It seems only fair to inform you at the beginning of this review that I am a devotee of that sensational golden girl Bea Arthur. I travelled to Washington DC in order to see Bea at the Warner Theatre and again to Broadway to see the show at the Booth Theatre. Each time I was delighted I made the effort. Bea is an all round entertainer and an evening in her company is sheer bliss, and now she has arrived in London I get to see her show for a third time.
Bea Arthur is better known in Britain for her role as Dorothy Zbornak from the hit American sitcom ‘The Golden Girls’, in which she would send shivers down her on-screen mother’s spine with the words “Shady Pines.” However, this was not her first big role in a sitcom, in the 70’s Bea played Maude Findlay, the leading character of an earlier sitcom named ‘Maude.’ Bea sent similar shivers down the back of Maude’s on-screen emasculated husband with the words “God will get you for that Walter!” Bea won an Emmy in 1977 for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Comedy Series, for her characterisation of Maude. It is a great pity that the series ‘Maude’ is not known in the UK as it confirms, in my view, that Bea Arthur is one of the greatest comic actresses of our time.
Though Bea is now famous for her forthright, loud-mouthed and liberal sitcom characters, she did have an earlier and equally successful career on Broadway. Bea played the original Yente the Matchmaker in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, and she won a Tony award for the role of Vera Charles in ‘Mame’, a role she also played in the movie version in which she starred along side Lucille Ball.
Bea explains that she has spent most of her career entertaining people through the medium of TV. She announces with glee towards the beginning of the show “Tonight, you lucky people, I am out of the box”. And if you are wondering what kind of show ‘Bea Arthur at the Savoy’ is then this phrase tells you everything you need to know. It is not autobiographical, it is purely Bea Arthur entertaining, not as Maude Findlay or as Dorothy Zbornak, but simply as herself. What the audience discover is that Bea is every bit as funny, out-spoken and emancipated as the comic characters she has played.
Bea sings a few songs, tells a few anecdotes, amuses with sensational bawdy jokes that has the whole house splitting their sides with laughter. We learn about her first audition, hear an amusing yarn about an actress who struggled with personal hygiene, discover how Bernard Schwartz (Tony Curtis) first entertained a Hollywood actress and learn of her encounter with Mae West. To name just of just a few of the people Bea drops into the conversation.
For an octogenarian Bea has amazing energy and a delightfully robust singing voice. She belts out the songs “Bosom buddies” and “Some People” and sings with grace and pathos the songs “The Chance to Sing”, “Fifty Percent” and “Where Do You Start”. Bea also loves to shock; she is a loud mouthed broad who is happy to offend with her liberal views on abortion, divorce and gay rights and she cannot resist singing risky songs full of double entendres, such as “If I Can’t Sell It, I'll Keep Sittin' On It” or “What Can You Buy a Nudist For Her Birthday?”
Accompanying Bea on the piano is Billy Goldenberg, a gifted composer who has garnered a host of Emmy’s and other awards throughout his distinguished career. He has been a friend of Bea Arthur for two decades and it is delightful to watch their playful camaraderie on stage as Bea gently teases him, and he her.
It seems inevitable that the show will be compared to Elaine Stritch At Liberty, the one woman biographical show that came to the West End last year. However, to compare these two shows would be like comparing chalk and cheese. Bea is not telling her life story, she is entertaining and no one does it better! The show has played successfully to audiences in America, South Africa, Canada and Australia. Now it’s the Brits turn to be entertained, don’t miss it!
This is an absolute enchanting evening of fun. The theme song to Bea’s hit sitcom ‘Maude’ sums up this sprightly woman, she is “uncompromising, enterprising, anything but tranquillising”.
What other critics had to say.....
CLIVE DAVIS for THE TIMES says, "Queen Bea with sting to her tales....an amiable entertainment, peppered with theatrical in-jokes and droll gossip." FIONA MOUNTFORD for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Goodbye Golden years." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "Unless you are already a fan Arthur simply doesn't do enough to be worth an investment of your time and money." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Arthur has undoubted charms." PATRICK NEWLEY for THE STAGE says, "Scandalously enjoyable evening."