Stars shine on Tennessee and Bill Kenwright

After the drab turn-out for the opening of the Hemingway suicide musical — brilliantly dubbed by one of our readers as “Ernie Get Your Gun” — the stars came out again for Rachel Weisz at the Donmar last night.

Well, the star producers, anyway, led by a deeply tanned and healthy looking Cameron Mackintosh, with Nica Burns schmoozing Judy “Mamma, Mia!” Craymer, Nick Allott telling Nica he needed a few minutes with her, Andre Ptaszynski of RUG keeping cool with an iced coke in plastic, and Nick Salmon and George Biggs smiling benevolently at no-one in particular.

I love, incidentally, Andre’s list of hobbies in Who’s Who (I always have to check his name when I start to try and spell it): mountain trekking, fell-walking, cycling around London, reading, and giving free advice to other motorists.

Tom Erhardt, Williams’s agent here, introduced me to glamorous Lynne Meadows of the Manhattan Theatre Group, and I wanted to ask her what she thought of the dodgy New Orleans accents.  The production would be slaughtered if it went anywhere near Broadway, but perhaps I’m wrong about that… 

Rachel Weisz is lovely as Blanche DuBois, but she’s, well, a little too North London Jewish at the centre, and nowhere near my three favoruite Blanches, none of them perfect — Sheila Gish, Jessica Lange and, best of all, Glenn Close.

Erhardt, who is, unbelievably, eighty years old and as fresh as a daisy, also told me how much he’d enjoyed Dreamboats and Petticoats at the Savoy the previous evening.

The Savoy Hotel itself is closed for refurbishment so the theatre has improvised a big new walkway to the front door from the Strand, and it proved a celebrity-rich sea of glitter and distinction as the crowd turned up.

First, veteran farce writer Ray Cooney told me that his parti-coloured tie was a gift from his wife, so she was to blame. I introduced him to a friend as one of our great dramatists in the line of Shakespeare and Ben Travers. “Well, certainly Ben Travers,” Ray chuckled as he dived into the labyrinthine passages of the front of house.

I’d already spotted Jasper Parrott holding court with about fifty fans in the Coal Hole pub next door. Producer Bill Kenwright was pacing up and down, policing the territory…he runs his first night and subsequent party with a rule of iron, even arranging the seating of the critics.

For reasons best known to himself he’d put himself next to Charles Spencer of the Telegraph and is rewarded today with a generous four-star review, way beyond the show’s merits in my view.

Other Kenwright regulars included Cilla Black, whose ginger/grey hairstyle has taken on the appearance of a woodland animal, newsreader Peter Sissons (who was at school with Bill in Liverpool), 1960s pop star Jess Conrad in a shimmering silver jacket (well, he’s name-checked in the show), songwriter Geoff Morrow, Cherie Blair’s style adviser Carole Caplin (it didn’t work, Carole), Andrew Lloyd Webber and his wife Madeleine; Andrew said to me that he didn’t recognise some of the songs.

Not till 24 hours later did I realise that four of them had been written specially to order, something the publicity machine might have made a bit more of.

It was a jumping, jolly occasion that the show itself never quite justified, but most of Essex was filling the cheap seats, and they loved every minute.

I went to dinner in Joe Allen’s with my friend the actress Linda Marlowe and the star-spotting certainly didn’t stop there.

Gamekeeper turned poacher Nicholas de Jongh, also on Bill’s first night list, but as a playwright nowadays, gave me a friendly scowl,and Linda found her oldest and dearest friend in the business, Francesca Annis, sharing a table with actors Simon Dutton and Tristram Wymark as well as our greatest stage and costume designer of the past fifty years, Philip Prowse, formerly of the Glasgow Citizens. What larks!

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