Oh, Coward!
A witty musical celebration of the life and work of Noel Coward.
Show Essentials
3
Roles
PG
Rated
2
Acts

Full Synopsis

Introduction

Following the Overture, the theatre lights dim and the sound of a child practicing five-finger exercises on a piano is heard. Three performers are spotlighted in front of the curtain. They use Noel Coward's own words to introduce the audience to his childhood ("The Boy Actor").

Act One

The revue opens with a medley of some of Coward's greatest hits ("Something to Do with Spring" / "Let's Say Goodbye" / "This Is a Changing World" / "We Were Dancing" / "Dance, Little Lady"/ "A Room with a View"). A brief scene then cheekily recounts the joys of London in the spring, particularly in Hyde Park, where young people would lie unashamedly close.

Next, we are introduced to a young man and girl playing "Beryl" and "Fred," who have just left a local football field and are depressed by the outcome of the game. They wait for a bus that doesn't come. Fred begins to wallow in their poor fortune when Beryl reminds him that as Brits, they are cheerful by nature, no matter how bad things get ("The End of the News"). By the end, they are laughing so hard that they miss the bus.

Keeping with the theme of tongue-in-cheek critique, the company laments that the stately homes of England are only kept up for American renters ("The Stately Homes of England"). This sentiment is contrasted, however, with a girl reflecting on the true charm of London ("London Pride").

The focus of the revue shifts to a "Family Album" where characters sing about colorful relatives, including a vulgar aunt and a frisky, missionary uncle ("Aunt Jessie" / "Uncle Harry").

Next, the music halls of Coward's youth are highlighted; a medley ensues that features more of Coward's hits. A young woman carrying a parasol is chased by men in sport boaters and canes ("Chase Me, Charlie"/ "Saturday Night at The Rose and Crown"). The theme moves to nautical and island fun ("The Island of Bolamazoo" / "What Ho! Mrs. Brisket" / "Has Anybody Seen Our Ship?"). Finally, the medley ends with a big finish of men in hats strolling down Piccadilly ("Men about Town"), followed by a sentimental love song by a young girl ("If Love Were All").

Coward's passion for travel is the subject of the next vignette. A man and a woman sit comfortably at home discussing, and criticizing, the travel habits of others ("Why Do the Wrong People Travel?"). This segues to a Naval Officer preparing his crew for a sea voyage, where they must be courteous, no matter what happens ("The Passenger's Always Right").

The first act ends with a paean to the Stage Mother, by the performers discussing one who is particularly misguided about her daughter's abilities ("Mrs. Worthington").

Act Two

As the curtain opens, we find a trio decked out in elegant evening wear. The girl carries a lorgnette and the men carry tropical fans. They have donned this apparel to tell of the habits of Englishman in Asian countries who have missed a few cultural cues, and who therefore go out in the midday sun... something locals find crazy ("Mad Dogs and Englishmen").

The revue then continues to look into British society. Another man speaks of how he's been to a party and tells of all of the bizarre and extraordinary things that happened there ("The Marvelous Party"). Following that moment, a scene begins that has been derived from dialogue contained in Private Lives, Design for Living, Shadow Play, Nude With Violin and The Young Ida. A man and a girl begin dancing, and verbal sparring starts when another man cuts in. It all continues with a shuffling of partners, until the second man and the girl end up together. The original dancer is eventually left alone and wonders whether his love was just a dream ("You Were There").

The next vignette... a girl wearing a cape, white gloves and a headdress of three white ostrich feathers, alongside a man with several military ribbons on his jacket, are motoring along in the back seat of a limousine. They reveal that the girl is an actress about to give a command performance at Buckingham Palace. She is quite nervous and decidedly uncomfortable about her climb up the social ladder. She wonders aloud how she has ended up performing for the Queen when she is a simple pawnbroker's daughter ("Three White Feathers").

A series of vignettes continues the tribute to the theatre. These include: comments made by Sir Noel to reporters and critics, a recitation about an elderly actress, a monologue detailing Coward's first meeting with Gertrude Lawrence and Coward's observations about love and sex ("I Am No Good at Love" / "Sex Talk"). These observations transition to two men cheekily discussing sex as a question of lighting ("A Question of Lighting"). The section ends with the girl singing one of Coward's most famous torch songs about a young woman who is usually unsentimental, but is surprised by herself ("Mad about the Boy").

The revue moves to Coward's musings on women. We learn of Nina from Argentina ("Nina") and then of the exploits of a retiree who lives it up after her husband dies, reinvigorating her life with Italian soldiers at the bar on Piccola Marina ("Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster"). The mirth is interrupted by the desire to get back to nature and relax ("World Weary"). But, they are brought back to their senses by a loud, jazzy intro from the orchestra and find themselves performing Coward's famous parody of his friend, Cole Porter's, famous song about falling in love ("Let's Do It").

After this high point, the revue moves into the Finale, a medley of Coward's most rhapsodic and beautiful ballads. Filled with nostalgia and longing for the time when Coward was at his peak, the songs play to a classic musical theatre ending ("Where Are the Songs We Sang?" / "Someday I'll Find You" / "If Love Were All" / "Play, Orchestra, Play"). The music swells as the lights fade.

