Angela Lansbury, the legendary star of film, stage, and television, passed away last Tuesday. She would have turned 97 on October 16.
Beginning in the 1940s, the Irish-British-American actress earned acclaim on the silver screen with prominent roles in films which included Gaslight (1944), National Velvet (1944), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Between 1984 and 2003, she starred in the popular CBS television series, Murder, She Wrote. Lansbury’s Broadway musical debut came in 1964 with Stephen Sondheim’s Anyone Can Whistle. The show closed after a run of 12 previews and 9 performances; yet for Angela Lansbury it opened the door to a significant Broadway career. Her appearance in the lead role of Jerry Herman’s Mame (1966) catapulted Lansbury to superstar status. Later, she appeared as Rose in the 1973 London production of Gypsy. Her celebrated appearance as Mrs. Lovett in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street came in 1979.
Angela Lansbury’s legacy is preserved on numerous recordings. Here are four:
Mame: “It’s Today,” “Open a New Window” (music and lyrics by Jerry Herman)
In interviews, Angela Lansbury described the process of “taking stage.” By all accounts, she was an electrifying presence. Early in the first act of Mame, the highflying personality of the show’s title character is established with the song, It’s Today, followed by the spirited march, Open a New Window. The jazzy brilliance of the 1960s Broadway pit orchestra is on full display:
Dear World: “And I Was Beautiful” (music and lyrics by Jerry Herman)
Angela Lansbury won a Tony Award for her performance in Jerry Herman’s Dear World, a short-lived musical which ran for 132 performances in 1969. The bittersweet ballad, And I Was Beautiful, comes from the show’s second act:
Sweeney Todd: “The Worst Pies in London,” “Poor Thing” (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)
As an actress, Angela Lansbury was a master of the villainous character. Sweeney Todd mixes comedy with grizzly terror. With The Worst Pies in London, we are introduced to Mrs. Lovett and the questionable hygiene of her meat pie shop. In Poor Thing, the musical number which follows, Mrs. Lovett’s story sets the drama in motion.
A Little Night Music: “Liaisons” (music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)
At the age of 85, Angela Lansbury gave this performance honoring Stephen Sondheim at the 2011 Olivier Awards:
“Beauty and the Beast” (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman)
Angela Lansbury performed the voice role of Mrs. Potts, the teapot, in Disney’s 1991 animated musical romantic fantasy, Beauty and the Beast. Famously, she recorded the title song in one take. She had arrived late to the New York session following a harrowing delayed flight from Los Angeles.
It has been said that Frank Sinatra’s sense of phrasing influenced numerous instrumental musicians. This magical performance provides a similar study in timing, note grouping, phrasing, and text coloring:
- Mame (original Broadway cast recording) Amazon
- Dear World (original Broadway cast recording) Amazon
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (original Broadway cast recording) Amazon
- Beauty and the Beast (Walt Disney Records) Amazon
Featured Image: Angela Lansbury in “Mame”