for was there to see him for the last time.”

After spending a week in New York, Noël returned to Firefly, his beloved home in Jamaica. Graham Payn, Cole Lesley, and Geoffrey Johnson were with him, and it was to them he said “Goodnight my darlings” on the evening of March 25, 1973. He died early the next morning.

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