The second production of our 49th season will be
Noël Coward's comic play Blithe Spirit.
The play was first seen in London's West End in June, 1941. Coward had written the show (legend has it) in just five days. He wanted to give war torn London audiences a play that would make them laugh and raise their spirits. Coward himself played the leading role. The comic role of Madame Arcati was played by Margaret Rutherford (who played the role in the 1945 film version).
Blithe Spirit opened on Broadway in November, 1941. The leading role was played by Clifton Webb. Madame Arcati was played by Mildred Natwick.
Coward chose his title from quotation in Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem
"To a Skylark."
"Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
Bird that never wert."
Read about the original Broadway production HERE
Noël Coward also directed a musical version of the show titled High Spirits on Broadway in 1964. It starred Edward Woodward in the leading role and Beatrice Lillie as Madame Arcati. The show received Tony Award nominations in several categories including Actress - Musical (Lillie), Actress - Musical Supporting (Louise Troy), Best Musical, Composer & Lyricist (Hugh Martin & Timothy Gray), Author (Hugh Martin & TImothy Gray), Director (Coward), Musical Director-Conductor (Fred Werner), and Choreographer (Danny Daniels). All but one of the awards went to Hello, Dolly! (Louise Troy lost to Tessie O'Shea in The Girl Who Came to Supper.)
There have been many New York productions of Blithe Spirit. It was most recently present on Broadway in 2009 starring Rupert Everett as Charles and Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati. Lansbury won a Tony Award as Best Actress in a Play for her role.
It has been produced on television here and in England and was presented many times as a radio play by the BBC.
The film version was produced in England in 1945, and directed by David Lean. It featured Rex Harrison in the leading role with Margaret Rutherford reprising her stage role as Madame Arcati.
Blithe Spirit was one of two comedies presented by Putnam County Playhouse in its first season in 1962.
The 2010 production will be directed by
Jack Randall Earles.
(Do not read if you don't want to know the whole story!)
Charles Condomine, a successful novelist, wishes to learn about the occult for a novel he is writing, and he arranges for an eccentric medium, Madame Arcati, to hold a séance at his house. At the séance, she inadvertently summons Charles's first wife, Elvira, who has been dead for seven years. Madame Arcati leaves after the séance, unaware that she has summoned Elvira. Only Charles can see or hear Elvira, and his second wife, Ruth, does not believe that Elvira exists until a floating vase is handed to her out of thin air. The ghostly Elvira makes continued, and increasingly desperate, efforts to disrupt Charles's current marriage. She finally sabotages his car in the hope of killing him so that he will join her in the spirit world, but it is Ruth rather than Charles who drives off and is killed.
Ruth's ghost immediately comes back for revenge on Elvira, and though Charles cannot at first see Ruth, he can see that Elvira is being chased and tormented, and his house is in uproar. He calls Madame Arcati back to exorcise both of the spirits, but instead of banishing them, she materialises Ruth. With both his dead wives now fully visible, and neither of them in the best of tempers, Charles, together with Madame Arcati, goes through séance after séance and spell after spell to try to exorcise them, and at last Madame Arcati succeeds. Charles is left seemingly in peace, but Madame Arcati, hinting that the ghosts may still be around unseen, warns him that he should go far away as soon as possible. Charles leaves at once, and the unseen ghosts throw things and destroy the room as soon as he has gone.
(In the David Lean 1945 film version, the ghosts thwart Charles's attempt to escape, and his car is again sabotaged; he crashes and joins them as a ghost, with Elvira at one arm and Ruth at the other.)