Casting

Casting

Cast Size: Small (Up to 10 performers)
Cast Type: Ensemble Cast
Dance Requirements: None

Character Breakdown

Man 1
Dry and blunt with a certain irony. Charming. Humorous. Both staunch and whimsical at the same time.
Gender: male
Age: 30 to 50
Vocal range top: F5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Man 2
Calm. Confident. Lush. Poised. Playful. Optimistic. Sympathetic.
Gender: male
Age: 30 to 50
Vocal range top: F5
Vocal range bottom: G3
Girl
Bubbly and flirtatious. Resilient. Confident, poised, and elegant.
Gender: female
Age: 20 to 50
Vocal range top: F5
Vocal range bottom: F3
Full Song List
Oh, Coward!: Dance Little Lady
Oh, Coward!: Something To Do With Spring
Oh, Coward!: Bright Young People
Oh, Coward!: Poor Little Rich Girl
Oh, Coward!: Ziegeuner
Oh, Coward!: Let's Say Goodbye
Oh, Coward!: This Is A Changing World
Oh, Coward!: We Were Dancing
Oh, Coward!: Dance Little Lady
Oh, Coward!: Room With A View
Oh, Coward!: Sail Away
Oh, Coward!: The End Of The News
Oh, Coward!: The Stately Homes Of England
Oh, Coward!: London Pride
Oh, Coward!: Uncle Harry
Oh, Coward!: Chase Me Charlie
Oh, Coward!: Saturday Night At The Rose And Crow
Oh, Coward!: Island of Bolamazoo
Oh, Coward!: What Ho Mrs. Brisket!
Oh, Coward!: Has Anybody Seen Our Ship
Oh, Coward!: Why Do The Wrong People Travel
Oh, Coward!: The Passenger's Always Right
Oh, Coward!: Mrs. Worthington
Oh, Coward!: Mad Dogs And Englishmen
Oh, Coward!: You Were There
Oh, Coward!: Mad About The Boy
Oh, Coward!: Mrs. Wentworth-Brewster
Oh, Coward!: Let's Do It
Oh, Coward!: Where Are The Songs We Sung?
Oh, Coward!: Someday I'll Find You
Oh, Coward!: I'll Follow My Secret Heart
Oh, Coward!: If Love Were All (Reprise)
Oh, Coward!: Play Orchestra Play
Oh, Coward!: I'll See You Again

Show History

Inspiration

In 1965, actor Roderick Cooke approached Noel Coward with the idea for a revue of Coward's work. Roderick had played the part of "a slightly distraught diplomat" in Coward's most recent musical, The Girl Who Came to Supper, on Broadway. Noel replied, "Dear Roddy, What a lovely idea! Please send me a dummy programme and let's talk."

Productions


Oh, Coward! premiered Off-Broadway at the New Theatre on October 4, 1972. It played for 294 performances. The original cast included Barbara Cason and Jamie Ross alongside conceiver and director Roderick Cook.

A London production opened on June 5, 1975, at the Criterion Theatre, starring Cook, Ross and Geraldine McEwan, and ran until August 2, 1975.

  In 1986, Oh, Coward! opened on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theater on November 17 after sixteen previews. Again, Roderick Cook was at the helm, this time joined by Catherine Cox and Patrick Quinn. Both Cook and Cox received Tony Award nominations for their performances. The show played 56 performances and closed on January 3, 1987.

Cultural Influence

  • The Oh, Coward! original cast recording featuring the Off-Broadway cast was released on vinyl in 1972.
  • Noel Coward was a fixture of the British theatre in the twentieth century, best known for his plays, Hay Fever, Private Lives, Design for Living, Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit. He composed hundreds of songs, in addition to well over a dozen musical theatre works.

Trivia

  • Oh, Coward! was one of the last of his shows to be staged during Coward's life.
  • Oh, Coward! began as several different revues. In 1968, Roderick premiered a Coward revue at the Vancouver International Film Festival, starring Dorothy Loudon. The show did not fare well, and Roderick premiered another version on May 14, 1970, at the Theatre in the Dell, Toronto, Canada. This incarnation of the revue was titled A Noel Coward Revue, or To Sir, With Love. Finally, two years later, the show opened Off-Broadway in its current format with the title, Oh, Coward!

Critical Reaction

"A delightfully tuneful, charming, witty show... a worthy tribute to one of the greats of modern theatre."
– New York Post



"Ingenious and very, very funny."
– New York Times

Tony® Award

1987 - Actor (Musical), Nominee (Roderick Cook)
1987 - Actress (Musical), Nominee (Catherine Cox)
1987 - Best Actor in a Musical, Nominee (Roderick Cook)
1987 - Best Actress in a Musical, Nominee (Catherine Cox)

Connect

Billing

Requirements

You must give the authors/creators billing credits, as specified in the Production Contract, in a conspicuous manner on the first page of credits in all programs and on houseboards, displays and in all other advertising announcements of any kind.
Percentages listed indicate required type size in relation to title size.
OH, COWARD!
A Musical Comedy Revue
 
Words and Music by
NOEL COWARD
 
Devised by
RODERICK COOK
The videotaping or other video or audio recording of this production is strictly prohibited

Included Materials

ItemQuantity Included
LIBRETTO8
PIANO1
PIANO 21
VOCAL BOOK8

Production Resources

Resource
HOW DOES THE SHOW GO ON-10/CS
HOW DOES THE SHOW GO ON?
PRODUCTIONPRO-DIGITAL SCRIPT/SCORE
REFERENCE RECORDING
STAGE WRITE APPLICATION

STANDARD ORCHESTRATION

InstrumentationDoubling
BASS
PERCUSSIONBOAT WHISTLE , WOOD BLOCK