Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.
Again this year I am posting the Easter Story as it is recounted in the King James version of the Gospel of St. John and as recalled by Dame Patricia Routledge. Beautiful in the richness of the language and in the simplicity of her telling.
I have never made any secret of my love for Patricia Routledge who I consider one of the great performers in my lifetime of theatre going. I first saw her in 1967 at Toronto’s O’Keefe Centre in the Broadway bound Darling of the Day (though it may have been called Married Alive at that point). It was a show that changed titles almost as often as it changed directors and sadly folded after 31 performances in New York. Blame for its failure was laid at many door steps – leading man Vincent Price, the work of five various book writers, even Jule Styne’s music and Yip Harburg’s lyrics came in for some criticism. But the praise for Patricia Routledge was unanimous and she was – howbeit briefly – the toast of Broadway. Her next Broadway appearance was to repeat the story: Leonard Bernstein and Alan Jay Learner’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenuewas savaged by the critics and lasted seven performances after a tortuous try-out period. But on opening night Patricia Routledge received a mid-show standing ovation for her performance of “Duet for One (The First Lady of the Land)”. And on closing night the orchestra stopped the show to give standing-voice to their delight and approval. Flop or not that’s one show I wish I had seen. Routledge was to receive Tony Awards for both these shows.
I was to see her again the summer of 1969 on stage at Chichester in Pinero’s The Magistrate holding her own with Alastair Sim who was giving what was considered by many as his greatest onstage performance. It was one of those theatrical events that stays in my mind until today. For Routledge it was only the first of her many appearances at the Festival in comedy, musicals and drama.
She makes Chichester her home and works tirelessly for local and national charities both church and theatre related. It was for these efforts as well as her theatrical work that her name appeared on the 2017 New Year’s Honours List. On Friday a very smartly attired Patricia Routledge arrived at Buckingham Palace and was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire for her services to the theatre and charity work. At her investiture Prince Charles recognized that it was an long overdue honour for the 88 year performer.
Though she is best know for the widely-viewed Keeping Up Appearances her television career has included the proto-type for what was to become Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues, murder mysteries, drama and comedy. On stage most of her initial successes were in musicals – which comes as a surprise to anyone who every heard her Hyacinth Bucket vocalize for poor Emmett. In a recent interview she said that you have to be a good singer to be able to sing off key. Anyone who has listened to that episode would draw the conclusion that she must be a great singer.
Here she is giving proof of what had the critics and audiences on their feet back in 1967-68 in the eleven o’clock number from the ill-fated Darling of the Day: Not On Your Nellie!
Around the same time she appeared as the Mother Superior in a studio recording of The Sound of Music. Where the previous clip showed a bit of the Broadway belter this excerpt is almost operatic.
Though she has slowed down a bit she is still tours doing two shows: Admission: One Shilling about the Wartime concert pianist Myra Hess and Facing The Music – reminiscing about her career on the musical theatre stage.
Congratulations Dame Patricia – there truly isn’t nothing like a Dame!
Some other appearances by Dame Patricia on Willy Or Won’t He:
As the very opinionated and not at all shy Kitty on Victoria Wood: Lunedi Lunacy
A very rare early recording of popular songs: Mercoledi Musicale
On this day in 1807: The Swansea and Mumbles Railway, then known as the Oystermouth Railway, becomes the first passenger-carrying railway in the world.
I posted this video last year on Holy Saturday but each time I watch it I am struck by the beauty of both the language of the King James Version of the Christian Bible and the reading by one on England’s finest actresses, Patricia Routledge.
Memory can be a confusing thing. For some reason I thought that the first time I had seen Patricia Routledge on stage was with Alastair Sim at the 1969 Chichester Festival. I have written previously about the comic delight that was Sim’s Mr Posket in The Magistrate and that Patricia Routledge once said that it was through working with Sim that she perfected her comic timing.
Patricia Routledge as Alice Challice in Darling of the Day, the 1968 musical that won her a Tony Award.
However a quick look through Broadway records tells me that the first time I saw her was in Darling of the Day (it was called Married Alive when my friend Charlie and I saw it) on its pre-New York try-out in Toronto. It starred Vincent Price and the lyrics were by E. Y. Harburg and the music by Julie Styne and despite the billing the real star was Patricia Routledge. And yes it was a musical and that year – 1968 – she won the Tony Award as Leading Actress in a musical.
What most people don’t realize is that Hyacinthe Bucket was a trained singer and that many of her early stage appearances were in musicals. And most people don’t realize that in 1976 she also starred in Alan Jay Lerner and Leonard Bernstein’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue playing every American First Lady from Abigail Adams to Eleanor Roosevelt. The show was a legendary flop but opening night Routledge stopped the show with Duet for One where she played both Julia Grant and Lucy Hayes on the day of Rutherford B. Hayes’s inauguration. With a simple re-angling of her bonnet and a slight change of accent she switched from one to the other in a brilliant display of her musical and dramatic abilities. Bernstein would not allow an original cast recording so unfortunately only a less than perfect pirated recording of that opening night performance exists.
Several years before that virtuosic performance she recorded an album of show tunes and romantic ballads released by RCA in 1973 under the title Presenting Patricia Routledge. Unfortunately the orchestrations are the lush arrangements of the period that swamped many a lesser voice; the simplicity of her singing and delivery ride over the throbbing violins and cut through the saccharine to the heart.
Many standards of the time are included along with the occasional lesser known piece such as this lovely song from Jerry Herman’s Dear World.
I was one of those people who resisted the cloying Gallic charm of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg and I was never that fond of its hit song I Will Wait For You – even if it was mouthed by Catherine Deneuve. I’m trying to think of a single singer of the time that didn’t cover Michel LeGrand’s song but not many gave it quite the same operatic treatment as Routledge does here. Still can’t say that I’m fond of it but she does a fine job and its the only other cut from this album I’ve been able to find.
And somewhere out there in the ether there must be a copy of her singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the 1994 revival of Carousel at the National Theatre. Her Nettie was universally praised in a highly praised production but unfortunately she didn’t accompany the show on its transfer to New York.
And by the way yesterday (February 18th) was her 85th birthday and she seems to still be going strong.
Dedicated to the history of Charlottetown Harbour and yachting on Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown