“And Then There’s Bea” Online articles archive
“…And Then There’s Bea”
(Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis; 1,200 seats; $39 top)
by Peter Ritter
Variety, May 7, 2001
Bea Arthur’s one-woman show, “And Then There’s Bea,” which began its 26-city tour at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater, got off to a shaky start when, on opening night, the 77-year-old star took a wrong step and ended up in the orchestra pit. Things were running smoother the next evening, and Arthur even joked about the wrap around her swollen ankle. “And Then There’s Bea,” however, may need more serious triage if it’s to find its footing before winding up in New York next year.
Arthur’s performance, a hit-and-miss melange of showtunes and showbiz schtick, is delivered cabaret-style, with co-creator Billy Goldenberg tinkling anonymously on a piano and occasionally serving as straight-man.
Arthur is a statuesque stage presence, insofar as she is stationary For pretty much the entire show. That, combined with her acidic persona, does little to build rapport with the audience; indeed, “And Then There’s Bea” occasionally feels like Norma Desmond’s farewell tour.
Nevertheless, Arthur hits an early peak with “Pirate Jenny” from “The Threepenny Opera.” Arthur originated the role of Lucy Brown in the U.S. premiere of Brecht and Weill’s play, and the song still suits her; there’s more than a hint of meanness in her demeanor. When Arthur slips into less edgy standards — Irving Berlin, Cy Coleman and the Gershwins all have survived worse — the show begins to feel like something you’d catch at an airport cocktail lounge between flights. The low point, certainly, is Arthur’s version of Dylan’s “The Times, They Are A-Changin’,” which, delivered as a political torch song a la Judy Garland, is simply embarrassing.
Arthur fills the space between songs with anecdotes from her long career — mostly catty swipes at fellow actresses. She reveals, for instance, that Angela Lansbury has a mouth like a sailor, which, though probably not true, is funny to imagine. Arthur scores points for bawdiness (she has a pretty comprehensive sailor’s vocabulary herself), but too often her material feels recycled. Instead of telling her own story, she resorts to second-hand jokes and rambling, pointless bits about famous people she’s known.
Arthur explains during the course of her performance that she means to stay away from autobiography. But that’s also the show’s greatest weakness: Arthur reveals so little of herself that “And Then There’s Bea” becomes nothing more than an excuse to trot out her showbiz credits. It’s likely to delight fans of “The Golden Girls”; to the rest of the population, it may seem an exercise in vanity.
A Daryl Roth presentation of a solo show in one act by Bea Arthur and Billy Goldenberg. Music, Goldenberg; design, Matt Berman. Opened April 24, 2001. Reviewed April 26. Running time: 1 hour, 30 min.
On Stage: the Bea Arthur you never knew
“I didn’t want to be an actress,” says Bea Arthur, whose new cabaret act comes to the Park West Tuesday for a ten-day run. “I wanted to be a little starlet. June Allyson killed me—I thought she was the end. I wanted to be like her, very small and very blond. But there I was, this tall lady with large breasts and a deep voice.”
So Arthur studied acting under Erwin Piscator, the leftist German director whose notions of “epic theater” influenced Bertolt Brecht. A refugee from Hitler’s regime, Piscator had established his Dramatic Workshop at the New School for Social Research in New York. “We did repertory every weekend,” Arthur says, “and he cast me as Lysistrata and Lady Macbeth and Clytemnestra. I looked cute in one of those togas, but couldn’t act worth, you’ll pardon the expression, shit.”
She learned by doing, working in a string of low-budget off-Broadway productions. A 1949 staging of Gertrude Stein’s verse play “Yes Is for a Very Young Man” teamed her with a cast that included Kim Stanley, Anthony Franciosa, and her husband-to-be Gene Saks, who later directed her in “Mame”. She portrayed Queen Gertrude in an experimental “Hamlet” (the title role was played by Irish actress Siobhan McKenna) and a brothel keeper in “Ulysses in Nighttown”, Burgess Meredith’s adaptation of Joyce’s “Ulysses” starring Zero Mostel (with whom she later worked in “Fiddler on the Roof”). In Ben Bagley’s satiric “Shoestring Revue” she appeared with fellow newcomer Chita Rivera; and when she starred in Shaw’s “Heartbreak House”, a New York Times critic called her “an Amazon siren who hides a devastating charm.”
Most important was the 1954 staging of “The Threepenny Opera”, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s satire on crime and capitalism. That Production of the 1929 musical launched the careers of John Astin, Charlotte Rae, Ed Asner, Jerry Orbach, and Arthur, who earned $45 a week and shared a dressing room with the show’s leading lady, Weill’s widow Lotte Lenya. The original cast CD, reissued by Decca last year in honor of Weill’s centenary, is highlighted by Arthur’s razor-sharp rendition of “Barbara Song”, a caustic torch tune about a woman who’s fallen for the only man who didn’t treat her like a lady. The tune was written for a soprano; Arthur sang it an octave down. Her skillful use of Sprechgesang—mixing speaking with singing to dissect the character’s dramatic journey—rivals that of Lenya, a master of the style.
