Star Performances Highlight NOËL AND GERTIE

by Walter Bender

Will Stutts and Susan Wilder star in NOËL AND GERTIE at the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3 through December 31. (Photo credit: Mark Garvin)

Philadelphia has a very long and storied theatre tradition, with many fine actors and actresses honing their craft in the Philadelphia theatres. Some consistently return to the area, becoming local icons. One such performer is Will Stutts, the director/co-lead actor in NOËL AND GERTIE, currently running at the Walnut Street Theatre, Studio 3. Starring with Mr. Stutts is Susan Wilder, a close friend and theatre veteran in her own right. Together these two stars create magic on stage.

NOËL AND GERTIE is the story of the lifetime friendship between Noël Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, from their first meeting as children through Ms. Lawrence’s untimely death in 1952 from cancer. The words and music are derived from Mr. Coward’s, compiled and revised (devised?) by Sheridan Morley, a theatre reviewer who has written a biography of both Coward and Lawrence.

As the show opens, we meet Mr. Coward and Ms. Lawrence, doing a scene from “Private Lives”, one of the few times they appeared on stage together. There is a music background (performed beautifully throughout by Music and Vocal Director Owen Robbins), which helps put the audience completely in the moment. Through monologues and conversation, the intermingled lives of the two stars are exposed, the good and bad for all to see and hear.

Will Stutts is famous for his one-man shows, and in this production he works beautifully with Ms. Wilder, their chemistry very apparent. The real-life friendship serves them very well as they interact on stage, talking and laughing together, moving from scene to scene, in and out of the various characters that their counterparts performed through the years. In addition to “Private Lives”, there are excerpts from three of the nine one-acts comprising “Tonight at 8:30”, which was one of the few times Coward and Lawrence actually were able to appear on stage together.

The set is minimal, portraying an apartment area, allowing several levels for the actors to move about. Songs allows the actors time to go offstage to change costumes or rest for a couple minutes.

The message of NOËL AND GERTIE is the abiding friendship and love between two mega-stars of the early to mid-20th century. The stars of this production did their predecessors very proud…this is a production not to be missed.

by Sheridan Morley
Directed by Will Stutts
November 22-December 31, 2011
Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3
825 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA

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