“She influenced me more than anyone, possibly with the exception of Sid Caesar,” Arthur says of Lenya. “She told me, ‘Never do anything unless you can’t not do it.'” The dictum defines the precision that characterizes Arthur’s work, whether spitting one-liners on “Maude” or bouncing through the comic showstopper “Bosom Buddies” in “Mame”.
In her show, “…And Then There’s Bea, With Her Friend Billy Goldenberg at the Piano”, Arthur says, “I throw in ‘Bosom Buddies’—a very short version of it, just to get it over with.” The Broadway-bound production combines anecdotes from her long career with a selection of her favorite songs—ranging from a Bob Dylan number to material by accompanist Goldenberg, whose musical “Queen of the Stardust Ballroom” was seen a couple seasons back at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Though she doesn’t sing “Barbara Song” (“I couldn’t; it’s not me anymore”), she performs Lenya’s signature song from “Threepenny”: “Pirate Jenny”, a ballad about a downtrodden wench who dreams of being a pirate queen and wreaking vengeance on the men who’ve misused her. With its shattering combination of rage, pathos, sexual heat, and bitter humor, “Pirate Jenny” will display a side of Bea Arthur that “The Golden Girls” never went near.
“…And Then There’s Bea” runs Ma 22 through 31 at the Park West, 322 W. Armitage. Tickets are $30-$55; call 312-902-1500
“Bea Arthur Hits the Road with Her One-Woman Show”
by Miriam DiNunzio
Chicago Sun-Times, May 18, 2001
It’s that wonderfully deep, earthy voice that unmistakably confirms it’s Bea Arthur at the other end of the phone.
The veteran actress who made “Maude” one of the most successful and influential comedy series in television history, is pleasantly direct in her answers, and in the course of the interview reveals she was nothing at all like her most famous television counterpart.
Arthur conquered Broadway long before prime time television, with Tony Award-winning roles in “Mame” and “Fiddler On the Roof.” But television would earn her the greatest accolades of her career, both from fans and from the industry that honored her with Emmy Awards for her comedic talents in “Maude” and later “The Golden Girls.”
She’s on the road these days, with her first-ever one-woman show, “And Then There’s Bea… with Her Friend Billy Goldenberg at the Piano” which makes a 10-day tour stop at the Park West beginning Tuesday. Arthur chatted about her new show and her five-decade career during a phone conversation from her California home.
Q. This is your first one-woman show. How did the project come about?
A. I met Billy Goldenberg, my musical director and composer, who’s earned 32 Emmy nominations by the way, in 1981, when we were doing an evening benefit. He has since always wanted me to do a one-woman show but I kept putting it off because I said ‘It’s just too much hard work. Where do you begin?’ So eventually we just started putting some musical numbers together and some bits and pieces of narrative. I can’t say it’s autobiographical, but I do tell a number of anecdotes that I think are amusing. We do a variety of music. I mean, I do Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Do you know it? I’m glad. They loved it in Minneapolis. [chuckles] And we do my very favorite song in the world, Kurt Weill’s “It Never Was You.” I heard Judy Garland sing it once, and it just knocked me out.
Q. You’ve done theater throughout your career. Is it a different feeling when you’re out on the stage alone for the entire show?
A. Absolutely, because I’m not playing a role. I’m being myself, whatever the hell that is. [laughs]
Q. So who is Bea Arthur?
A. I don’t know. But at least I’m not playing other people for a change. It’s a very odd place to be. The initial fear when we started was ‘What can I bring to this kind of an evening?’ Billy was content to do nothing but music. He thinks I’m a singer who acts. I feel I’m an actress who sings a bit. I’m very proud of what we’ve done. I mean it’s taken us three years to evolve.
Q. Is this show more work than doing a weekly series?
A. Yes, I think so. But in a totally different way. [pauses] Oh I don’t know. At this point I’m having so much damned fun. Especially once I heard the audience response. It’s been wonderful.
Q. Do you enjoy singing?
A. Yes, but I’ve done musical revues mostly. I like to say I’ve done everything except rodeo and porn. [laughs] It’s true. And I’m scared of both of them.
Q. How much television has changed since “Maude” was the hippest show on television?
A. In the show I actually talk a lot about how TV has changed. At the time, “Maude” was a groundbreaker which meant that every third day of every rehearsal, we would have to read the entire script to the network censors. And then it was a fight to the finish as to which lines [creator] Norman Lear got them to allow me to say, or whether they had to be cut.
Q. Do you like the stage better than TV because of that instant response?
A. Even in TV with both shows, with “Maude” and “The Golden Girls” we did it in front of a live audience as a one-act play. We didn’t stop the taping. There was always an audience there to feed us. I can’t imagine working without and audience. And we had a great cast in both shows. And the great writers, directors — I was extremely lucky.
Q. Did you like being a sort-of trailblazer for the women’s movement?
A. I didn’t even realize I was one. Norman [Lear] at that time was married to a feminist to the max, that’s how that character [Maude] came to be. I, Bea, was not too happy to suddenly take on this public role thrust upon me. They just assumed I was the Joan of Arc of the women’s movement. And I wasn’t at all. It put a lot of unnecessary pressure on me.
Q. What did “The Golden Girls” bring to the television landscape?
A. I really don’t know, because, when I read the pilot I fell in love with the writing. It was so bright and so adult. It didn’t dawn on me that we were older/elderly women. Later, of course, people felt we were doing so much to further the cause of mature women. [laughs] I can’t get away from these “cause” labels.
Q. Do you like doing comedy?
A. I LOVE it. It’s so rewarding when you hear the audience respond. And also, it’s a very difficult thing to master. I don’t think that many people have the “light touch” that comedy commands.
Q. What about the film version of “Mame?” It was roundly panned by critics and moviegoers. Did you like it?
A. Oh God, I wish you’d seen the play. The movie was really terrible. She [Lucille Ball] was such a great clown, but she was woefully miscast. And also, when something is written for the stage, I think it’s wrong to try to make it bigger. Very few things out there make that jump easily.
Q. But you reprised your stage role as Vera Charles?
A. Actually I didn’t want to. I was married to the director [Gene Saks] at the time, and I didn’t want to do the movie. But he said ‘As my wife you owe it to me.’ And that’s truly why I did it.
Q. And now you’re out there singing your heart out, endearing a whole new generation of audiences.
A. From your mouth to God’s ears.
Bea Arthur — “And Then There’s Bea”
Park West, 322 W. Armitage
Let it Bea: Actress Arthur Starts Solo Tour at MN’s Guthrie, April 24
Back in March 1998, producer David Brown was hoping to bring “A Bea Arthur Evening” to Broadway that season. That show never materialized, but now Arthur fans and wannaBeas can take heart: the “Maude” and “Golden Girls” star will, indeed, tour a one-woman show to 26 cities, followed by a planned New York opening in Spring 2002.
Daryl Roth is producing …And Then There’s Bea, With Her Friend Billy Goldenberg at the Piano, opening at Minneapolis, MN’s Guthrie Theatre April 24-29. The show charts Arthur’s theatre and TV career through songs and anecdotes, with Richard Maltby, Jr. serving as production consultant.
“It’s reminiscences, storytelling, her career,” Roth told PBOL (April 23), “with songs that are meaningful to her.”
After Minneapolis, Bea buzzes to Melbourne, FL’s King Center, May 8-13, followed by Chicago’s Park West. Roth told Playbill On-Line (March 23) that the show would also travel to (among others) Montreal, Kansas City, Louisville, Austin, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Columbus, Fort Lauderdale, Westhampton (in August), Boston, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Dallas, Cleveland, Toronto, West Palm Beach before reaching NYC. The producer hasn’t yet decided what size Manhattan venue would be appropriate for the show.
The actress got her start in the original production of The Threepenny Opera in 1954 and was the original Yente the Matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof. Her work as Vera Charles in Mame led to a Tony Award, while her work in “Maude” led to a 1977 Emmy. Arthur’s last Broadway show was Woody Allen’s The Floating Lightbulb.
Composer Goldenberg is best known for his film work (“The Last of Sheila,” “Play It Again, Sam”) but he also wrote the music for The Queen of the Stardust Ballroom and An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, before serving as dance music arranger for such musicals as Greenwillow and High Spirits. He’s currently working with The Fantasticks’ Tom Jones on a musical adaptation of “Harold and Maude.”
– By David Lefkowitz
Some know her best as Maude; others may refer to her as Dorothy Zbornak; and still other remember her star turn as Angela Lansbury’s boozy sidekick in the Broadway production of Mame. And, now, that grand comedic actress/singer, Bea Arthur, is touring her one-woman show, And Then There’s Bea, around the country. Playbill correspondent Patrick Pacheco recently spoke with the genius of comedy for an upcoming article in the subscription issue of Playbill, and I thought you would enjoy reading a few of Arthur’s remarks. Her quotes are followed by the current tour schedule of And Then There’s Bea:
about the genesis of her one-woman show:
“[Musical director] Billy [Goldenberg] and [playwright] Charles Randolph Wright have been after me for years to do a one-woman show, but I didn’t want it to be autobiographical, to be ‘this was the year I did such-and such.’ Billy thinks of me as a singer — but that’s his problem. We just wanted to do things that we really loved.”
about not performing as a character but as herself:
“Yeah, there’s nothing to fall back on. For me, it’s just a joke: Bea Arthur – whatever that is! It’s been a lifetime of sorting that out.”
about singing the Bergman’s “Where Do You Start,” which is about the end of a relationship: (Arthur and director Gene Saks divorced after a long marriage):
“That one just kills me.”